1.5 million feral hogs in Texas
Almost everyone around Limestone County knows that Texas is having a problem with feral hogs but did you know that the first documented feral hogs introduced into the United States was in Florida by Hernando de Soto in 1593? Or that today, wild pigs can be found throughout the southeastern United States from Texas east to Florida and north to Virginia; and in Oklahoma, California, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands? Or that local introduction of these animals for hunting purposes occurred in Texas, North Carolina, Tennessee, Louisiana, and California.
In Texas there is an estimated population in excess of 1.5 million feral hogs. These hogs cause an estimated $52 million in damages to Texas agriculture annually. As populations continue to increase, the area they inhabit also continues to expand throughout the state. So, as a Texan, you should be aware of the situation and what feral hogs are and can do to your property.
First off, you should know there are slight differences between
the terms "wild hog" and "feral hog." Both wild hogs and feral hogs are from the species Sus scrofa. Feral hogs are an old world species belonging to the family Suidae, and in Texas include European wild hogs, feral hogs, and European-feral crossbreeds. Feral hogs are domestic hogs that either escaped or were released for hunting purposes. With each generation, the hog's domestic characteristics diminish and they develop the traits needed for survival in the wild. Wild pigs include both feral hogs and wild boar, native to Eurasia but introduced to North America to interbreed with feral hogs.
Wild boars have longer legs and larger heads with longer snouts than feral hogs. Both the male feral hog and wild boar have four (two on top, two on bottom) continuously growing tusks and their contact causes a continuous sharpening of the lower tusks. Wild boar and feral hogs hybridize freely; therefore, the term wild pig is appropriate as a generic term for these animals.
Just like domestic hogs, wild and feral hogs can be any color. A mature feral hog may reach a shoulder height of 36 inches and weigh up to 400 pounds. The extreme larger hogs are not generally far removed from domestication and like most species the males are generally larger in size than females. European wild hogs are generally about the same size; however, their legs and snouts are usually longer and they have a larger head in proportion to their body. Their body is also covered with long, stiff, grizzled colored hairs, long side whiskers, a longer straighter tail, and a nape on the neck giving the European hog a razorback, sloped appearance. The young are born with a reddish color with black longitudinal stripes. As they mature, the coat color changes to a dark brown or black color.
Feral hogs are capable of breeding at six months of age but eight to ten months is normal, provided there is good nutrition available. Under extremely poor habitat conditions, sows have been known to eat their young. Gestation is around 115 days with an average litter size of four to six. Feral hogs are capable of producing two litters a year, but most only reproduce one time a year. Feral hogs typically travel in family groups called sounders, comprised of two sows and their young. Mature boars are usually solitary, only joining the herd to breed.
Wild or feral hogs are not picky when it comes to finding a place to sleep. Hogs can be found in tidal marshes, mountain ranges, and they frequent livestock-producing areas. Wild hogs prefer mast-producing hardwood forests but will frequent conifer forests as well. They are also not picky about what they eat. Like the saying goes "eat like a hog," feral hogs are omnivorous, meaning they eat both plant and animal matter. Their dinner of choice will vary greatly depending on the location and time of year. Wild pigs will eat anything from grain to carrion (dead animals). Feral hogs primarily feed during the night and during twilight, but during cold or wet weather can be seen feeding during daylight hours.
Why they should concern you: Feral hogs compete directly with livestock as well as game and nongame wildlife species for food. Feral hogs are not afraid of trespassing on anyone's property. They will uproot and trample agricultural crops, fields, livestock feeding and watering facilities. They will destroy wildlife feeders, destabilize wetland areas, springs, creeks and tanks. These hogs will also destroy home lawns, forestry plantings and damage trees. While they are not active predators, wild hogs may prey on fawns, young lambs, kid goats, and consume eggs of ground nesting birds.
As far as disease risk, wild hogs do not pose a significant threat to humans; however, some diseases can be transmitted to livestock and wildlife. It is important to keep all livestock vaccinated, especially where large feral hog populations are concentrated. To keep from contracting a disease, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department recommends all hunters use disposable plastic or rubber gloves when field dressing or cleaning wild swine. Bury or burn the gloves and entrails and then wash hands with soap and hot water. Lastly, make sure meat is thoroughly cooked.
Feral hogs have managed to survive, adapt, and increase in numbers despite attempts at population control. It is possible to keep the population in check with continuous control; it is highly unlikely to eradicate a hog population within an established range. One of the easiest ways to keep numbers low is through hunting and trapping.
Like most things anymore, it is not as simple as placing a trap out or shooting your gun. Before you are allowed to hunt feral hogs on property not owned by you personally a hunting license is required, even though they are not classified as game animals, it is required. Live traps (information on constructing hog traps is available in the Limestone County Extension Office) and snares are also common methods utilized. But once you've captured a live hog you need to be aware that as of October 1, 2008, there are regulations for moving live wild hogs in Texas. The Texas Animal Health Commission (TAHC) regulates live wild hogs when they are moved from the premises where they were trapped or captured. There are differing regulations for moving sows & gilts versus boars & barrows. If you are interested in finding information on these regulations, there is a factsheet in the Texas AgriLife Extension Office or you may check out the TAHC website at www.tahc.state.tx.us.
So while these hogs are not new to America or exclusive to Texas, they are a serious unwanted, destructive, nuisance that needs to be of concern to you.
Information in this article is courtesy of the Texas A&M University Coping With Feral Hogs Website, http://feralhogs.tamu. edu/; the Cooperative Extension System Website, Wild Pigs, http://www.extension.org/pages/ Wild_Pigs; Texas Parks & Wildlife Publication, The Feral Hog in Texas, by Rick Taylor; The Texas Animal Health Commission Publication, Regulations for Moving Live Wild Hogs.
For more information, please contact Chelsea Farris at the Texas AgriLife Extension Service - Limestone County Office at 254-729-5314 or limestonetx@ tamu.edu.