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THE LOOMING PORCINE PESTILENCE

Jay Nixon

Four members of a South Texas farming and ranching family appeared in federal court last week to answer charges of misusing agricultural chemicals. They were heavily fined and given a probated jail sentence with community service for lacing the carcass of a feral hog with a poisonous substance.

The charges were brought by U.S. Fish and Wildlife game wardens who were told by a neighbor of the family of the incident. The wardens interviewed members of the family who, not informed of their constitutional rights, nor the seriousness of the charge, readily admitted the act.

They told the wardens that the feral hog population on their land along the heavily wooded San Antonio River had gotten out of hand. Crops were being seriously damaged, and hogs had attacked and killed several newborn calves. They poisoned the carcass in hopes of thinning out the hogs that would doubtless feed on the carcass.

They said they had hunted the hogs and had shot several, but the problem had continued to grow and they didn't know what else to do.

Theirs is a story that is growing more and more common across the entire southern U.S. from what I've been able to learn. The population of feral hogs is now growing geometrically, according to ranchers I have talked to, and heavy infestations of hogs are killing off populations of quail, turkey, deer and other desirable species, as well as preying on new born calves. Damage to crops from rooting bands of pigs can be measured in the tens of thousands of dollars in many areas.

A feral sow will have up to eight pigs per litter and can deliver up to three litters per year. The hogs have no natural enemies, so the populations in many areas are growing at an alarming rate.

Other ranchers tell me the hogs have become an alternate source of income. Many are leasing their land to hunters who enjoy hog hunting on a year-round basis. Other ranchers tell me they are trapping the hogs and selling them, live, to specialty packers at the amazing price of a dollar a pound on the hoof.

In areas of the Texas Coastal Bend where country is marshy and heavily wooded some ranchers are even selling safari-type hunts for hogs that have crossed with Russian Boars that were turned out in the area back in the 1930's. These cross breeds are fierce, smart and dangerous, and hunting them has become a major sporting activity for big-city hunters seeking a thrill.

Some of these boars weigh upwards of 500 pounds, and have tusks as long as six inches. The latest craze is hunting them with dogs and trench knives. It seems the hog dogs, usually pit bulls, will bay a hog and fight him. And as he is distracted, a hunter will jump astride the beast and stab him behind the shoulder with a knife. In my opinion anyone who would try this has a death wish.

One game warden told me, however, that no matter how much they are hunted or trapped, the hog population will continue to grow, and the problems they present to ranchers and farmers will become more and more acute. He believes that, eventually, the government is going to have to step in with some serious control methods or the hogs are simply going to take over most of the wooded land in the south to the exclusion of all other game and livestock.

This is born out by a census taken by a large rancher in South Texas. While doing a count of the deer on his place by helicopter, he did an informal count of the hogs. The deer population has decreased dramatically in the two years since his last count, and the hog population has grown to more than four hundred adult pigs.

He told me that the hogs will attack and kill fawns before they mature enough to get away. He also says that the porkers have completely wiped out the nesting grounds for the large population of wild turkey he once had on his ranch.

The hogs do so well because they will eat anything, and because they are extremely smart. They operate in packs, much like wolves, and are extremely fierce when hunting or when they are cornered or provoked, according to this rancher.

I know another rancher who has leased one heavily wooded 1,300 acre pasture to seven hunters who delight in hunting hogs with both the bow and the rifle. They hunt year round, except in the extremely hot months of summer and they are proficient at their hobby. Yet even with this sustained hunting effort, the population of feral hogs is growing every year.

And if that weren't enough, there are now groups of, so called, animal rights activists who are calling for control over the hunting of the porkers. They are petitioning both the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Bureau to put limits on the pigs a hunter can take, and to set up a season on them just like deer and game birds.

Having some insight into the proclivities of bureaucrats, I wouldn't doubt that someone is just likely to draft regulations to this effect.

I would like to know about the hog situation in your area. Is it growing as it is in some places? Is it becoming a major problem? Have you figured out ways to profit by hunting and trapping them? Please either write me here at “Cattle Today,” send me an email to either editor@cattletoday.com or cowmark@fnichols.com and let me know about your hog situation. I'd greatly appreciate it.

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