Here are my answers to questions I have gotten about my cria shearing post:
Yes ~ we do shear our own cria.
We actually shear our entire herd, and have done so both this year and last year (2011 & 2012). Now we aren't beauticians, and we are still relatively new to shearing. But we've learned that it all grows out, so no worries on that. You can always trim it up later on if it's not quite the way it should be. The real trick with cria is that they are small, and to get the shears into all their spots is difficult. We shear the cria pretty much the same as the adults. We have a mat we put on our garage floor and we have a rope system to help hold the alpaca down (this is a safety measure as it is essential that they not move as they could be seriously injured). J is the one who does the shearing, I hold the alpaca, and the kids help wherever needed. During cria shearing, Emma helped hold the back end of the cria while I had the front (I get two legs and a neck, Emma just had two legs). Zack held onto the halter of the mom of the cria near our shearing area. We do this so that there is less chance of a dam (mom) rejecting their cria (baby). The dam can see the shearing so they know it's the same cria, their cria. Rejecting is something that can happen if the dam doesn't recognize the cria after shearing, and will refuse to feed the cria anymore.
I've been asked why we shear our cria. There are two main reasons:
1 ~ cool them down
2 ~ make more usable fiber from them
(fiber is the alpaca's hair, on other animals it is called wool, fur or hair, depending on the animal)
Cooling them down is a pretty obvious explanation. They are born with quite a bit of fiber, then add on their fiber grows fast after they are born, and they end up with inches of fiber. Their fiber is warm and insulating, so it quickly gets very hot for them. We do have warm summers (this one especially) so having less fiber on them helps them stay cooler.
The usable fiber part is a bit harder to explain.
+ cria are born with fiber on them, called tui tips, that were exposed to the amniotic fluid in utero
+ tui tips are often a different color than the fleece that grows out, due to amniotic staining
+ the amniotic fluid also wears down the fiber, makes it more frizzy
+ tui tips collect debris like Velcro, which is a pain to skirt if left on for a full years shearing
I prefer to have their 1st years shearing pure fiber without the tui tips. I don't want the added debris, the color variation, and the lower quality fiber of the tui tips (it doesn't have the same feel or look as the rest of the fiber that grows out). If we get rid of the tui tips now as cria, by the time they are shorn next spring, at almost a year old, I have really nice fiber to collect. That's what I get excited about!! If we leave the tui tips, then I have a mess come next spring's shearing.
We have opted to shear our cria at about 6 weeks old to get off all the tui tips (which we throw into the compost pile - it's too short to do much else with it). We've found if we shear earlier we don't get all the tui tips off. We also feel that by shearing at this age, their fiber has a chance to reorganize so that when it does grow out, it looks the best it can when it comes time for spring show season. We have shorn at an earlier age and didn't feel that works as well for us. I felt like there was still a bit of tui tips lingering. Debates ensue on when is the best age to cria shear. There are a lot of variation and opinions among alpaca farmers. Many alpaca farmers swear a certain age is the best. I think what is best comes down to what works best for you and your farm with your own specific circumstances.
For those wondering about the term "baby alpaca" and how yarn or products that boast of being "baby fine" or made from "baby alpaca" or "royal baby alpaca" can be so incredible, it's because that does NOT mean the tui tips, it is NOT the fiber the alpaca is born with. These terms have to do with the micron of the fiber, how soft the fiber is. A 4 year old alpaca's fiber can be made into "royal baby alpaca yarn" provided the fiber has a low enough micron, it is fine enough, to meet that requirement.