No doubt that by now everyone’s heard of the Texas Feral Hog problem. It’s an issue that has actually been around for quite some time, but is finally reaching critical mass. So much so that the government has just approved a new means to eradicate the issue: aerial hunting of the beasts, known as the “pork chopper bill,” recently signed into law and set to go into effect September 1, 2011. The question that I’ve been asked more and more and one that I’ve posed myself is: “What’s the big issue?” Does a group of pigs run amuck really justify such extreme measures of eradication? Why do they have to be eradicated in the first place? The answer to these questions, in my opinion, as well as that of land owners, ranchers, farmers and government officials is: Yes! I have to disagree, however, with the means of eradication, but we’ll get to that later. First and foremost, friends, I’d like to take this opportunity to introduce you to the feral hog, and tell you just why it’s become such a problem.
Sus Scrofa, (sus is the genus and scrofa is the species) is the proper name of feral or wild hogs throughout the U.S., with an estimated population of 2 million in Texas alone. They are extremely adaptable and have a high reproductive rate, which is why they’ve done so well since their introduction!
How Did They Get Here?
There are actually three types of hogs that classify as “wild boars.” The first hogs were domesticated by Spanish explorers and brought to the New World as a food source. They were raised as free range, and once settlers moved or abandoned their homes, most were left to fend for themselves, becoming feral. In the 1930’s, Eurasian wild hogs, also known as “Russian Wild Boar,” were introduced to Texas by ranchers and hunters for purposes of hunting them. These wild boar met up with the feral domestic hog, creating a hybrid of the two. All three types are collectively called “feral hogs” and are so interbred it’s hard to tell the difference. In fact, there are few, if any, pure Eurasian wild hogs in Texas. It is important to note that there is one native species of hog, the Javelina, indigenous to the Southwestern U.S., but is not closely related to the feral hogs, though is often confused.
How Have They Done So Well?
As I stated earlier, they are a very adaptable group, and are the most prolific large, wild mammal in North America. This is due in part to their high reproductive rate. A sow (female) can produce 2 litters a year, and begin breeding as young as 6 months if food is abundant. If it’s scarce or times are harder, they’ll begin breeding at 8-10 months of age. A younger sow will have a litter of 4-8 piglets, and older sows will have 10-13. Due to this rate of reproduction, a hog population can double in 4 months. They generally stay in groups of 2-20 individual hogs, and range an average of 15 miles in search of food. During drought times or when food is scarce, there may be 40-50 hogs together and range to 19 miles.
They have been described as “opportunistic omnivores,” and eat pretty much anything that’s available. They will eat green vegetation, fruit, grain, roots and tubers, carrion and the young of wild mammals and livestock. They prefer areas of bottomland, and prefer areas close to streams, creeks, lakes or marshes. They also prefer areas with dense vegetation to conceal them and protect them from the elements.
What’s the Problem?
It is estimated that the feral hogs in Texas cause an estimated $400 million dollars worth of damage every year. Their damage is both environmental and agricultural; they compete with livestock for habitat and food; harbor endemic diseases and transmit parasites. I have to admit, I was a little shocked at these numbers and laundry list of offenses as well, but once it’s broken down to the numbers, it was eye opening!
Feral hogs will eat every part of farmers’ crops: seeds, mature crops, hay, turf and gardens), as well as vegetation intended for livestock feed. They forage primarily by rooting the ground in search of food, which damages crops by tilling up the soil where plants are planted, in addition to eating the actual plant itself. Rooting damages the pasture to the point it can damage farm equipment or harm livestock.
They cause great damage to fences causing domestic animals to escape or allow predators in; the hogs being a predator themselves on lamb, kids or calves.
Since they prefer areas where water is present for wallows, stock tanks and ponds are particularly appealing for the hogs, as has been our experience on the ranch. Their wallowing severely muddies waters, causing algae blooms and generally souring of water. It also causes soil erosion around the banks.
Along with spoiling the water supply, the hogs will damage feeders and food plots intended for wildlife such as deer. If the hogs frequent the area enough, the deer will eventually stop going where hogs are present.
As I’ve previously mentioned, feral hogs are omnivores. In addition to carrion, they will predate on smaller animals, both domestic and wild. Some examples of an easy meal for a group of feral hogs would be: calves, lambs, kids, deer fawn, ground nesting birds or smaller mammals.
In addition to tearing up the land, spoiling the water supply, and eating the young of other mammals, these lovely feral guests also carry a broad range of diseases and parasites. Swine brucellosis is the number one threat to domestic pigs, but can also be transmitted to humans. It passes through the bodily fluids, however, and is not present when the meat is thoroughly cooked. They also carry pseudorabies, Anthrax, African Swine Fever and hog cholera. These present the biggest threat to both domestic livestock and other wildlife.
This is an introduction to our formidable enemy. I’ll be the first to admit, I wasn’t aware of the list of complaints that landowners had about the feral hogs until I’d begun researching it. I’ve seen first hand the uprooted land, destroyed feeders and mangled fences, but didn’t realize the actual cost of replacing or repairing these problems until I had to do it a few times. These highly adaptable, intelligent creatures are quite a problem for us here in the Lone Star State, and a problem that has been offered a number of solutions. However, I have my opinions of what to do with them. I’m just glad it’s a tasty problem to deal with, and for now, I prefer hunting and eating the problem, but I’ll go into that in another blog!