Alpacas charm a curious community

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:46

    CHESTER-About three years ago, Marsha Oliver found herself thumbing through Adventure Magazine, "looking for ideas of what to do with 18 acres of land." She found pictures and a story about some curious creatures called alpacas. That's when she "fell in love with them," she said. She bought four alpacas from a farm in upstate New York, and now her farm in Chester has 11, with three babies expected this summer. Marsha and Wayne Oliver invited the community to meet their unusual livestock on an unusually warm Saturday recently. Marsha led a discussion inside her home, where she had on display sweaters, hats, gloves, scarves, and more made from the incredibly soft fleece of her beloved alpacas. Yarn made from each of her animals, each type accompanied by a picture and story, was also on display. Alpacas are members of the Camelid family, which includes llamas and camels. Marsha explained to the first tour group that these easy-to-care-for animals eat grass, hay, and special feed, and drink water with spiked electrolytes. She described how they like being outside together, and the funny way they spit when they're angry. Eager now to meet the alpacas, the tour group trooped off to the pen. The animals, their eyes wide with curiosity, checked out the strangers. Marsha brought her guests right into the pen. The children begged for permission to feed and pet the animals. But Marsha was soon interrupted by an angry voice. Trish Smyth, whose backyard borders the Olivers' farm, said it was miserable living next door to an animal farm. Shouting at the uncomfortable crowd, she said the farm is putrid and subjects her family to a "circus." She tried an appeal, asking the visitors if they would be able to raise their own families in such a place. She offered "some noise to add to the smell" by blasting static from a radio. She turned a video camcorder on the group. Her efforts to protest failed, however, when she discovered that the farm in an agricultural zone, and so has a right to exist there. Smyth said she and her family, which includes three children, have lived in their house since 1990. "I would love to move, but who is going to buy my house?" she said. "I don't mind them so much. They just don't make good neighbors." When the dust finally settled, Marsha apologized to her visitors. She invited in the next group, waiting excitedly to meet her intriguing alpacas.