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Pig Problems

December 8, 2012
By: Rhonda Brooks, Farm Journal Seeds & Production Editor
pD6 Pig Problems

Feral hogs cause $1.5 billion in crop and property damage annually

Pigs don’t fly, but they trailer well—which means that feral hogs can easily move from state to state.

John "Jack" Mayer, a renowned wild hog expert, chuckles when he shares the revamped phrase, but he’s not joking about the problems feral hogs pose to farm ground, livestock and people. Total damages, ranging from ruined corn to car wrecks, add up to more than $1.5 billion a year, according to research by David Pimentel, professor emeritus, Cornell University.

"A pig bomb is going off in the U.S., and people need to take it seriously," says Mayer, a scientist with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Savannah River National Laboratory in Aiken, S.C.

He says wild hogs have now been reported in 46 states and the total population is between 3 million and 8 million. "Delaware, Rhode Island, Connecticut and Wyoming are the only states I know of that haven’t reported them," Mayer reports.

Feral hogs were introduced to what is now Florida by the Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto in 1539. While the largest populations still reside in the South, feral hogs are moving north. This expansion has been helped by escapes from private game ranches as well as sportsmen who truck the hogs from one state to another and then release them for hunting purposes. 

Rush for control. Residents in states where the pigs are a fairly new problem have varying and often contentious views on the issue. Nowhere is that more obvious than in Michigan, home to more than 2,000 feral hogs. The debate there transcends science and logic, says Jim Byrum, president of the Michigan Agri-Business Association.

Some members of the state government, along with many sportsmen, want to regulate the Michigan swine industry, Byrum adds. This would enable wild game ranches that offer feral hog hunts to continue operating.

"Most of us are pretty darn skeptical that anything short of total confinement would work," Byrum says. "We don’t believe regulation is the answer."

Byrum and most members of the Michigan agricultural community want to eliminate wild hog populations, as the animals can carry diseases such as pseudorabies and bovine tuberculosis, which can wreak havoc on livestock.

Billy Higginbotham, Texas AgriLife Extension Service specialist at Texas A&M, says eradication is probably possible in states with small populations of feral pigs, but that’s not the situation any longer in Texas. "We estimate there are about 2.6 million hogs here, in nearly every county," he says.

There are several legal control measures for Texas landowners, Higginbotham says. They can shoot, trap, snare and catch feral hogs with dogs. They can also shoot them from helicopters.

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FEATURED IN: Farm Journal - December 2012
RELATED TOPICS: Land, Production

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