For many rural Nebraska kids, spring means it’s time to purchase animals to raise and nurture in hopes that one will bring home a purple ribbon or championship trophy at this summer’s county fair.
Pigs purchased from Wolfe & Sons Show Pigs of rural Indianola, Nebraska, make that goal much more likely.
The Wolfes have slowly built a reputation in the show-pig business over the last 22 years and are now known around the country as one of the premiere show-pig businesses. They have sold pigs in nine states, and buyers have won state fair championships in Nebraska, Montana, Minnesota, Colorado, Idaho and New Mexico, plus top honors at national livestock shows in Denver, Colorado, and Fort Worth, Texas.
Greg Wolfe has raised hogs since he was eight years old growing up on a farm near Hartington.
It was pigs that kept dinner on his family’s table back in the 1950s and 1960s when the droughts or hailstorms destroyed their crops.
When he married and started his own family in the early 1970s, he started raising pigs as a side business to supplement his income as an office manager at Timmerman Cattle Feeding Corporation.
“I guess I just have a passion for hogs, and it wouldn’t leave me,” Greg said.
He raised hogs mainly to sell directly to packers for pork chops, bacon and other pork products.
But when hog prices took a nose dive in the late 1990s and his animals sold for only $30 a head, he almost gave up his passion.
That’s when his sons encouraged him to consider breeding and selling pigs as show animals.
Instead of selling his pigs for $30, Greg is now selling them for $200 to $5,000. Those high priced-pigs are earning even higher prices for customers as one went on to win a championship at a Texas livestock show where it sold for $32,000!
Showing pigs stretches back generations in Wolfe family
It’s a long tradition in Greg’s family to show pigs. It started with his dad and continued with him and his three sons: Dan, Joe and Matt.
Growing up, the Wolfe boys participated in 4-H and FFA projects showing both swine and cattle.
“When the kids got out of school and I got home from work, we’d go down and do pig chores,” Greg said. “It was an everyday routine.”
In addition to teaching kids about raising quality animals for food, the entire process teaches them responsibility and work ethic while also building confidence.
It wasn’t always something the boys looked forward to, but they eventually learned to appreciate the hard work they learned on the farm.
“It truly was work,” Greg said of their daily chores. “And a lot of our young kids today are losing out on the work ethic. When our sons went off to college, I remember getting phone calls from them thanking me for teaching them work ethic.”
The Wolfe brothers and other 4-H families often establish a college fund with money earned from selling animals after the fair. The Wolfes also participated in livestock judging, which gave them more opportunities to earn scholarships and learn important life skills.
“I couldn’t get over the change I saw in my kids when they did livestock judging,” Greg said. “When they had to do oral reasoning, that’s what really opened them up.”
Their mom, Diane, agreed, attributing her three sons’ strong speech skills to their livestock judging days.
When the boys judged livestock at animal shows around the country during college, their eyes were opened to the financial possibilities in the show-pig business.
That was about the same time as the commercial hog prices were reaching record lows.
“I thought I was going under,” Greg said. “It was tough. If it hadn’t been for my full-time job as an office manager at a cattle feedlot, I think I would have gone under.”
That’s when the boys convinced their dad to raise show pigs.
New business model thrives on attention to detail
In 1996, Greg and his sons began selling pigs at their farm and at sales where families and kids would buy them for 4-H projects. Greg and his sons worked to find and breed pigs with just the right genetics that judges would rank as top quality.
Greg said it took about six or seven years for the pigs to start winning championships and for families to take notice of Wolfe & Sons pigs. In 2003, they started the annual show-pig sale in McCook. Now families from nine states converge in McCook each spring for the annual Wolfe & Sons show-pig sale where they sell approximately 200 pigs each year.
The average pig sale price that first year was $216. In 2016, that average grew to $638.
Greg said he remembers thinking, “If I ever sell a $1,000 pig, I will be the happiest man on earth.”
That happened during the third or fourth annual sale. In later years, when a pig sold for $5,000, Greg said he nearly broke down in tears.
“I didn’t think I could ever get to that kind of level when I got in this business,” Greg said. “And, also just knowing how proud my dad would be of me today.”
Successful rural business begins with encouragement from sons
The Wolfes’ favorite part of their business is the friendships they have made with their customers and others in the show-pig business.
“It’s a fabulous business,” Greg said. “The list of friends you make is ultimately what we do this for.”
A reputation for excellent customer service and an attention to detail have helped them grow a successful business. Greg’s pig pens are impeccably clean, and he spends many sleepless nights assisting in pig births each January through March.
And, they couldn’t have done it without the help of their sons.
Their son, Dan, lives near Raymond and works for a cattle pharmaceutical company. Joe is a swine transportation manager in Arkansas, and Matt is a swine consultant and nutritionist for Cargill. All three sons, along with their wives and seven kids, help promote the business, assist with preparing the pigs for auction and help during the sale.
Greg retired from Timmermans in 2012, and as he approaches age 65, he’s also considering cutting back on his pig business as well. He hopes that the younger generation will step up and realize the potential in agricultural careers in rural Nebraska.
“It’s a fabulous business,” Greg said. “The list of friends you are going to make is unlimited. What a wide open door. These young kids today — the opportunities in the ag industry are beyond your imagination.”