Feral hogs have to be among the ugliest, dirtiest, and meanest critters farmers deal with in protecting their crops from pests. Unlike more common crop vermin such as caterpillars and weevils, however, wild hogs can injure the humans who attempt to limit their activities.

“Some have tusks that reach five inches in length,” says Rick Gilliland, district supervisor for the USDA, APHIS wildlife service. Gilliland works in the Texas Canyon District. “Feral hogs can rip you apart. They are formidable,” he said.

Gilliland and area game warden Gary Self discussed control options for feral hogs during the recent North West Texas Ag Conference in Memphis.

Trapping and hunting offer the best solutions, they said, but success with either will only “put a dent in the population.”

Gilliland said hunters kill between 6,000 and 7,000 hogs each year, a significant number but only a fraction out of a population that's projected at more than 3 million statewide.

“We have no toxicants approved for feral hogs,” Gilliland said. The danger of other wildlife or humans ingesting hogs killed by toxicants, he said, makes pesticide use unlikely in the foreseeable future.

“Trapping offers a more effective means of control than shooting,” Self said. “Farmers or landowners with a permit can use an airplane or helicopter to aid control.”

Gilliland said using aircraft to move the hogs may be expensive, but weighed against the potential for crop, pasture or livestock damage could be a shrewd investment.

Multiple catches

Gilliland said the best traps catch more than one hog at a time. Snares, cage traps and drop-gate traps are limited to single hog catches. Corral traps may secure several hogs before it needs to be cleared and re-baited.

He recommends farmers pre-bait a trap and allow hogs to move in and out unimpeded for several days before setting the trap to spring. He said whole corn, livestock cubes, carrion and sour grain make good bait options.

“A farmer does not need a license to kill a feral hog that's depredating,” Self said. “And if a feral hog is not depredating, it's about to. They cause a lot of damage.”

There is no closed season and no bag limit for feral hogs.

Farmers or landowners may view feral hogs as a profit center. “Farmers can sell hunting rights,” Self said. Those hunters would need a hunting license.

Gilliland said occasionally hunters use dogs to pursue and bring feral hogs to bay. The most common result is a severely injured dog.

He said some landowners have tried fencing to keep hogs out of pastures and row crops, with little success. “A fence may slow a feral hog down, but it will not stop it,” he said.

A sizeable herd of feral hogs can wipe out acres of cropland or pastures and may foul streams and tear down fences. They are omnivores and may eat small animals, including domestic livestock. They also eat protein cubes and other feed left for cattle. Natural enemies are few. “Coyotes may pick off small pigs occasionally,” Gilliland said.

Cropland as home

They like water and cover. “Irrigated cropland can become a home for a herd of feral hogs,” Gilliland said. “They can live inside a pivot circle of irrigated corn all season.”

Their rooting, trampling and wallowing cause soil erosion.

Self said wild hogs carry diseases such as brucellosis and pseudorabies.

“They may carry anthrax and foot and mouth disease as well,” Gilliland said. “And they cause serious traffic problems. They cause a lot more damage to a vehicle than a deer can.”

Gilliland said the hogs are not going away. “They've been here for hundreds of years. Spanish settlers brought domestic hogs over and some of them escaped. Early settlers in Texas also kept hogs and often let them forage for food without penning them up. Some of those wandered off.”

He said in the wild, former domestic hogs begin to take on a wilder look after two or three generations. The snout becomes more elongated and the animals become lean.

“But they still look remarkably like domestic hogs and occur in many color variations.”

He said feral hogs breed prolifically, producing from two to three litters every 12 to 15 months. They may breed at six-months old and live for four or five years.

“The population can double in four months.”

They get big. Boars average 130 pounds, fully grown, and sows average 110 pounds.

But some may weigh as much as 300 pounds, Gilliland said.

Self and Gilliland said feral hogs are edible and can be quite tasty if properly prepared.

e-mail: rsmith@primediabusiness.com