Written by DeShea Wallace
The barn is full to the brim with excited prospective pig buyers. Some faces in the crowd have been around since the first pig sale 14 years ago, while there are other countless new faces anxiously hoping to buy some of the most talked about genetics. Old or new, everyone has one thing in common, they are valued customers to Will Hilty and his family. Whether they have their sights set on winning their county fair or competing at The Exposition, Will is going to help each customer work toward achieving their goals.
Will Hilty, Hilty Showpigs, has some of the most successful genetics in the swine business. Today, people from all over are buying barrows in hopes of winning a show, but Will had a humble beginning.
Will, his wife, Callie and their two girls Kinley (3) and Kenna (8 months) live on the farm Will grew up on in Mount Pleasant, Pennsylvania. Hilty Showpigs is primarily made up of a hundred head of crossbred sows and a handful of Yorkshires. Will’s father and grandfather started the farm and have had pigs on the property since Will can remember.
“I grew up on the farm that we live on now. We always had a few pigs on the farm and my Dad and Grandfather were both active in exhibiting swine,” says Hilty.
Although active in showing swine, his predecessors were never big on a national level. His Dad and Grandfather had a handful of sows and only dabbled at the county and state level until Will came along and put the small Pennsylvania farm on the map.
“When I was a kid growing up, the only thing we had was an old bank barn. We had the bare necessity in terms of pig facilities and getting pigs raised,” says Will.
In 2009 he built his original show barn with about twenty-four crates for farrowing sows. When the babies got to the stage they needed to be weaned they would have to tear down crates and build pens to lay down shavings.
“It was an awful job because the crates were heavy and awkward, but we made the best of it,” describes Will.
Now at the beginning of the new year the small farm has grown exponentially with a brand new double Art’s Way farrowing house with about 36 farrowing crates and a nursery space for about 500 little pigs. Additionally, they have a slatted barn where they can grow replacement gilts, and some dirt lots for their sows. To top it all off they are in the process of building a breeding barn.
Will is grateful for his upbringing, it is what lit the passion for the livestock industry, specifically the showpigs.
“I think that exposure just led me to be passionate and ate up with it from an early age. I mean, that’s really all I ever wanted to do. I love to go to shows, love to get to meet people and be around pigs. From the time I can remember when I was little, I’ve always loved to be around it and wanted to be around it,” remarked Hilty.
As for his wife, Callie, although she grew up just a mile and a half from the farm, she comes from a very different upbringing.
“I didn’t even grow up around any livestock or 4-H,” Callie explains. “We did sports my whole life and into college.”
Callie is now a Certified Athletic Trainer, as well as, a full-time Mom to their little girls. Even though she didn’t grow up around livestock she has a special appreciation for it and loves raising her kids in the industry.
“I couldn’t tell you the difference between a crossbred or a Yorkshire when I met Will,” Callie jokes. “But, I enjoy it. I’ve learned so much and I’m still learning.”
While Callie and Will both agree that the success of their operation is nice what they value the most are the people.
“I think one of the things that will never change about our operation is what the people mean to us, what the kids mean to us, and what the relationships mean to us,” says Will.
Will goes on to say that you can have the best pigs in the world, but if you’re not a good person and don’t treat people right, you’ll never really be successful. That’s why his firm finds so much importance in continuing to build the relationships they have had from the beginning and work on creating new relationships with potential customers and families.
The showpig barn isn’t the only barn Will has built life long relationships in, in fact, Will contributes a lot of his success in the swine business to a completely different species.
“Not long out of high school I started, a hoof trimming business,” says Will. “I trimmed some show cattle, but mainly dairy cattle.”
Will started his hoof trimming business at just 20 years old and poured a lot of time and effort into that business for nearly 18 years.
“I was just talking to some guys about trimming cattle and they asked how many I thought I had trimmed in my full time with my business. I figured I have trimmed somewhere between 80,000 and 100,000 head of cattle in an 18 year period,” explains Will.
