Swine running wild in Texas root up more than $50 million in damages

Feral hogs are running, well, hog wild in Texas. Most folks I’ve visited in the past few months list wild hogs as their number one crop pest, but say control options are much more limited than for something like aphids, plant bugs or boll weevils.

A lot of folks would like to see a feral hog eradication program similar to the one that has the cotton farmer’s old nemesis on the run. They can’t spray to kill wild hogs. It’s illegal to poison them.

So hogs pretty much take what they want out of newly-planted fields; they root up valuable forage crops, tear out fences and leave gashes in fields, orchards and pastures that cause damage to equipment and possibly to equipment operators.

I’ve talked to farmers who recall planting corn late in the evening and after making the turn at the end of the row meeting feral hogs coming the other way, rooting out the seed they’d just put in.

Hogs run roughshod through irrigated fields, wallowing in the damp spots, ripping out plants and exacting thousands of dollars in damages.

Farmers trap, shoot and set snares and wildlife specialists say with proper attention to the hogs’ behavior folks can decrease damage levels significantly. But they remain a pest — to most. Some ranchers who supplement income from cattle or sheep with hunting leases pick up some extra money with hog hunts. And hunters tell me that feral hog sausage is pretty good eating.

But, according to the best figures available, Texas has about 2 million wild swine running about. That’s a lot of sausage. And that’s a lot of damage. Estimates put annual losses at more than $50 million. Add another $7 million or so for control efforts and you get an idea of why farmers are not happy as wild hogs in slop.

They’d like a little help, maybe from the state or federal government, and maybe with some program that would reduce the population significantly. Poison’s out, but what about a sterilization dose administered through some kind of bait? Slowing reproduction would be a worthwhile goal. Feral hogs produce two litters a year and females can breed at about six months. Populations build in a hurry.

Farmers can shoot wild hogs at any time of the year — no closed season. But hunting takes out only a small number. They need to remove more than a few. Someone has proposed a program allowing hunting from helicopters, but the public relations backlash from that might be severe and the number removed would likely still be insignificant.

The Texas Extension Service has sponsored field days and other educational events that have given landowners a few tools to work with and a pilot project has shown that extensive trapping programs can be effective in removing hogs and reducing damage.

But farmers say they need more help. They hold out little hope that a program as effective as boll weevil eradication will be initiated. But they like the concept. They would welcome a program that supports their own efforts with research funds, and possibly some financial assistance with trapping and other means of rooting out these destructive pests.

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