Story & Photos by Rosalea Gift
Thedford, Neb.

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April 8, 2013
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Exotic Animals in the Sandhills? Stable Productions Exotic Animal Ranch

Did I really see what I thought I saw? A herd of elk, several Eland, a pot-bellied pig, bison, all sorts of goats, peacocks, reindeer, zebras and other assorted animals and fowl. This collection of wildlife has been the project of Phillip Licking, a 50-year-old man who lives just East of Seneca on the north side of the river.

It’s hasn’t been an overnight project. In fact it began when he was a kindergartner and his Dad brought home a bum lamb for his birthday present. Soon after, he added different kinds of birds to the collection.

Flip, (as he is commonly called) lives in a beautiful area along the river tucked in next to the huge Seneca hill. The first animals seen as the road winds around the bottom of the hill are the African Fallow deer grazing on the meadow. Then, right before your eyes, appears a herd of elk, stately grazing, and not the least bit afraid of passing vehicles or people who stop to take pictures.

In the lane are some cattle, a zony (part Zebra and part pony), goats, Brahma, and Hindu (cattle with long, long ears that are worshipped in India and not eaten).

Flip’s Great Dane, Lola, greets people in the cars and she continues to guide them up the hill to his door. Walking across the meadow, numerous wild geese watch, but don’t fly. Once reaching the barns, the zebras and the goats come right up to the fence and poke their noses through. The Nigerian goats are very friendly and a little jealous of the little brown Aoudad (African) goat that gets butted when she gets too close.

The bull reindeer has lost his antlers and is in the next pen. He was very nasty during the rutting season and very unsafe to be around. To be feared was his huge set of antlers that extend about 3-feet above his head and are a couple feet in width. He is never one of the reindeer that gets to go to hospitals, petting zoos, etc., as along with his attitude, he loses his antlers in December. The cow reindeer keep their antlers until sometime in April to use if they need to protect their babies. Another interesting fact about reindeer is that they can control the blood flow in their legs and move it to the internal organs to prevent them from freezing during extremely cold temperatures.

Flip really enjoys hauling his reindeer to hospitals, parades (such as the NEBRASKAland parade), schools, churches and fundraisers that benefit children. His first visit to a hospital was to St. Elizabeth’s several years ago after his mother had surgery there. He went back that December to treat 1,500 children to a visit from Santa’s reindeer. It was such a rewarding experience that he has hauled the reindeer to Ogallala, Mullen, North Platte, Stapleton, Broken Bow, Loup City and Bassett. The reindeer have even been guests at two schools’ Christmas party at the Refuge and included in numerous Nativity scenes.

When Flip told the managers of Ace Hardware and Tractor Supply that he was going to take his reindeer to visit children in hospitals, these two businesses donated huge toys. Four businesses in Broken Bow donated a semi and cars to a sick, young boy reared by a single mom. Flip said that seeing these very ill children beam with joy as they pet the reindeer make the trip across the state worthwhile and rewarding. Many times, the children will forgo seeing Santa to staying with the reindeer. Most adults will commit that they can’t believe the reindeer are so small and some will state that they really didn’t know reindeer existed. Flip already has several bookings for the reindeer to next year.

Other animals at Flip’s include a pot-bellied pig with two darling, tiny babies that are about the size of baby kittens, numerous guineas and peacocks and a few cats.

When asked where he obtained his animals, Flip states that he attends a sale in Macon, Mo., three times a year. It’s a four-day auction and is incredible. There is even a “warm room” for the babies and usually houses baby kangaroos, bear, lion, etc. People can walk through, pet the animals, and hold them — at their own risk as their behavior is unpredictable.

The exotic animals are very expensive as the zebras are around $10,000 apiece and the reindeer are around $4,500. Flip doesn’t insure them as it costs 10 percent of their value to insure each animal and that just isn’t feasible for him. He plans to add camels to his collection in the near future. Surprisingly, camels can handle the cold, as well as the heat, and he thinks they would be a great addition to the Nativity scenes and the petting zoos.

The biggest part of keeping his animals healthy is dealing with the parasites in the reindeer, and keeping the Eland from getting nervous enough to try to jump the fence and thus breaking their necks. (He had one that did this). The warm months are tough on the reindeer and they enjoy the barn that runs fans during the hot months and is heated for some of the other animal during the coldest months.

Surprise visits are just part of the inspection process that the U.S.D.A. uses to check on the condition of the animals, their pens, the feed and medicine administered. Flip must also have a handler for each animal when he takes them anywhere — just one of the many regulations imposed on people who maintain exotic animals. Tony and Reed Ford of Cody are a great help and are always ready to go wherever, whenever.

Recently, Flip was interviewed on KRVN and he has been featured in Nebraska Life. He is not a person who enjoys the spotlights and center front, and thus, usually disappears when he sees cameras or microphones headed his direction. He welcomes guests and enjoys showing them his exotic animal collection. It’s definitely worth the trip and it doesn’t matter what age a person is, it’s very enjoyable! ❖

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The Fence Post Updated Oct 16, 2013 03:56PM Published May 6, 2013 01:43PM Copyright 2013 The Fence Post. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.