(NEXSTAR) — With the start of deer hunting season, hunters may be encountering feral hogs more often out in the brush. And based on recent population data, it’s likely there are significantly more hogs than just a year ago.
There are about 6.9 million feral hogs in the U.S. — but there are an estimated 2.6 million in Texas alone. As explained by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, all but one of Texas’ 254 counties are currently occupied by the invasive pigs. (It’s El Paso County, in case you’re wondering.)
Back in 2003, TPWD estimated there were about 1.5 million wild hogs in the state. The department’s 2020 estimate of 2.6 million represents a 1.1 million-increase in fewer than 20 years.
Currently, the town of Fair Oaks Ranch, about 30 minutes outside of San Antonio, is dealing with ongoing feral hog damage. As reported by MySanAntonio.com, eight properties had incurred damage as of Oct. 23, which included the animals rooting lawns and digging up sprinkler system areas. Meanwhile, north Texas farmers in Goree recently told agriculture news outlet Farm Progress that feral hog problems are worse this year because drought made grassy pastures sparse, sending hogs into their cotton fields for food.
But digging up yards and eating crops isn’t the only kinds of havoc feral hogs can wreak. Here are some of the areas their presence affects:
- Transmitting pathogens to healthy adult livestock and killing the young and vulnerable ones
- Eating fruit, berries grapes and nuts from orchards and destroying the saplings when they rub plants with their bodies to get parasites off their skin
People and pets
- Feral swine are known to carry at least 30 viral and bacterial diseases and nearly 40 parasites — all transmittable to to humans and pets
- Organisms and pathogens that can be transmitted include swine flu, salmonella, hepatitis and pathogenic E. coli
- Physical attacks — they’re known to have been aggressive toward farmers, hikers and picnickers. The department says aggression is increased when humans are associated with food because of handouts or improper waste disposal
While feral hogs can be hunted year-round in Texas, licensed hunters must have permission from landowners to do it. Feral hogs, along with coyotes and mountain lions are considered “non-protected” species. But hunting doesn’t do enough to prevent damage.
So how do you control an out-of-control population?
As explained by TPWD, traps are the most popular way to control wild hogs and there are two major types of traps: box traps and corral traps.
Box traps are basically just larger versions of the kinds of traps people use to catch pests like raccoons. Box traps are recommended for trapping individual pigs in a way that is easily transportable. Corral traps, meanwhile, are much more expensive (estimated to cost up to $121 per pig) but allow many hogs to be caught at once. Corral traps, which are like pens, are more expensive to create because they are semi-permanent and require come construction.
TPWD says this method is very effective when certain conditions are right — which includes have a large number of wild hogs in “areas with sparse tree canopy.”
Back in August, TAMU AgriLife Extension announced the results of a two-year study that was held in 23 sites across Texas to track the success of using a warfarin-based toxicant to combat feral hog numbers. Warfarin is a chemical compound used in a variety of ways, including for rat poison.
For the study, researchers worked with private landowners to first condition feral hogs to eat regular feed on their properties before placing low-dose warfarin bait in dispensers once the hogs were accustomed to feeding on site. TAMU says the special dispensers were built to prevent other animals from accessing bait.
Researchers said after five days of consistent consumption, feral hog subjects died, TAMU reports. Over time, the research team let landowners manage baiting themselves, with those who kept up with baiting reporting sharp declines in both hog population and property damages.
There are concerns about this method, however.
In addition to researchers, Texas Department of Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller explain that despite natural concerns of contamination, there’s little risk of hog carcasses killing other animals that may eat them or of warfarin getting into local water supplies.
Ultimately, wild hog populations are tough to control due to their high reproduction. In addition to reaching sexual maturity as early as three months of age (females) and five months (males), though in general, most pigs mature a bit later than that. Females can physically have three litters of 4-6 young each within about 14 months, the female adult hogs in Texas generally average 1.57 litters, or 0.85 litters per year for non-adults.
Texas Parks and Wildlife says early Spanish explorers likely introduced hogs to Texas over 300 years ago, providing a crucial source of cured meat and lard.