Chelle and Ray Walrath and family raise Certified Animal Welfare Approved by A Greener World (AGW) pigs outdoors on pasture at Wild Bunch Farm in Mount Vernon, Missouri.
Chelle grew up on a dairy farm where her dad and grandfather also raised quarter horses; Ray’s family had a background in beef production. Although Chelle grew up on a farm, it was Ray who ended up being more of an ‘ag kid’ growing up. After they married, the Walraths moved back to Chelle’s hometown and bought a farm.
Although the farm had good topsoil for the area, the topsoil was sold off before the family purchased the farm, so their extension agent recommended the family raise pigs rather than ruminants. They were planning to raise pigs on a small scale, but when their four kids (all two years apart), whose local nickname is the ‘wild bunch,’ began raising exceptional litters of pasture-raised pigs, and the best farmers’ market nearby needed a pork producer, their idea grew into a much larger venture. With the kids’ nickname as the namesake of the farm, the family now manage a herd of around 80 Berkshire pigs, which they selected for their consistent meat quality and easy demeanor.
After looking at various farm certifications, the Walraths felt the Certified Animal Welfare Approved by AGW program focused on pasture-based management, high welfare practices and was the perfect fit for their farm: “Our pigs are raised in family groups. They are out rooting around, not confined and we try to respect what they were designed by nature to do,” Chelle explains. “They get out in the sunshine, and when they’re mentally as well as physically healthy we don’t have problems with disease or high piglet mortality. We do not have to pump our animals full of things to make them artificially healthy because they are naturally healthy.”
In addition to the broad benefits of pasture-based management for their land and animal welfare, the Walraths also believe raising animals outdoors on pasture offers a better work environment for the family. “Animals raised in confinement—and the workers that work in intensive production systems—face stressful and unhealthy conditions,” explains Chelle. “Raising two or three thousand hogs in intensive production produces high levels of ammonia, noise, stress and dirt—and that is an incredibly challenging work environment.”
Chelle explains that industrial hog production can also be prohibitively expensive because of the infrastructure required to run the operation. “We would not be able to be swine farmers—we don’t have a million dollars to spend on a hog barn,” she says. “We’d rather invest in good quality stock than in building facilities that are not good for hogs anyway. We’re not going to make a million dollars, but there’s something about being able to go out in the sunshine and scratch a pig’s ear that you just can’t put a dollar on in terms of your own quality of life, and opportunities to experience joy and bring vitality back to our soils.”
The Walraths decided to pursue certification as a way to continue to build trust with their customers. “Certified Animal Welfare Approved by AGW certification allows us to communicate that we’re not just willing, but excited to have a third party come in and audit what we’re doing,” says Chelle. “We are welcoming this organization, and they are verifying via an extensive audit that we’re running an animal welfare-centered operation here. That same organization is providing consumer-friendly information about the standards and farm practices we follow and why they’re important. We are very proud to be able to use the Certified Animal Welfare Approved by AGW logo to promote our pork.”
Looking to the future, the Walraths hope to move to a larger farm, with more room for their horses and opportunities for agroforestry, in addition to pasture-based management. As well as continuing to sell at farmers’ markets, and offering their popular whole hog and bundle packs from the farm, they hope to expand to Kansas City and steadily work with more restaurants. They also hold competition barbeques every now and then, and have been surprised by the wide array of customers that have come their way searching for sustainable, high welfare pork, from all walks of life.
Chelle and Ray are proud grandparents, and all four of their children help with the operation in one way or another. “We get to use a lot of our own resources, since we have a pretty big bunch,” Chelle jokes. Their daughters, Skyler and Breanna, help with marketing; Breanna’s husband, Jacob, designed the farm’s logo; and Breanna is also a horticulturist and helps evaluate pasture, working to develop some permaculture. Sons Ethan and Sage both work on face-to-face marketing at farmers’ markets—and build a lot of fences!
Certified Animal Welfare Approved by AGW pork from Wild Bunch Farm, LLC will be available at Ruby Lu’s Market and Cafe in Mount Vernon, MO, and is currently available directly from the farm, by appointment only. For more information about Wild Bunch Farm, visit wildbunchfarm.com and contact the farm at firstname.lastname@example.org and 417-466-1115. You can also follow the farm on Facebook and Instagram.