It’s not often one can find a camel in the U.S. – let alone in central Kansas. But this lovable creature, along with giraffes and kangaroos, make Nickerson home.
Joe Hedrick, the owner of Hedrick’s Exotic Animal Farm and Hedrick's Bed & Breakfast Inn in Nickerson, said it all started with a badger, when he was about 3. By the time he was a teenager, he had moved onto zebras, llamas and buffalo. With each animal, he learned a new form of communication.
Hedrick, a former rodeo clown, continues to travel nationwide with his animals, educating folks about exotic animals and garnering good will. Sometimes, the animals make it onto a commercial, into a nativity scene, and for 25 years, they performed with the Radio City Rockettes touring company.
A visit during COVID-19
Ashley Urban, of Hutchinson, brought her friend, Kellan Wilson, and her niece and nephew, Hunter and Rhett Hoffman, to visit with the llamas and camels on the farm. Because of COVID-19 restrictions lessening, the farm recently opened again to visitors.
Hedrick’s Exotic Farm only allows one group to visit at a time. The guide must stay 6 feet away from the guests. But the animals are happy to nuzzle and receive pets up close.
Hunter, 3, liked petting Newt, a white one-hump young camel, and Hollywood, a young, brown alpaca with black ears. Her brother Rhett was amazed by llamas, zebras and kangaroos. The zebra he petted still had brown stripes — the sign of a foal.
Hedrick enjoys having guests appreciate the farm’s animals. He makes sure his guides are knowledgeable and loving toward each animal.
Kristie Crile, of Nickerson, has worked for the farm for 18 years.
"Camels are like 2-year-old children," Crile said while laughing. "They love to run, jump and play."
When Hedrick was about 5, he could command a crowd at just about any rodeo in the U.S. His father, Jerry Hedrick Sr., was a rodeo clown – always stirring up the audience. The family, who grew up in Nickerson, traveled the country but always returned home.
Hedrick learned to train just about any kind of animal, from chimpanzees to elephants. During the 1990s, he opened up his menagerie to the public, in his hometown of Nickerson.
"Being able to read and understand the animals is great," Hendrick said. "Most of the time I can tell you what an animal is kind of thinking."
Similar to Dr. Doolittle, Hedrick can speak with a porcupine or ride an ostrich. But his all-time favorite is to see a little Joey sticking his head out of his mother kangaroo’s pouch.
Hedrick’s bigger-than-life personality, mixed with his love for the animals, makes his exotic farm personal. Visitors can stay at the bed and breakfast and enjoy more one-on-one time with many of the peacocks, water buffalo and antelopes. They might even be able to ride a camel.
Families and individuals can stay in the ostrich, camel, llama or zebra rooms.
"Animals are so interesting," Hedrick said. "I like to think we cater to anybody and everybody. This place is a combination between education and entertainment."