- Associated Press - Sunday, November 20, 2016

COLUMBUS, Neb. (AP) - Some families play board games or go to the park to spend time together.

Not the Filipis.

Their family time includes four fluffy alpacas named Way Too Cool, Can’t Miss, Silver Rose and Sinister.

Carey Filipi, her husband Dustin Filipi and their three children live in Wagner Lakes. Their fleece-covered friends can be found in a nearby backyard they rent from Dwayne and Virginia Smith near Columbus Sales Pavilion and Van Berg Golf Course along Eighth Street.

The animals were moved there a few weeks ago from Carey Filipi’s parents’ home near Geneva after the family spent a year preparing the alpacas’ new grounds.

The area was dug up and seeded with a special blend of grass intended specifically for grazing alpacas.

As bloodline breeders, alpacas are an investment and hobby for the family.

Carey Filipi works for her parents’ business, Wilkins Livestock Insurers, which insures alpacas, llamas and other animals. She grew up on an alpaca farm near Geneva with a herd of nearly 150.

Until a few weeks ago, that’s where the Filipis kept their alpacas, but Carey and Dustin realized their children, Carter, Samantha and Jax, were losing their connection to the animals.

“We want the kids to grow up with them and share a connection so when they go to show they’re proud of what they’re showing and take pride and ownership in it,” said Dustin Filipi, 36.

“We wanted them up here to enjoy them more as a family,” added Carey Filipi, 37, who has lived in Columbus for three years. “Having them in Geneva, we were only really just showing up to take them to shows, but really outside of that we weren’t doing anything else.”

Dustin, who works for Lindsay Corporation in Lindsay, said showing alpacas year-round across the U.S. is both fun and an excuse for a family vacation.

It’s also serious business. The Filipis focus on breeding only the strongest bloodlines.

“Just like anything when you’re trying to sell something, you want to believe in your product. When you take care of them and see them develop from a newborn, being weaned and being shown, you can talk more about how much they weighed and here’s how it grew up and this is what its (fleece) is like,” Dustin explained.

The shows boost their business, 12 Mile Alpacas, named after the 12 miles between where Carey and Dustin grew up.

The Columbus Telegram (https://bit.ly/2giyEG6 ) reports that each alpaca is registered and microchipped to have its pedigree tracked.

Four-month-old Sinister - born at 14 pounds - is the newest member of the family. He can be shown once he’s 6 months old and weaned from his mother.

Alpacas are only taken to shows until they’re 2 years old, then the animals are used solely for breeding. They can live for around 20 years.

“That’s their purpose at that point in their life,” Carey said, adding that an alpaca can give birth to approximately nine babies in its lifetime, with each pregnancy lasting 11 ½ months.

The Filipis even send their alpacas across the U.S. to breed with other alpacas whose owners want that particular bloodline.

“It’s a lot like fine art,” Dustin said. “The beauty is in the eye of the beholder. If somebody believes in those genetics, that it’s going to advance their herd in what they want to do with their farm, there are people who are willing to spend good money for them.”

Carey said fleece-quality alpacas can cost a couple thousand dollars and show-quality animals can be $5,000 or more.

Alpaca fleece is quite the commodity, Dustin explained, noting that it’s higher quality and more expensive than cashmere.

Although they’re fluffy and cute, alpacas aren’t the best pets.

“They’re only so friendly,” Carey said, explaining how their son Carter was spit on the previous day. “It’s not that they’re unfriendly, they’re easy around kids, but they’re not something you would have hanging around in your house.”

Also, if they’re treated like pets, Carey explained, they start to lose their show qualities.

“You want them to know they’re an alpaca and not think he’s more dominant than you are,” she said.

Eventually the backyard near the sale barn parking lot will be home to eight of the Filipis’ alpacas, which can grow to about 150 pounds.

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Information from: Columbus Telegram, https://www.columbustelegram.com

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