By Gene Hall

The Texas feral hog problem, like so many, traces its roots to good intentions—the domestication of a fast growing prolific protein food source. They started out as domestic hogs. Some escaped years ago, others continue to escape and in some parts of my native East Texas, they were raised on open range up until a few decades ago. No one who raised hogs this way ever caught them all.

Once in the wild, they adapted very quickly. Cunning and resourceful, they will eat virtually anything that remotely resembles food. They are omnivorous and equally comfortable rooting out newly-planted corn or filling the role of a wildlife predator. They have few natural enemies save for people who desperately try to thin their exploding populations by a variety of means.

In cornfields, hay meadows and other agricultural production areas, feral hogs can do more damage than a bulldozer, rooting for food and a place to bed down. In fact, bulldozers are often required to repair the damage. Feral hogs are very aggressive and have been known to attack people. They have also been the cause of traffic accidents, some fatal. They carry diseases like brucellosis which mostly is a consequence for livestock and wildlife, but can infect people.

As long as this is “agriculture’s problem,” many people don’t get too excited about it. But the adaptable porkers are starting to range into urban areas and apply their destructive foraging to city parks, golf courses and homeowners’ lawns.

Texas has devoted modest sums to feral hog control, but the state is having financial trouble. These four-legged wrecking machines are responsible for an estimated $400 million dollars per year in damage, a number that will grow with their exploding population. The best guess is that there are around 2 million of them now, located in more than 200 of Texas’ 254 counties. With a gestation cycle of only 114 days, there can be three litters a year, four to eight pigs per litter. Do the math.

Certainly, feral hogs are impacting the habitat of a wide range of wildlife. Aside from the destruction, we know they will eat the chicks of ground nesting birds. They consider snakes a delicacy. 

In the Texas Hill Country, there is growing anecdotal evidence that rattlesnake populations are adapting themselves to the growing numbers of feral hogs that have become their predators. There has been little scientific study, so I want to be careful here. My information comes directly from ranchers who’ve witnessed a new phenomenon.

Hogs, with a thick fat layer, can survive snake bites. Often they are wily enough to avoid being bitten. A rattlesnake that buzzes a warning is ringing the dinner bell for a feral hog. The ranchers claim the snakes are either adapting by not rattling and buzzing, or those that are genetically predisposed to rattle less are the only ones that live and reproduce. The exploding populations of feral hogs are munching up their noisier cousins. So the theory goes.

This has some serious ramifications for folks tromping through the woods and the range, counting on at least some warning from one of nature’s most dangerous creatures. Moreover, the rattlesnake is an important predator in the Texas ecosystem. With their demise, we might see increased numbers of other species, like rats and mice.

Feral hogs have been a menace to agriculture for a long time. There is growing evidence they will soon be everyone’s problem.

Visit the Texas Farm Bureau website at www.txfb.org.
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Gene Hall

Public Relations Director
Texas Farm Bureau
I believe that the only hope for a food secure world is capitalism and reasonable profits for America’s farm and ranch families–that the first element of sustainability is economic survival.
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One Response to “Feral Hogs – “A pest like no other””

  1. Let us hear about your feral hog stories – Post them here.

    Gene

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