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What to know about wild pig damages

Mayzie Purviance for Progressive Cattleman Published on 23 March 2018
Wild pigs cause extensive damage to farm and ranch land

Most people think of damage as a tornado blowing through or a wildfire spreading across acres of land. Others imagine a wrecking ball tearing down an old building. For people in Texas, damage can be depicted by a group of wild pigs, a thought far more threatening than you would think.

For 37 years, Billy Higginbotham, now professor emeritus, served as a professor and extension wildlife and fisheries specialist through the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension service and Texas A&M University.

“The first thing the public needs to understand: This is an exotic species,” Higginbotham says. “They have not always been in the United States. By virtue of being an exotic, they often compete with our native wildlife species for either food, space, or they’ll predate on some of the smaller species.”

Trappings in large corrals of wild pigs

Wild pigs – sometimes known as feral swine – are not native to the Western Hemisphere; it is speculated their origins are of Europe and Asia. In 1539, the first pigs were brought to what is now Florida and made their way to Texas around 1542. Due to their non-native origins, wild pigs fall under the exotic animal category, causing various ecological issues.

Higginbotham continues to discuss the negative impacts wild pigs have on multiple fronts: ecologically, environmentally, agriculturally, through the spreading of disease and on hunting.

Environmental impact

The negative environmental impact stems from the closeness of wild pigs to bodies of water. Wild pigs tend to stick around creeks, rivers, ponds and lakes, which can cause bacterial contamination in the water, Higginbotham says.

“We also have turbidity issues as they root around searching for food and create muddy conditions,” Higginbotham says. “Environmentally, we’re looking at being a source of bacteria such as E. coli, and the turbidity issues of making the water muddy, which can destruct the aquatic food chain.”

Agricultural impact

Agriculturally speaking, wild pigs can tear up farm and pastureland in the blink of an eye.

“They will root up pastures and fields developed for cattle grazing. They damage orchards of trees that are used for fruit and nut production, the most common being peach orchards and pecan orchards,” Higginbotham says.

“They can destroy low crops such as peanuts and particularly corn in Texas. They’ll go right behind a planter that had put corn seed in the ground the night after it was planted and root every seed in that row.”

Infection

Wild pigs can also disrupt our everyday lives by spreading diseases to our livestock and humans. Wild pigs are carriers of roughly 15 different diseases, all of which can have a negative impact on the herd or the herdsman himself. Diseases such as pseudorabies can be transferred to cattle and can be fatal to livestock. Another disease wild pigs carry that affects livestock is swine brucellosis.

“While it does not transfer directly to cattle, what it can do is trigger a false positive in a test if you’re testing cattle for brucellosis,” Higginbotham says.

Higginbotham continues to highlight the negative impacts swine brucellosis can have on livestock. He mentions that although swine brucellosis generates a false positive on a test, time and money are wasted by landowners by having to gather up their herd to be re-tested to ensure they are not infected with bovine brucellosis.

Wild pigs are zoonotic, meaning they can transfer diseases to humans as well as livestock. The big threat to humans is swine brucellosis, a disease that causes flu-like symptoms and is incurable. Humans can contract swine brucellosis through an open wound, splashing fluids in their eyes while field-dressing or just simply consuming infected meat.

“Every year in Texas, we seem to have one or two cases where hunters or individuals that are trapping and then slaughtering wild pigs for consumption contract swine brucellosis,” Higginbotham says.

Higginbotham says if a hunter were to exterminate a wild pig and begin field dressing it, there are certain health and safety precautions that hunter should take to avoid an infection of swine brucellosis.

“Just wear latex gloves and eyewear during the cleaning process,” Higginbotham says. “Wash your hands and all your equipment in hot, soapy water and get that pork cooled down as quickly as possible before you cook it.”

Hunting

The final major impact wild pigs can have is on hunting.

“Now a lot of people like to hunt wild pigs, so there’s no doubt that you’ve got landowners that are making money off of wild pigs; there’s no question about that,” Higginbotham says. “There’s some income to be generated there if that landowner chooses to do that. But deer hunting alone in Texas is a 2.2-billion-dollar industry, and wild pigs occupy nearly all of our white-tailed deer habitat in the state.”

Higginbotham continues to explain that due to their aggressive nature, wild pigs disrupt white-tailed deer hunting operations, forcing these deer to find a new habitat.

Control methods

“We’ve had pigs in the U.S. for 450 years, and in a state like Texas where we’ve got 2.6 million out of a population of about 8 million nationwide, regardless of the control methods we have available, we’re in a management mode,” Higginbotham says with a chuckle. “We’re not in an eradication mode.”

There are four legal control methods available to Texas: trapping, shooting, snaring and using specially trained dogs. Although these methods get the job done, considering the growing rate of wild pigs, other solutions are being studied.

Currently, there are no toxicants approved for use. However, research is being conducted by Texas Parks and Wildlife on a toxicant known as “sodium nitrite.”

“Even if we get these new control methods like toxicants approved, it’s still going to be very much management and not eradication,” Higginbotham says. “We’ll have to try to suppress damage as best we can, but we’re not going to eliminate all the pigs in Texas with any of these tools we have available to us.”  end mark

PHOTO 1: Wild pigs cause extensive damage to farm and ranch land, forcing farmers and ranchers to spend their hard-earned money and precious time repairing lost pasture or grazing acreage.

PHOTO 2: Billy Higginbotham says that trappings in large corrals is always his first suggestion on wild pig control. This method is legal and an effective control method for some. Photos provided by Billy Higginbotham – Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.

Mayzie Purviance is a freelancer living in College Station, Texas.

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