Testing a fence to see whether or not it’s hog-proofed is easy: Just take a bucket of water and throw it at the fence. If any water gets through, so can a hog.
I learned this frustrating and expensive lesson when my daughter Haley fell in love with and adopted a piglet a handful of years ago, and throughout Hamlet’s life, he taught us a lot about pigs – that they’re highly intelligent and lovable animals that have amazing appetites, and they’ll go through, around, over, or under anything that stands in the way of them and their next meal.
Before that little piggy went to market, he managed to destroy fencing, gardens, an industrial-grade trash can, and a number of other things around our place. He rooted up patches of ground better than the late John Deere could’ve imagined, and left to his own devices, Hamlet would’ve torn down a barn just to get to the hay loft.
It takes a lot to keep a hog in a pen, but it takes an even greater effort to deal with those that escape the farmyard and go hog wild. Feral hogs are a growing problem in Texas, unleashing millions upon millions of dollars of damage every year as their numbers increase despite efforts to control their population.
Hogs were first brought to Texas by Spanish explorers during the era of exploration and colonization of North America, and over the centuries, their numbers grew along with the increase in human settlement. In the 1930’s, Russian boars were imported into our state for sport hunting, but many escaped their game ranch fences and intermingled with the original population, which brings us to the problem we now face.
Today, many farms and ranches, along with parks, golf courses, and other natural areas, are under assault from the growing wild hog population. Over the past few years, Texas has seen a spike in the number of dead hogs along roadways, a sign that they’re moving closer and closer to our city limit signs.
Not only do these animals wreak economic havoc, but they also cause significant environmental damage. They degrade and destroy sensitive ecosystems such as wetlands, springs, creeks, and other areas by rooting and wallowing, and they can carry and transmit diseases to animals and humans alike.
Brazos Feed & Supply owner Gary Payne, who supplies and serves a number of farmers and ranchers, hunting leases, and game ranches around the state, says he hears lots of talk about feral hogs. “On one hand, they’re hated because they will lean on the legs of a feeder and knock it onto the ground, then completely destroy the mechanism while trying to get to the corn,” Payne said. “On the other hand, they’re something else to hunt, and they’re good to eat if handled properly.”
Payne added that he’s heard a lot of complaints about feral hogs coming in and uprooting food plots that are designed to provide deer with the nutrients to promote body and antler growth. “A guy gets a little testy when he has spent forty to sixty dollars per acre for seed and fertilizer, and invested his time into making a good plot, then in one night, the hogs come in and completely destroy it.”
High-fence ranches are even more upset when they discover hogs on their place, Payne says. “I’ve got a customer in the Purmela area who finished building his high fence on 1400 acres a few years ago, and the first time I delivered him feed, I saw three hogs near a water hole,” he said. “I called him and he was just sick at his stomach that he had fenced in hogs. Now they are rampant on his place and there’s no end in sight to eradicating them. I don’t know how many they’ve shot and trapped, but they keep traps out year-round, and it doesn’t seem to make a dent in the population.”
Another customer, also frustrated with the surging wild hog population on her place, has told Payne to always bring a gun when making deliveries and to shoot every hog he sees. A few years back, he says, a wash-out under the fence was all the invitation some hungry hogs needed, and this year, the owners have already trapped 65 on the property.
Feral hogs are prolific breeders, with population growth rates at an estimated 20% per year despite hunters and trappers killing roughly 30% of their numbers annually. Simple math shows the pigs are winning at this point. But when you’re losing the battle, you’ve got to think innovatively, and with current strategies proving ineffective at turning the corner on feral hog proliferation, it’s time to invent a better mouse trap.
Wildlife biologist Josh Sears says that an effort in Coryell County is showing signs of hope. “Dr. Brock, a wildlife manager, has put some management practices in place using snares and elaborate corral-trap designs using strawberry Jell-O to lure hogs in, and the results so far have been good,” he said.
Granted, in the middle of our country’s political transition, feral hogs aren’t the biggest hurdle our country has to face. But at some point soon, their growing pervasiveness has to be addressed from public health, safety, and economic standpoints.