Feral hogs - rooting up disaster in Bandera County
By Carolyn B. Edwards BCC Staff Writer
When Dr. James Cathey, an Extension Wildlife Specialist with the Texas AgriLife Extension Service, asked a crowd of local property owners, "How many of you have feral hogs on your property, and how many of you are experiencing damage from them?" almost every hand in the house went up.
Clearly, feral hogs are a growing problem for agriculturists here, and the damage they cause can make the difference between a rancher making ends meet and losing money.
Cathey was speaking at a predator management seminar held at Mansfield Park Thursday, August 22. "There was a time when feral hogs were relatively rare," he said. "They were found mainly along the state's river bottoms." Today, hog populations have exploded and the only counties in Texas for which they have not yet become a problem are in far West Texas and the western edge of the Panhandle. They are also now found in 38 US states.
Why are there so many?
"The feral hog is the most prolific US mammal," said Cathey. "They can breed as early as 3 - 4 months, with a 115 day gestation period and they breed throughout the year." While a domestic pig may have one litter of 7 - 10 piglets a year, the feral sow will have 3 - 8 several times a year.
They are ferocious and have no natural enemies. For defense, they have a shield that develops across the shoulders, a thick plaque of skin and tissue that can be up to two inches thick and almost bullet proof. They also use their long, sharp teeth as weapons.
"Feral hogs are omnivores, they'll eat anything," said Cathey, "they are intelligent, they take advantage of supplemental feedings ranchers put out for cattle and deer."
All of the feral hogs in the US today are the same genus, Sus scrofa. They carry a genetic mix from the wild boar, aka the Russian boar, other Eurasian domestic breeds, hogs brought to the New World by the Spanish explorers, and domestic hybrids.
It is estimated that feral hogs cause over $52 million in agriculture property damage annually. A group of hogs, called a sounder, can easily cause as much as $10,000 a year in damage to a ranch property. There are growing instances of suburban property damage as well.
"There are two kinds of landowners in Texas, those that have hogs today and those who will have them someday," said Cathey.
Their negative impacts include damage caused by rooting and trampling crops, wallowing in mud pits that lead to erosion and are breeding grounds for e coli, destruction of wildlife food plots, destruction of fences and feeders, competition with livestock and desirable wildlife for food and other resources, eating wild turkeys, kids and lambs, causing soil erosion, and destruction of native plants.
The hogs also carry swine brucellosis and pseudorabies, which can be fatal in cattle and dogs.
Because they are disease carriers, anyone planning to hunt hogs for food should take precautions, advised Cathey. "Wear a double pair of gloves, eye protection and keep your mouth closed while butchering." All surfaces and tools should be washed down with a bleach solution and the pork should be properly cooked. No rare pork chops or sausage, please!
The Texas Animal Health Commission regulates the transport of feral hogs that have been trapped. Texas Parks and Wildlife regulates the hunting of feral hogs. If you are hunting for a trophy or for meat, you need a hunting license. Feral hogs can be hunted year around, there is no bag limit and you can hunt them 24-hours a day. Cathey advised hunters to give their local game warden a heads up if they plan to hunt with a spotlight at night. "It's just the neighborly thing to do."
He advised the attentive crowd that there are currently no approved toxicants for killing wild hogs.
There are several methods of trapping feral hogs and Cathey recommends using larger traps that "trap the entire sounder." While these corral traps can be expensive, they can be designed to allow trapped deer to escape. The Extension Service has an information brochure detailing the construction of corral traps.
Some game ranches create an income stream by allowing their hunters to hunt feral hogs. "If you're making money on feral hogs, I hope you're putting it into the fight," said Cathey.
The growing cost of feral hog damage to agriculture property should be a concern to everyone. It's a problem that has only hard solutions. "If we're serious about bringing the numbers down," Cathey concluded, "the cute little ones have to be killed, too."