Feral hog population in Texas climbing
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Feral hog population in Texas climbing

By Miles Dabovich
Texas Agrilife Extension Service agent, agriculture, Wichita County

It seems here lately that I keep hearing about feral hogs in the area and how they are tearing things up. Last week, at my in-laws place, a trapper caught 16 at one time; he said the thing is that probably didn't even knock a dent into the population that is on their place.

More than 2 million feral hogs roam Texas. Managing them will take more than just a few hunters. From 1993-2003, the damage from feral hogs that was reported to AgriLife Extension's Wildlife Services increased an average of 105 percent per year. The price tag for that damage now is conservatively estimated to be about $52 million per year.

Feral hogs are not a native to Texas. In fact, neither are domestic swine. Feral hogs are simply domestic hogs gone wild. With the potential for a female to have two litters a year and each litter having sometimes as many as 13 young, it doesn't take long for them to overrun an area. Under ideal conditions, the population can double in as little as four months.

Feral hogs are now found in more than 40 states. Swine were first brought to North America in the mid-1500s by the Spanish explorer Hernando De Soto. They seem to move from one water source to another. They are starting to move into areas we haven't seen them before. They are secretive, so you are not as likely to see them until the damage gets severe.

The key to managing their numbers is to catch them when they first come into a region. Hunting is a fairly effective way to lower the population, but will not be the solution.

The home range for a feral hog is 2 to 3 square miles for sows and 20 to 30 square miles for the boars, he said. Feral hogs generally move in family groups called sounders, including grandmothers, mothers and pigs. The males are generally excluded from the group and live a more solitary life.

Perceptions differ about feral hogs. Some people see them as a source of economic gain by way of paying hunters, others as a loss and liability. It is that tension between these two groups of people that causes problems getting control of them.

An increasing interest in feral hog hunting leases and guided hunts might be a silver lining to the problem, but it certainly won't solve the entire problem. They offer landowners, however, a way to recoup some of the money lost to the damage they do.

Also, feral hogs can be sold live to the meat trade. Texas Animal Health Commission rules and regulations must be followed regarding their movement and sale. Along with those two positives, it could be argued that as they root up the ground, they cause weeds to grow back where grasses were, and that is a benefit to game birds.

However, they are better known for their predation on young animals, whether wildlife or even sheep, goats and sometimes calves, he said. They also carry diseases such as pseudorabies and brucellosis.

The signs that feral hogs are in the area include damage to trees or utility poles, hair left on fences where hogs pass through, wallows and rooting areas where they forage for grubs and other insects. The feral hogs will damage water gaps, tear up net wire, wallow out springs and damage spillways. They leave behind damage in many crops, including corn, sorghum and especially to wheat and peanuts.

Wildlife impacts include predation on the young, the consumption of all the eggs of ground nesting birds they can find, and the tendency to dominate feeders and consume much of the feed targeted for other wildlife.

Welded wire hog panels on t-posts are good for protecting feeders. Some other methods of control or capture are:

--Snares, which can be used for individual animals that might be sold for meat.

--Baited traps with "rooter"-type entry gates, which allow multiple catches at a time.

--Aerial hunting. AgriLife Extension's Wildlife Services can remove hundreds of hogs in a day using this method.

The time has probably come that Wichita County residents may want to join forces in developing a plan to control wild hogs. I would be interested in knowing who would be interested in looking at the possibility of acquiring resources from the Wildlife Service Agency in order to do so. In most of the areas in Texas, this program is often supported by landowners and county Commissioners Courts. If you are interested in the possibility of this program let me know. If there is enough interest then I would be willing to get the ball rolling to see if we could get it in place.

5 Star OK\8-B

Date: 1/21/09

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