The Hog Epidemic is Here Now!
- Invasive Species, Out of Control
- Existing Wildlife Threatened – Forage Issue
- One SOW Yields 200 newborns in One year!
By Jill J. Easton
For landowners in an ever-increasing area of the country, hogs are a horribly expensive pest. Their rooting makes land untillable, requiring thousands of dollars in leveling and reworking, and the pigs also eat and destroy billions of dollars of crops each year. The hogs also compete directly with native wildlife for available food such as acorns, berries, and other forms of hard and soft mast.
Texas estimates the state has more than 2.6 million wild hogs and the number is increasing rapidly. One rancher in Oklahoma, using an airplane, killed 1,500 hogs on his land two years ago. He still sees hundreds of hogs each time he flies.
The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service of the US Department of Agriculture (APHIS) spent 51.77 percent of its 2015-16 Arkansas animal damage control budget on feral swine, working with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission which is trapping the animals. So far the pigs are still winning.
Last spring in Arkansas, I saw a big group of hogs that easily numbered 200 and included everything from bread-box sized squealers to giant sows that weighed upwards of 250 pounds. People in the neighborhood were shooting two or three pigs per day and Arkansas isn’t considered one of the states with a bad hog problem.
Another pig problem is that most of the wild swine are not the domesticated hogs you see at the state fair. These are either the descendants of Russian boar stock turned loose by guides and outfitters, or they are domesticated animals that have reverted to wild characteristics. In a few generations they develop the longer legs, hairy body and the tusks of wild pigs. If hunted, they also quickly turn nocturnal, making them more difficult to shoot. Wild pigs grow large – 400-pounders, while not common, are far from rare – and their size makes them even more destructive to the environment. When cornered, they can also be dangerous to dogs or people.
Led by Tennessee, many states have put strict controls, or made it illegal, to shoot wild hogs, especially on public land. The reasoning is two-fold: if it’s not legal to hunt them, it becomes less attractive for hunters to illegally release them; and hunting also disrupts hog feeding and movement patterns, making them much harder to trap.
Regardless of the reasoning, the no-hunting regulation leaves landowners with basically only one option – trapping. Fortunately, this method of control can produce results if done diligently and correctly. Pen traps can catch 20 or more pigs at one time and can be bought or built using heavy duty wire or welded pen sections that can be moved from place to place following the pig’s movements. The traps are baited with various substances, one of the favorites being corn mixed with Kool Aid or beer and allowed to ferment for a few days. When the hogs enter the trap and begin to eat, their movements trigger a guillotine door that falls and contains them. Most state regulations require that there is an opening on the top of the trap so turkeys, deer and bears can escape.
State wildlife agencies have started their own trapping programs and are growing more sophisticated with their trapping methods as the hogs continue to increase and/or get wise to the old trapping methods. Some states are now using remotely operated pen traps: A camera is set up pointing at the trap. The camera sends motion operated pictures to a cell phone when animals show up. When most or all, of the hogs are in the trap, the gate is closed by a signal through the cell phone.
Snaring hogs is also a possibility, but even multiple snares in a location don’t collect enough animals to keep pig numbers in check. It will, however, work in specific instances where only one or two hogs (usually older bores who live alone except for breeding) are causing the problem.
The next problem is deciding what to do with the hogs once they are in the trap. If they are not taken care of within a few hours they will find a way to get out either by climbing the panels, rooting under or breaking down the enclosure. The problem is once they are dead, then what? Wild hogs, especially those under 200 pounds are surprisingly good to eat. Big tusked boars smell horrible and I have been told they taste like they smell. Stick to the sows and smaller males for food. Wild pig meat is lean, makes great sausage and pork roast. Make sure to cook it thoroughly since there is a danger of trichinosis in wild swine.
If there is a permanent pig problem, a carcass dump is the best answer. Make sure it is in an area far away from houses and livestock. The dead animals will make you very popular with buzzards and coyotes.
The key to hog control, as any wildlife biologist dealing with the problem will tell you, is diligence. It’s not something you can do for a while and then slack off. It’s an ongoing thing, because the hogs don’t quit breeding. Remember that year-old grandmother sow with the 200 offspring? They’re ALL like that.
Next week we will talk about how to solve raccoon problems.