Saturday, July 16, 2011

Costly Invasive Species: Feral Hogs

Several years ago,  our neighbors pointed out some fence damage on their land.  They were pretty sure the suspects were feral hogs.  We started noticing the same type of damage to our fences.  As we became more aware, we started to recognize the other signs of feral hogs - rooting in fields and under large trees, wallowing in puddles and around the earthen tank, mud on tree trunks, and the obvious hog scat. As we fixed fences and repaired waterlines, we also researched online and asked around to find out more about feral hogs.  

These hogs are not wild animals, meaning they are not native to the US.  They have no natural enemies to keep their numbers in check.  They do not belong here.  Feral hogs are an invasive species.

night photo taken by infrared trail cam

Ask anyone in the Texas Hill Country and they will tell you all about the hogs.  Warning: it's likely that this topic will "fire up" even the most gentle personalities.  And I don’t blame them - on our land alone, over the last few years, the feral hogs have cost us weeks of vacation time and thousands of dollars to fix the damages. 





hateful stinging imported red fire ants

In our last post, we focused on parasitic birds, like the brown-headed cowbird and their effects on native songbirds.  Besides cowbirds and feral hogs, there are other invasive species affecting the environment in Texas.  The overgrowth of cedar and mesquite trees along with poverty weed are big nuisances in central Texas and cost the landowners time and money to remove them.  During the summer, imported red fire ants make it impossible spend time on the lawn in the humid Houston and East Texas areas without getting stung, and they are listed as major factors in the decline of Texas Horned Lizard  in the West parts of Texas due to their aggressive, territorial nature. 

All that considered, the cost of those issues are peanuts compared to those caused by feral hogs.

But don’t take my word for it - according to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, feral hogs are a big problem. They compete directly with livestock, game species, and other wildlife for food.  Not only that, but the rooting and trampling activity can damage agricultural crops, fields, and livestock feeding and watering facilities.  They also destabilize wetland areas, springs, creeks and tanks by excessive rooting and wallowing. In addition to habitat destruction and alteration, hogs can destroy forestry plantings and damage trees. While not active predators, wild hogs may prey on fawns, young lambs, and kid goats. If the opportunity arises, they may also destroy and consume eggs of ground nesting birds, such as turkeys and quail.

Due to the excessive degradation of environment and cost to landowners in Texas, feral hogs are classified as unprotected, exotic, non-game animals. TPWD encourages landowners to eradicate feral hog populations, by any means or methods at any time of year.  This is the main topic for today - removing invasive species, such as feral hogs, to conserve native wildlife and preserve natural habitats. 

With the extreme drought in Texas right now, food is scarce and we are seeing more hog evidence than ever before.  Seldom will you find such agreement among Texans and TPWD - "the feral hogs must be stopped!" 

There are various methods, including baiting and shooting, much like deer hunting.  Trapping methods include snares, single traps, and corral traps.  Hunting dogs can be employed to find and hold one hog at a time.  With the right conditions, a group of individuals could use the thrashing and corralling method.

Over last few years, we tried baiting and shooting, which works for hunting deer, but we have not found this method to be successful with hogs.  However, recently we built and baited a corral with a trap door.  With this method, we caught 6 feral hogs!  Our trail camera, with night-vision infrared, caught the feral hogs with their snouts in the corn.  Have you seen anything like this before?



Feral hog trapping is not for the faint of heart nor for the unarmed.  As we experienced, fenced corrals may hold in 6 feral hogs while they eat some free corn, but a startled group of hogs can charge the corral walls and either damage the fence or push over the fence.  When cornered or hungry, they can attack humans.

Case in point, KVUE, a local news channel recently ran this story about a man in Central Texas that was attacked by feral hogs:  http://www.kvue.com/news/Marble-Falls-man-attacked-by-feral-pig-125454263.html

Feral hogs are found throughout much of Texas with the highest population densities occurring in East, South and Central Texas.  However, reports indicate that populations are beginning to expand in other areas.  Plus, some hunting operations are still importing wild Russian/European boars.  There is currently an estimated population in excess of 1.5 million feral hogs in Texas.  That's a lot o' pork!  But the problem doesn’t stop there...  the numbers in Florida, Mississippi, and Louisiana are on the rise as well.

If that wasn't enough to make you want pork chops for dinner, then here's more information: 
  • Feral hogs may appear basically the same as domestic hogs and will vary in color and coat pattern.
  • A mature feral hog may reach a shoulder height of 36 inches and on weigh from 100 to over 400 pounds. The extreme larger hogs are generally not far removed from domestication. Males are generally larger than females. European wild hogs are about the same size; however, their legs and snouts are usually longer and they have a larger head in proportion to the body.
  • Their body is 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 crossing of European and feral hogs often produces an offspring with some European characteristics. Feral hogs are more muscular than domestic hogs, and have very little fat.
  • Additionally, the hairs of European appearing hogs and their hybrids frequently have multiple split ends. The young are born a reddish color with black longitudinal stripes. As they mature, the coat color becomes predominantly dark brown or black.
  • Hogs have four continuously growing tusks (two on top, two on bottom) and their contact causes a continuous sharpening of the lower tusks. They have relatively poor eyesight but have keen senses of hearing and smell.
  • Gestation is around 115 days with an average litter size of four to six, but under good conditions may have ten to twelve young. While capable of producing two litters per year, research has shown the majority of sows have only one per year. Young may be born throughout the year with peak production in the early spring. Feral hogs generally travel in family groups called sounders, comprised normally of two sows and their young. Mature boars are usually solitary, only joining a herd to breed.