Feral hog problem continues

Thursday, August 17, 2006

The U.S. Forest Service hosted the Walk When the Moon is Full program "Hog Wild Moon" at the Shell Knob Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) Pavilion on Aug. 9.

"Feral hogs are an invasive species because they impact other animals," said Scott Radford, who is a wildlife specialist with the United State Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

Wild hogs have been in Missouri for many years, said Radford. When farmers ran free-ranching hog farms, many hogs broke free of the group and began living in the wild.

"The feral hog problem began when people began to bring the hogs into the state in order to hunt them," said Radford. "People began trucking them into the state because of the liberal hunting season on wild hogs."

A 1998 study showed established feral hog populations in 12 areas of the state. A 2006 study reflected established wild hog populations in over 30 Missouri counties and isolated sightings in 19 other areas. Southwest Missouri has the largest concentration of wild hog populations, said Radford.

"Feral hogs are the number one invasive hoofed species," said Radford. "They have two litters a year with at least 10 pigs in each litter, and they can start producing offspring at 10 months of age."

Although there is no way to tell how many feral hogs are in Missouri, Radford estimates the state-wide population to be over 1,000 hogs. Radford has trapped over 150 hogs in a nine-month period.

"Feral hogs come in all colors of the rainbow," said Radford. "They will have long hair on their back and an elongated snout."

Missouri's wild hogs are called feral because they are a hybrid or cross-breed of Russian hogs and American domestic pigs.

"They cross them to put on weight and because the domestic pigs are cheaper and easier to get," said Radford. "True wild hogs are all lean meat."

As they evolve, wild hogs will develop a longer snout to dig with and large front shoulders, which act as shields for fighting.

Property owners can track feral hogs by looking for hoof prints, which resemble deer prints with rounded toes, and mud rubbings on trees. Wild hogs wallow in mud and then rub off their hair on trees in an attempt to rid themselves of ticks and fleas.

Radford studies feral hogs in Missouri by recording each trapped hog's age, weight and sex. The largest hog Radford has trapped weighed 225 pounds.

"I talked to one citizen who had over $1,000 in veterinarian bills after hogs attacked two dogs," said Radford. "Feral hogs are not something you want to be in the middle of, but don't be afraid to walk in the woods. Hogs are more apt to run from you than fight you."

Rooting is the number one way that feral hogs cause damage. A group of hogs can root up an entire field in one night, said Radford.

"They like to get in wet areas where there are a lot of endangered species," said Radford. "It is amazing what they can do over night. They can go through 100 pounds of food in one night."

Feral hogs also endanger other animals by competing for forage. Hogs will go through a forest and eat every acorn under each tree, leaving nothing for wild deer and turkey who share the habitat.

"They will eat anything that smells good," said Radford. "I have seen them cause $5,000 in damage to crops in Lawrence County."

Hogs will root up gardens, flowers and fruit trees looking for food. On average, each wild hog will cause between $200 and $1,000 in damage to agriculture each year.

Last year, a group of feral hogs in Missouri obliterated 15 acres of warm seed and grasses over two weeks. Now the field is full of ragweed and the farmer will be forced to disk the land to replant any grasses or crops, said Radford.

"Feral hogs will usually use up all of their habitat before moving on to a new location," said Radford. "Occasionally they will move to water or to a food source that they prefer over another."

Hogs can eat turkey eggs and deer fawns, but they do not go hunting for them, said Radford.

"Farmers should trap or shoot hogs but not both," said Radford. "Hogs are very susceptible to pressure and if you are doing both you will push the group away to increase and come back to cause more damage."

Radford recommended using a corral trap, which is made of three 16-foot panels and a gate.

"I like to get them hooked on corn like kids in a candy store," said Radford. "I use the cheapest corn I can find and sour it a little this time of year so that it will have a strong smell."

Before setting the trap, Radford baits the hogs until they are used to moving in and out of the corral on their own.

"I have put cameras up to see how many hogs I'm dealing with," said Radford. "With this method, I am able to remove over 90 percent of the group. There are usually one or two older, more skiddish pigs in every group that will move on without being trapped."

Radford recommended property owners use blood sample kits to test trapped hogs for diseases. Feral hogs can carry over 18 viral diseases and around 10 bacterial diseases that can infect both animals and humans.

Around 35 percent of the three million feral hogs in Texas have tested positive for one or more viral or bacterial diseases, said Radford.

"Wear gloves when working with (slaughtered) feral hogs," said Radford. "Wear gloves when drawing blood, butchering or preparing the meat in the kitchen."

Blood should be drawn within one minute of when the hog is killed to make sure test samples do not contain blood clots. If a hog is killed over the weekend, the sample should be kept in the refrigerator to be mailed on Monday.

Although hunters can trap feral hogs on U.S. Forest Service and Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) property with a permit, hogs are difficult to find in large forest areas.

"You are not going to walk out in the woods and find a hog and shoot it," said Radford. "There is a lot of forest out there. I have tracked hogs for 13 miles in one day."

Property owners, who suspect feral hogs are invading their property, can begin baiting the animals immediately and contact Radford for assistance. Property owners are not allowed to bait hogs during deer or turkey hunting seasons.

"If you have hogs, put them on corn, and I will find you a trap and get there as fast as I can get there," said Radford. "It will usually take me no more than two days."

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