A quick show of hands during a recent east-central Alabama crops meeting proved the point that farmers in the region have had more than their share of encounters with wild hogs. Even the good pork barbecue supper served during the meeting didn’t change the obvious disdain farmers have for this destructive animal.
Feral, or wild hogs, were not native to the New World, says Patrick Cook, Alabama Cooperative Extension System regional agent for Forestry, Wildlife and Natural Resources. It is believed hogs were first introduced to the Southeast by the Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto in 1539.
Early settlers, he says, encouraged the success of wild hog populations through open-range practices.
“The Spanish herded pigs for food, and a lot of these pigs escaped along the route and became established. Native Americans would take the pigs from settlers and raise them in a free-range manner. The European wild boars all came from domestic stock and began to spread,” says Cook.
The wild hog population continues to increase and expand in the Southeast, he says. “There are a lot more of them in a lot more places. In some cases, they escape from farms and shooting preserves where people brought in pigs to hunt. There also has been some natural range expansion — pigs dispersed from their original location and established populations elsewhere. This is where you see wild pigs in places you’ve never seen them before.”
The primary cause of range expansion, he says, is the intentional release of hogs for sport hunting, which is illegal in Alabama. “In sport hunting, dogs many times catch the pigs, but the pigs are not killed. They’re turned loose in areas where there aren’t any pigs,” says Cook.
One of the problems with wild pigs is that they’re very prolific, he says. They reach sexual maturity at four to six months of age in a good habitat, and their litter size can be from four to 12 piglets. They can produce two litters per year,
“For a habitat, they prefer dense brush, hardwood trees that produce nuts or acorns and swampy areas. They are omnivorous — they’ll eat just about anything. Diet varies greatly by location and time of the year. They eat underground vegetation and herbaceous plants, crops and waste grain. They very much prefer acorns,” he says.
Wild hogs average from 130 pounds for males and 110 pounds for females. They’re typically not aggressive unless they’re cornered or trapped, says Cook.
“The No. 1 problem we have with wild hogs in agriculture and in forestry is rooting and wallowing,” he says. “They’ll dig up the ground with their tusks, looking for worms and grubs. And they can make a real mess wallowing, especially in crop fields. In forestry, they destruct seedlings and trees. In addition, they destroy food plots and habitat for wildlife.”
In farming, wild hogs do damage to pasture and crops, especially peanuts, says Cook. “If you’re planting near a swampy area or an area with hardwoods, be aware of potential damage. They will absolutely destroy peanut fields after you’ve dug them and peanuts are laying on top of the ground. They eat the peanut and will ruin a peanut harvest.”
Not so much in the Southeast, but in other areas, wild hogs will attack lambs and calves. They also destroy fences and equipment, he says.
“There’s also the potential for disease transmission to livestock, including pseudorabies, cholera, bovine tuberculosis and trichinosis. Pseudorabies also can be transmitted to dogs.”
The first thing everyone wants to do when they discover they have a pig problem is to eradicate them, says Cook, but it’s easier said than done. “You can’t completely eliminate them, not by current means. Cage trapping is probably the most effective method, but the idea should not be to catch one pig. You want to catch every pig in that group. When the door slams shut and there’s only one pig inside and the others are outside, you’ll never catch the other pigs. They’re a lot smarter than most animals, and they know something bad has happened.”
Persistence and dedication are required when attempting to cage-trap wild hogs, he says.
“I understand that shooting is good for taking out your frustration, but it’s not an effective method of controlling wild hog populations. You’re not really controlling the entire population, which is what you need to be trying to do. Shooting one pig only makes the other pigs wary. Plan for long-term control — not the immediate satisfaction of killing one pig.”