MILFORD, Neb. — One Nebraska couple is dabbling in raising a rare, and versatile, livestock.

Matt and Emely Hendl, Milford, Neb., began their adventure into farming and ranching after Matt returned from service in the United States Navy. The Hendls, along with their daughter Annika, christened their new operation in honor of Matt’s military service, naming it Anchor Meadow Farm, and then set to work on building their dream farm.

“It all began with chickens,” Matt said. “We started with 21 chickens of various breeds and got them as chicks and raised them in the basement at first. I then cleared out an area and used the cedars I chopped down to make the chicken fences. We sold the extra eggs at the Submarine Learning Center and to neighbors.”

Once they had mastered chickens, the Hendl family decided bees would be their next farming adventure after being inspired by other beekeepers at a Mother Earth Fair in North Carolina.

“I began reading everything I could about bees and researched online,” Matt said. “Then I ordered two nucleus hives from Maine.”

Then, while exploring options to add pigs to the mix, they discovered kunekune, a small breed of domestic pig from New Zealand.

Kunekune pigs are smaller in size, between 220 and 320 pounds, Emely explained, adding that it can take two or three years for kunekune to reach maturity. The Maori — the indigenous people of New Zealand — named the pigs kunekune for their stature: kunekune means “fat and round” in their native language.

“They are easy to care for and manage, which is one of the reasons we fell in love with them,” Emely said, noting that their breed of kunekune have wattles. “Annika, who is 10, can jump the fence and stand face to face with them, rub their bellies, and they will fall over every time.”

Emely said kunekune pigs thrive in the outdoors of Nebraska.

“They are one of the only true grazing pigs that can be maintained on grass alone, but we choose to provide them a wide-variety of forage options to hopefully one day create the most sought after pork in the Midwest,” she said.

The Hendls are one of just a handful of registered kunekune breeders in Nebraska. Currently, they have four gilts of breeding age, two sows ready to deliver by September if all goes smoothly, plus two boars as herd sires and a third that will be ready early next spring.

“We breed for confirmation standards, quality and size,” Emely said. “I want other homesteaders, small farmers and large alike to trust our genetic diversity for growth rate and confirmation to the breed.”

She added that they welcomed their first litter of eight kunekune last February.

The Hendls carefully sort each group of piglets between their meat herd and breeding herd. The piglets that will be processed should take about a year to reach optimum growth weight, she explained, which is between 120-160 pounds.

Kunekunes provide an exclusive marbled red meat that is highly sought after in culinary circles, Emely said.

“Our goal is to sell to restaurants and butchers in and around Omaha,” she explained. “We will also have individual cuts of pork available for sale at our farm, with an emphasis to create the best bratwurst available without having to go all the way to Germany.”

She added that in order to sustain enough pork for their clientele, Anchor Meadow Farms will be working closely with Heather and Steve Scar of Meadowlark Farm in Adair, Iowa, who are fellow veteran farming friends.

This year, the Hendls also planted 25 hazelnut trees for their kunekune herd to forage on in the future.

“We would love nothing more than to create an Italian-inspired ‘prosciutto di Parma,’” she said. “Hazelnuts are most commonly used in desserts and chocolates, but they also add a sweet flavor to the meat and provide many of the same health benefits on finished pigs as in humans, including heart-healthy fat known to lower levels of LDL and raise HDL.”

The Hendls also live not too far from Del Ficke, owner and manager of Ficke Cattle Company, and credit him as being a big reason it was possible for them to get started in farming.

“We have learned so much from Del and are honored to be associated with his family and their cattle endeavors just down the road from us,” Emely said. “That’s what it’s all about, working with neighbors.

“We look forward to expanding our kunekune herd, continuing to raise honey and anchoring our farm firmly in Nebraska for generations to come.”

You can find the Hendls on Facebook by searching Anchor Meadow Farm.

Kerry Hoffschneider can be reached at kerry.hoffschneider@midwestmessenger.com.

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