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National Alpaca Farm Day is woolly good fun for kids, adults

POSTED: October 2, 2008 5:00 a.m.
The Times/TOM REED

Abigail Hill, left, and Kylie Gallman get a close look at an alpaca on Sunday at Gilliland's Heritage Alpacas in Hoschton.

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HOSCHTON — Anne Chapman had driven by the alpaca farm plenty of times on her way to her father-in-law’s house.

The second annual National Alpaca Farm Days gave the Lawrenceville woman good reason to finally stop at Gilliland’s Heritage Alpacas with her two daughters, 11-year-old Joy and 8-year-old Natalie.

The girls were thrilled too, trying to get a picture of one of the animals through a fence at the farm.

"I like their faces," Joy said.

Jim and Angie Gilliland gave visitors to their 32-acre farm off Dee Kennedy Road a chance to see the animals up close.

Children and adults alike fed carrots to the animals in a barn that was once part of what the couple says was one of the first cage-layer chicken houses in Georgia.

Angie instructed the visitors to say "Paca, paca" in an effort to lure the animals closer. The alpaca, originally from South America, are docile creatures but also painfully shy.

The Gillilands and alpaca breeders across the U.S. and Canada observed Saturday and Sunday as National Alpaca Farm Days, a time to open up their operations to the public.

They used the opportunity to educate others about the animal, which is similar in appearance to a llama. The main physical difference between the two animals is that llamas are much larger.

Alpacas, which graze on grass and hay, are valued primarily for their hair — fiber that is used for making knitted and woven items, much as sheep’s wool is.

Owners also take the animals to shows. The Gillilands are hoping to take a few from their Barrow County farm to a show set for November in Conyers, said Jim Gilliland, whose father bought the farm in 1947.

"This farm has always been a full, working farm," Angie told a group of about 25 visitors. "They had cows, chickens and pigs."

Her husband said the couple has kept alpacas on the farm for about four years.

Previously, Jim Gilliland drove a concrete truck for 15 years.

"I wanted to stop driving and do something on the farm," he said. "Thirty-two acres is not enough to make a profit cattle-wise. ... I’m not a horse person. I was looking for an animal and just happened to find these. I like the farm life and these animals suit me."

Although a relatively new occupation, "we are a lot further along than we were," he said.

Gilliland said he spends two hours a day on daily care and shearing takes place once a year. He also has "birthed two or three dozen (alpaca babies)."

The farm, which has 32 alpacas, also features an office and a gift shop.

"It has taken us about three years to get all these barns cleaned out and get them the way they are now," said Angie Gilliland. "It took about a year to get the (chicken) cages out."

The farm work is constant but not as intense as former days.

"I was here when the 32,000 hens were here," Jim said. "Believe me, this beats the hens all to heck and back."



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