Controlling destructive wild hogs

Oct 29, 2011
by DTN

The fast-proliferating critters may make exciting target shooting, but farmers in a large swath of the U.S. find wild hogs to be a serious— and expensive— pest.

USDA calculates wild hogs cause $1.5 billion of damage to crops annually. In the past 30 years, feral swine populations have expanded from just nine southern states to 39 states today.

Estimates have the feral hog population in the U.S. at 4 million. The largest numbers are found in Hawaii, Texas, California and Florida. They range as far north as Wisconsin and Iowa, and are also found in four Canadian provinces.

The wily rooters—weighing 150 pounds and more, with keen senses of smell and hearing—run in family groups, called sounders, of 20 and even 50 animals. They rip through pasture and cropland, destroy fences, and have been clocked at 30 mph.

Feral hogs have no natural predators, and they eat both plants and animals. They have become such a problem in Germany that some are calling for the military to take up the hunt.

Feral hogs are carriers of a plethora of swine diseases, including hog cholera, pseudorabies and swine fever.

“Up to 20 to 30 percent of the feral hog population in Alabama has brucellosis,” says state veterinarian Tony Frazier.

And, laments Chris Jaworowski of the Alabama Department of Natural Resources, “you won’t deal with another animal that has the reproductive capacity of hogs.” Females can breed at six months of age and produce two to four litters a year with four to 12 piglets in each litter.

Control measures

Hunting hogs one at a time can’t seriously suppress a wild hog population, Jaworowski says. Two breeding pairs can become 16,000 pigs in just three years. That’s why Jaworowski and other wildlife specialists recommend landowners use large cage traps to knock down their wild hog populations.

“With wild pigs, it is about killing them,” says Dana Johnson of USDA’s Wildlife Services division. A recent successful effort eradicated 250 hogs on a 1,500-acre farm, Johnson says.

States have developed various initiatives to tackle the problem. In Alabama, the Cooperative Extension Service recently conducted a series of seminars to help landowners deal with the wild hog invasion. Officials told landowners that because of strict environmental and wildlife regulations, it is important that they first contact their county game warden or wildlife officer to learn of any local rules that affect wild hog hunting and trapping. Most wildlife officials are enthusiastic supporters of wild hog eradication efforts.

The regulations, says Johnson, are to ensure that catching and killing the hogs doesn’t negatively affect desirable wildlife. In many areas, hunting hogs at night or with bait may require a permit. Many county and state wildlife management departments also have a variety of cage traps available for loan.

“If you follow their food and water supplies, you’ll find the pigs,” says Johnson.

As for bait, Jaworowski suggests corn topped with something sweet like molasses or peanut butter. But the list of what they won’t eat is pretty small. “What won’t they eat?” is a better question, he says. “Anything with a strong smell will attract them.”

The best place to put cage traps is around thickets with shade that are close to protective cover and near a water and food source. Check with your local wildlife experts concerning the disposal of the carcasses.

Because of the diseases they carry, the damage they cause and the natural resources they take away from favorable game animals, Alabama’s Frazier has little sympathy for the wild hogs in his state. “The only good feral swine is a dead feral swine,” he declares.

Jaworowski offers one caution: Landowners should be extremely careful when dealing with wild hogs. The sows are aggressively protective of their young, and the boars have flesh-slashing tusks.— DTN