MILFORD — One Nebraska couple is dabbling in raising a rare, and versatile, form of livestock.
Matt and Emely Hendl of Milford began their adventure into farming and ranching after Matt returned from serving 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, then set to work.
“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'd mastered chickens, the Hendls 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, between 220 and 320 pounds, Emely said, 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.
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. 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.
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 for meat should take about a year to reach optimum growth weight, she said, 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 its clientele, Anchor Meadow Farms will be working closely with Heather and Steve Scar of Meadowlark Farm in Adair, Iowa.
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 live near Del Ficke, owner and manager of Ficke Cattle Co., 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.”