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WINTERBOURNE, ENGLAND • Norma Chandler Paterson is making slow progress over a squelchy field, made slower by Christanley, who keeps standing in her way. A 3-year-old llama whose name was inspired by the vet who delivered him, Christanley mistakenly believes Paterson has come to the field to play with him. He seems crestfallen when she attaches a rope to another llama, a cream-colored 2-year-old named Grey, and heads off for an afternoon stroll.
Paterson is a trim, no-nonsense “retired housewife” with a flyaway white bob and well-worn galoshes. She has been raising llamas for almost four decades, ever since her daughters decided that boys were far more interesting than the horses the family once kept. Today, she tends a herd of 20 llamas and other camelids in the fields around her home in Winterbourne, a fetching little village in southwest England. “It’s a useful animal,” Paterson says when asked why she owns llamas, “and it’s not dangerous, like a lion.”
Paterson’s not alone in embracing llama husbandry. Tim Crowfoot, chairman of the British Llama Society, says there are maybe 500 people in the U.K. earning a “back-pocket income” from the animals. Their uses, he says, range from guarding sheep to pulling carts. “And they have good dung.”
But raising llamas isn’t merely a livelihood for Paterson. She’s been known to make her own llama ears to wear on special occasions, and tends to speak of her animals as if they were people. She is at her most pointed, however, when discussing alpacas, another South American camelid favored by Britain’s amateur farmers. “They are not as elegant [as llamas], in my opinion,” she says. “And they’re boring.”
With this, Paterson gently tugs Grey away from a hedgerow he’s been nibbling and leads him homeward through the winding streets of Winterbourne. The sky is the color of damp fleece, the air thick with drizzle. Passersby stop to watch her walking the gangly creature as if it were a Labrador. Both woman and llama, however, seem oblivious to anything but each other.
“Come on, sensibly,” Paterson coaxes as Grey strains at the rope, suddenly intrigued by a nearby wedding. “No dashing about!” —HANNAH STUART-LEACH
ILLUSTRATIONS BY PETER OUMANSKI