“Paca-girls! C’mon, girls!” Ann Merriwether calls, and out of the barn comes a promenade of dainty-stepping, four-legged beauty queens with poufy do’s and tiny smiles.
The sheep, aware they’ve been excluded from the party, are complaining in the background.
It’s hard not to anthropomorphize the alpacas when one walks up to a stranger and makes long, steady eye contact. The look-deep-into-my-soul kind.
“Khaleesi would like to have a sleepover date,” Ann says, laughing.
It’s both birthing and breeding time at the Merriwethers’ 30-acre farm in Vestal. Ann and husband Andy have 70 alpacas, a couple dozen sheep and a handful of angora rabbits.
“We don’t have chickens, but our neighbors do,” Andy says. “Three or four live full time in our garage and lay eggs all over.”
The Merriwethers got their first alpacas about 14 years ago. Each has a name and a lineage, which Ann can easily recite: “That one’s Corrine. Her mother’s Coruna, her father’s Tamerlane (Tammy). Tammy’s mother is Pistol, his father’s The Babe.”
Recognizing them is easy. “Most of these have been born on our farm, so we’ve known them their whole lives,” Andy says.
“When they have fleece, they have different fleece styles,” he says. “They have different personalities. Lyric looks like Teacup, but Teacup is friendly and Lyric is like a volcano, so when you catch one, you know which one you have.”
Andy, associate professor of anthropology and chair of the department, uses alpacas in some of his research. He’s looking for genetic links to choanal atresia — tissue or bone that blocks the nasal passages — which afflicts alpacas and humans.
Ann, lecturer in psychology and human development, taught a class on dying and bereavement this summer.
“We were talking about that gray area between minimal consciousness and a persistently vegetative state. We have an alpaca that’s missing most of her brain, and I used her as an example.
“She’s 2 and acts like a completely normal alpaca,” she says.
This spring, the Merriwethers’ farm was a stop on a “farm trail” tour. They host a 4-H club, and they shear the alpacas and sell or use the fleece.
“Ann’s a talented fiber artist,” Andy says. “We all found different areas we liked with alpacas.”
“This is a working farm. You don’t have 70 alpacas for fun,” Ann says. “Well, you do … but — it’s not a hobby.”
–Diana Bean ’81