CHESTER—After leaving a health food store she owned in Sugar Loaf, Marsha Oliver, a former arts teacher, started looking at what she could do with 18 acres of land she had next to her home in Chester. Smaller and less aggressive than their relatives the llama, alpacas turned out to be the perfect fit. They hail from the mountains of Peru, so her rocky land turned out to be just like home.
The long-legged animals have pack instincts like sheep but are more aggressive. Except for the babies, the males and the females stay separate, and even the more aggressive ones have to be separated from the less aggressive ones so everyone gets enough food.
Their big eyes give them almost 360-degree peripheral vision. Their coat is so warm, they often sleep in the snow, Marsha said. While their cloven feet look like they have hooves, underneath their toenails are tender pads like those of a dog; their nails grow continuously so rocks are important to keep them filed down.
“Little did we know when we moved here that it would be perfect for alpacas,” said Marsha about her property.
Marsha, along with her husband Wayne Oliver, started Rock Ridge Alpacas with four alpacas 14 years ago, and as of July 17, they had 36. The two breed them, sell their fur, give tours to visitors, and occasionally show them.