While he isn’t trimming hooves full time anymore Will really contributes a lot of Hilty Showpigs success to that business and appreciates the real world livestock experience he gained in that role.
“I think that honestly I contribute that real world livestock experience and being around those cattle and trimming feet to a lot of the knowledge I have in the pig barn,” describes Will.
Will says when trimming feet on cattle, specifically dairy cattle, a lot of the cows have structural issues that contribute to them having feet problems. Will says a lot of the knowledge he learned about livestock in general through trimming hooves really helped him apply it to the sows out in the sow lot. He also appreciates the time and monetary value that the hoof trimming business gave him to propel the pig barn to where it is now.
“I could kind of make my own schedule and then every bit of money that I was able to make doing that I would invest back into the pigs whether that be in the facilities or in our genetics,” said Will. “It really gave me the opportunity to grow our swine operation, which has always been my primary focus.”
Now, Will still has the hoof trimming table and will still trim hooves a couple times a month, first, because he enjoys it but mainly because he wants to continue to give back to the people and the industry that gave him his start and got him to where he is today.
That’s a common factor you will hear when speaking to Will, his primary focus is always on the relationships with his customers. Him and his crew really pride themselves on customer service.
“I think we build a lot of our operation on our customer service and following up with people after they get those pigs on feed and trying to make as many visits as we can throughout the summer and fall to see those people and try and help them,” remarks Will.
However, it isn’t without help that Will is able to make everything happen on the farm. Will and Callie are both very busy people. When they aren’t at the farm or being full time parents, Will also stays very busy traveling the nation either selling pigs or judging them. The farm is able to stay up and running thanks to another Hilty, Will’s younger brother, Jason.
“My younger brother Jason has worked full time here for about two years and honestly, I don’t know how we were able to do it without him,” Will imagines. “He is an absolute game changer in terms of having someone at home that is reliable and dependable while I am away,” he remarks.
Will has one big goal in mind when it comes to the future of his business and that is wanting to continue to be the kind of person and the kind of operation that people want to do business with.
Genuine is one word that describes Will. His peer’s success means just as much to him as his own and that’s why he works so hard to help his customers. But, Will also has high expectations for the work those owners put into their swine projects.
“I would always tell people that buy pigs from us that you’re going to get out of me what you put into it, so if you’ve got the work ethic, the time, and the want to, you’re going to get that from me,” Will states.
The more Will’s customers care and the more dedicated they are the more dedication is reciprocated back to them. If they are willing to put in the work, Will really tries to help them achieve their goals.
For Will, his customer’s success can mean a multitude of different things, but he wants to remain competitive at every stage.
“So many things can be viewed as success within the show industry,” explains Will. “It doesn’t always have to be a purple banner, but we want to continue to be competitive at every stage of the game.”
Will’s success can even be measured by the sure growth of their operation.
“Whether it is at the county, state, or national level, and I think the biggest growth that we’ve seen within our operation is the amount of pigs that we sell outside of Pennsylvania and the Midwest.”
Will goes on to talk about how a large part of his market is now in the southwest in Texas and Oklahoma.
“The expansion of the fall market has been a big growing factor and we want to continue to do that. There are kids all over the country interested in showing hogs so I think that one of our goals is to continue to expand our operation and sell pigs in all regions of the country.”
No matter where Will’s customers come from he always remains with the same goal in mind.
“We want to make an effort to continue to expand into different regions, reach more customers, and continue to provide them the same kind of customer and experience that we’ve provided people for the last fifteen years,” says Will.
To Will and his family at Hilty Showpigs success means so much more than the award won inside the ring. Success varies from customer to customer being able to accomplish their goals.
“I’m the most proud of just helping families achieve their goals, whether it is to win their county fair or potentially win their state fair or even win at the national level. Sometimes it’s the biggest shows you’re the proudest of and sometimes it’s the smallest. That level of pride all depends on what that particular show means to our customer and their family.”
Read this story and more in the January/February/March Seedstock EDGE Magazine. To view now click here!