Next to man himself, hogs are the most destructive non-native invasive species on earth." So says Chris Jawrorowski, wildlife biologist and wild hog expert with the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR). While farmers can win the battle against privet and kudzu, hogs reproduce like rabbits, are extremely smart, eat almost anything and will not stand still. Current hunting and trapping efforts in Alabama are losing ground to wild (feral) hogs, and farmers need to be aware of their menace and how to combat them.
Early Southern settlers allowed their hogs to roam free, but they slaughtered most of them, so there were actually few wild hogs. More recently, hogs were released on public and hunting club land by people who wanted to hunt them for sport. There the hog populations have exploded and taken a huge toll on native plants and animals. The populations have now expanded from swamps and forests to croplands, and feral hogs cause at least 1.5 billion dollars of damage annually to agricultural crops and land in the USA.
Wild hogs mainly damage corn, small grains, peanuts and hay crops, but they can damage just about any crop. They also spread diseases to domestic stock. Working with neighbors and others, farmers need to kill hogs as quickly as possible to have any hope of controlling their populations.
Hogs start reproducing at six months of age, have several litters of three to eight piglets each year and live for six to ten years. Without native predators, they rapidly populate any landscape with food sources, like your farm, and move widely and rapidly. Unlike our native species, they eat voraciously and reproduce year-round.
People who distributed hogs are extremely selfish and ignorant, and their actions have caused huge damage to public and private lands. It is illegal to transport wild hogs, and the penalty is $1,000 per hog and 30 days in jail. We need to be vigilant to observe and report the transport and release of wild hogs. Feral hogs are usually dark brown or spotted in color, and any transportation of hogs of mixed age is not likely a farmer taking the little piggies to market. Police or ADCNR should be notified to question any suspected transport of wild hogs to help stop this very costly form of vandalism.
The spread of feral hogs in the South has long been an official public concern. The USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRDC) will pay farmers up to $500 to construct hog traps meeting agency criteria. The process is relatively simple, and the money is normally enough to pay for all materials. A farmer has to have a farm number assigned by the Farm Services Agency (FSA) and certify his farm produces more than $1,000 of agricultural-products per-year.
The traps must have at least three hog or goat panels (total of 48’), made in a round or teardrop shape, and have a multiple-catch door. The doors have to be barred rather than solid so hogs on the outside can see hogs inside the trap, and the NRCS has recommended plans for trap doors. Many types of manufactured doors are also available. Farmers should check with the county NRCS office to get particulars on building, baiting and monitoring traps at the first sign of hogs.
Hogs travel in family groups called "sounders" and the best strategy is to catch an entire group since hogs quickly get wise to traps. Pre-baiting is key to catching entire sounders.
Australia has a wild hog problem comparable to Texas, the state with as many wild hogs as all the rest of the states put together. The Australians recently started to train and license hunters to kill and market wild hogs. Following inspection, the meat can be sold for human consumption or pet food.
Public education and changes in current laws are needed to reduce the transport of wild hogs, hunters should be encouraged to kill hogs at every opportunity and new approaches to killing hogs are needed. Night-vision and heat-detection equipment provide new tools to combat wild hogs, and involvement of specialized hunters on public and farm land will be necessary to provide much hope for controlling hog populations in Alabama.