The Walraths focus operations at their Wild Bunch Farm on marketing high-quality porkThe first thing you notice is the smell when you near the Walrath farm. There isn’t one.
Ray and Chelle (pron. like Shelley) Walrath and their family raise their clean-smelling Berkshire hogs on 15 acres, called the Wild Bunch Farm (named after their four kids), in Lawrence County, Mo. They’ve only been in the pig business for four years, but have come a long way.
“We wanted to figure out what would work on 15 acres that had been stripped of its topsoil,” Chelle explained when asked why they selected hogs for their operation. “We came up with hogs. Neither of us had a hog background.”
They keep between 35 to 50 at a time but with breeding, processing and the like, that number fluctuates. In a given year they may raise 100 “youngsters,” as Chelle calls them, and have 25 piglets growing out at a time. All this from nine sows and a couple of boars.
The 3-3-3 formula is important for raising swine; gestation takes three months, three weeks and three days. Another important number, eight months. That’s the typical age before harvest or processing.
“Ours are a little slower  finishing since they are active and out moving,” Sage, Chelle’s 19-year-old son, noted.
Movement sets the Wild Bunch Farm apart from bigger operations. No farrowing crates. Pigs are allowed room to roam on a small pasture.
“It improves the muscle quality. We have nice trim bellies,” Sage said.
Berkshires are noted for intramuscular fat, similar to marbling in beef.
“They are not soft, fat pigs, but very firm, fat pigs,” Chelle said.
Pigs are harvested at about 275 pounds. According to Sage, this nets between 180 to 210 pounds of marketable pork.
Their meat is frozen and later sold year-round at a farmers market. They started selling off the farm but about two years ago began selling at the Farmers Market of the Ozarks in Springfield, where Chelle is now the vice president of the board.
A typical market day could go like this: Leave their Mt. Vernon farm about 6 a.m., arrive at the market by 7 a.m., full freezer in tow.
“We might grill and sample,” Chelle said as she described some on-site marketing, adding that Ray also makes and sells some spice rubs. “We are known for our pork chops. We cut them thick and charge a pretty good chunk. Farmers Market is probably 75 to 80 percent of our business. Last year we got ourselves in trouble; we had so many off-farm sales that we ended up short in July and had to take three weeks off. That was bad planning.”
Chelle explained that their hogs are raised humanely and naturally.
“We don’t feed them an artificial diet,” she said. “They are raised outside. We give them enough space to move freely. We don’t ring them to prevent rooting. They always have nose-to-nose contact with another hog.”
Chelle’s hogs get a diet of corn, soybeans and minerals, plus the occasional trash bag full of scrap lettuce from another farmer at the market. They have access to pasture, but that is not part of their pork labeling or their dietary staple; pigs are not ruminants.
Chelle says she is a “genetics nerd.”
“I really like researching and finding a hog that’s going to have that right length of loin so we can have a certain amount of consistency with what we bring to market.”
She also looks for maternal instincts. “We love for our moms to be able to raise their babies and not have structures. To lay down and have their babies.
“I also want them to be easy to handle since I’m often here by myself with my husband working off the farm,” Chelle said. Ray is an electrician working in Springfield.
Small producers have to find a niche and then have a plan to fill it. Chelle noted, “We never raise a hog without an end retail customer in mind. Our hogs are a niche product for a specific audience, not a commodity, so they are raised and priced accordingly. People are aware of how large outfits produce. We offer them another option.”
Any advise for any would-be hog farmers?
“For less than $5,000, you can purchase a few weaned pigs or sows and a boar, bulk feed and supplies. Maybe even a trailer if you shop used.” Chelle said. “With a plan and some marketing, you can have positive cash flow within a year. We enjoy talking pigs with folks who have more experience and are willing to share it.
“Once we decided on pigs, we researched breeds that could best meet our goals: to provide the customer with a wholesome flavorful product, and do it with the resources we had. Good husbandry practices are the foundation to everything else. We are always looking for ways to do it better. We feel there is still a lot to learn four years in.”


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