Sunday, January 2, 2011

Feral Hogs

Feral Hogs- Wikimedia
Like many other invasive species, feral hogs are likely to be with us for the foreseeable future, so we better get to know them better.  The Smithsonian Magazine article this month provides a good introduction.

Our Christian County neighbor had a visit from feral hogs this year.  After seeing large numbers on his game camera, he contacted the Missouri Department of Conservation.  Jeff Harris quickly responded and they began baiting the area with corn.  After a week of 150 pounds of corn daily, the hogs didn't seem to mind the gradual construction of a cattle panel fence around the corn pile.
Feral Hog Trap
Several days after the final panel and trap gate was installed, they were ready.  When the trap was tripped, there were 25 hogs which were captured, killed, and sent off for processing.  With that many wild hogs, there is no way to safely load them up alive.

One question I have been repeatedly been asked was if these were "native Arkansas Razorbacks".  There were no pigs native to North America.  Pigs were introduced to the Western Hemisphere and Australia by humans.  They came to the Caribbean with Christopher Columbus and later Hernando De Soto brought them to Florida.

We think of hogs raised in pens, but free range hogs were common in the Ozarks into the 1950's.  They would let the hogs range over a large area of forested hills, sometimes contained with "hog fence".  When ready for market, they would start corn feeding the hogs in a fenced area or corral much like was used above, then close the gate one day and back up the truck to load them.  As described in a 1920 book:
"A large part of the wild land still constitutes a free range.  Stock law, which makes the owner responsible for all unconfined stock, has been introduced only in the better parts of the border regions, and usually only after a spirited contest between the farmers interested in crop raising and the poorer farmers of the old regime.  Elsewhere whatever land is not under fence is free to anybody's stock.
For the raising of hogs conditions are much better, as the abundance of acorns and other mast makes the average range fairly good.  The region produces few fat hogs, because of the small amount of corn which is fed, but yields a very fair bacon type, which is produced at almost no cost.  In a typical case a farmer sold $500 worth of hogs, to which he had fed altogether only twelve bushels of corn and which had received almost no care.  The half-wild hog of the hills is of lighter weight and worth less than the corn-fed hog.  In 1909 the average value of a hog in corn producing Cooper County was $7.60; in the oak forests of Shannon only $4.20.  The range hogs are remarkably free from disease, and it is claimed that they seldom are attacked by cholera."**

So what about Razorbacks, also called wild boar?   In the 1930's, Eurasian wild boar were imported into Texas for hunting.  They bred with free-ranging domestic animals and escapees that had adapted to the wild.*

The hogs trapped along Bull Creek looked just like domestic pigs.  Left on their own to breed in the wild, they adapt and develop more characteristics of their wild cousins.
"The difference between domestic and wild hogs is a matter of genetics, experience and environment.  The animals are “plastic in their physical and behavioral makeup,” says wild hog expert John Mayer of the Savannah River National Laboratory in South Carolina. Most domestic pigs have sparse coats, but descendants of escapees grow thick bristly hair in cold environments.  Dark-skinned pigs are more likely than pale ones to survive in the wild and pass along their genes.  Wild hogs develop curved “tusks” as long as seven inches that are actually teeth (which are cut from domestics when they’re born).  The two teeth on top are called whetters or grinders, and the two on the bottom are called cutters; continual grinding keeps the latter deadly sharp.  Males that reach sexual maturity develop “shields” of dense tissue on their shoulders that grow harder and thicker (up to two inches) with age; these protect them during fights."*
There is more interesting information in the magazine article and this Texas video.

*     Smithsonian Magazine
**   The geography of the Ozark Highland of Missouri, Carl Ortwin Sauer., 1920.

2 comments:

  1. sweetmeat from kshe is a feral pig

    ReplyDelete
  2. I trap feral hogs in Florida and you all better get started doing the same.
    They do more than 1,000,000.00 of damage to local land per year.

    ReplyDelete