2008-02-05 / Front Page

Feral hogs spreading

Wild pigs can carry disease, disrupt property
By DAVID LOWE Staff Writer

PHOTO BY BILL TOWER Bucks watch as a herd of wild hogs eats at a deer feeder at Bill Tower's property near Lometa. The hogs can destroy such feeders, and over time their wallows can drive away deer. They come by night and seem to vanish during the day. While difficult to track, they leave their marks everywhere -- on fences, in uprooted soil and in other animal populations.

While Bill Tower has not yet figured out how to eliminate them, he has decided one thing about wild hogs: They are wrecking his property.

Tower's hog problem at his property near Lometa began in the fall of 2006. When he set up a game camera to film whitetail bucks, the first picture he developed showed 17 pigs at a deer feeder.

"I did not think I even had a problem," he said.

The rapidly reproducing animals number more than 1.5 million in Texas, according to Texas Parks and Wildlife Department studies, and have been increasing in Lampasas County. The wild hogs often begin breeding as young as eight or 10 months old and can give birth to as many as 10 or 12 piglets in a year.

PHOTO BY BILL TOWER A herd of feral hogs searches for food under a deer feeder at Bill Tower's property near Lometa. Capable of reproducing quickly, feral hogs are increasing in Lampasas County and number more than 1.5 million statewide, according to Texas Parks and Wildlife studies. "They reproduce so fast," said Neal Leavell, who has faced feral hogs on his property near Pearl for 14 years. "If their numbers would stay down it wouldn't be so much of a problem."

Feral hogs can transmit several diseases -- including pseudorabies, swine brucellosis, tuberculosis, bubonic plague, tularemia, hog cholera, foot and mouth disease, and anthrax -- to wildlife and livestock.

The hogs also compete with livestock and game species for food, destabilize wetlands and tanks, and may consume the eggs of ground nesting birds like turkeys or quail, according to TPWD Wildlife Biologist Rick Taylor's report "The Feral Hog in Texas."

"They eat everything that wildlife and livestock like to use," Leavell said.

Wild pigs are omnivorous, occasionally consuming animal matter along with acorns, forbs, tender grasses and roots. Leavell once discovered that feral hogs on his property had trapped a doe fawn in a pen and had eaten the deer.

In addition, wild hogs' habit of wallowing in puddles near feeders discourages deer from coming in to eat.

"It will eventually affect your deer population," Tower said of a wild hog herd. "Deer don't like them and, in fact, they don't even want to be around them."

As a youth, Tower hunted deer on his uncle's land in East Texas. Now, hogs have taken over the 400-acre property, and hunters no longer see any deer on the land.

Wild hogs also damage fences, especially net wire, and root up the ground in tanks and fertile fields. Pigs on Tower's land have eaten oats he planted to attract deer, and some have even torn up the ground directly in front of his house.

Hunting feral hogs on his Lometa property has been difficult, Tower said, because the animals are shrewd and often don't appear until night.

"Nobody sees these pigs when they're hunting," he said. "I just can't understand why we don't see them and why they're so hard to get."

Tower killed several this fall and has tried trapping, using soured corn as bait.

TPWD recommends using a four-foot-by-eight-foot cage with a spring, root or drop door. Suggested materials for trap construction include one-quarter-inch or three-eighths-inch steel rods or rebar and galvanized four-inch cattle panel.

Spring door traps, with hinges on the sides, and top-hinged root doors allow trappers to catch more than one hog at a time. Tower caught three hogs the first year he set a trap and got nine in 2007.

Leavell has tried to manage feral hogs by trapping, and he said a neighbor has successfully used snares set under his fences.

Over time, though, hogs learn to avoid traps and other methods landowners use, Leavell said.

"Anything you do to them will work once or twice but not much after that," he said.

As feral hogs spread across the state, some landowners have turned to more expensive population control methods. Tower hunts in Jeff Davis County, where the rancher who leases the land now offers a bounty of $25 per pig in an effort to eradicate wild hogs. In some parts of the state, hunters dispatch pigs from helicopters, allowing them to eliminate more in a single hunt.

"I think that's what it's going to take," Tower said.

Wild hogs' lean meat, which landowners can harvest year-round with a valid hunting license, offers at least one consolation. Although boars are too tough, Tower said, he processed the sows he has taken and has enjoyed the meat.

"They're not bad eating if you get the right one," he said.

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