Farmers all over the United States have been thrust into a frustrating battle with feral pigs and the war is spreading rapidly. Randy Kelley, who owns a 155-acre farm in Henry County, Kentucky, is just one example. Kelley says the hogs began their assault on his farmland about four to five years ago.
"They're just rooting my farm up," Kelley told the Herald-Leader. “They just go through your fields and tear it all to pieces….” He said he used to enjoy watching deer and wild turkey roam his fields, but those animals left when the hogs moved in.
The pigs, originally brought in and released to excite and attract hunters, now have a documented presence in 37 counties in the state, Kentucky officials report. That is up from only 23 counties in 2009, writes Karla Ward of the Herald-Leader in a January 3 article entitled, Herds of feral pigs going hog wild in Kentucky--a comprehensive and chilling account of the impact of the alarming spread of herds of wild swine across the state.
Kentucky already prohibited releasing of pigs into the wild but, in introducing tougher penalties in 2012.
Republican state Rep. Steven Rudy said the fines weren’t enough of a deterrent. Under a new Kentucky law, anyone caught releasing wild hogs can face up to a year in jail and a fine and the potential loss of hunting licenses for 10 years.
"As soon as the corn crop starts coming up, they'll just go right down the row rooting it up, destroying hundreds of acres in a night," Rudy said. "This bill will not address our problem, but hopefully it will prevent the problem from getting worse throughout the state," he added, according to CapitalPress.com.
The war with feral pigs is also going on in states far from Kentucky. Oregon wildlife officials estimate as many as 5,000 wild pigs are roaming the state, the majority of them migrating from northern California.
And, in Southern California, the U.S. Forest Service has taken public comment on a plan to kill hundreds of feral pigs living and multiplying outside of San Diego, CapitolPress.com reports.
WILD HOGS AMONG THE MOST INVASIVE SPECIES IN THE U.S.
Wild hogs are among the most destructive invasive species in the United States today, states Smithsonian.com. Two million to six million of the animals are wreaking havoc in at least 39 states and four Canadian provinces. Half are in Texas, where it is estimated they do at least $400 million in damages annually, according to the report.
Steven Dobey, wildlife program coordinator for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, told the Herald Leader there is no accurate estimate of how many wild hogs are in Kentucky now. But, in 2005—prior to the devastating numbers that have required an increasing number of laws--the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimated the total U.S. population of wild swine to already be at more than 4 million. The heaviest concentration of wild pigs in Kentucky is in parts of western counties.
In its January 2011 article, The Plague of Pigs, SmithsonianMag.com recounts specific examples of how wildlife habitats and the natural ecology are destroyed by the invasion of feral pigs:
"About 50 miles east of Waco, Texas, a 70-acre field that had served as farmland and home to many native creatures is now cratered with holes up to five feet wide and three feet deep by wild pigs.
“The roots below a huge oak tree shading a creek have been dug out and exposed. Grass has been trampled into paths. Where the grass has been stripped, saplings crowd out the pecan trees that provide food for deer, opossums and other wildlife.”
Randy Kelley, the farmer in Kentucky, estimates there are 15 to 20 pigs on his farm now. He said his son-in-law set up a camera, and they've gotten footage of two boars, three or four sows, and pigs of various sizes.
Kelly told the Herald-Leader he is fed up with the damage they're doing. He says he’s, “tired of reseeding the places they've mucked up,” and he said he’s sick of having his pond muddied.
Kelley said he put rock down on a gravel road that runs through his property; and the hogs rooted it up. He spread 15 or 20 tons of lime; "they liked rooting around in that, too."
NOT YOUR ORDINARY FARM HOG
Feral pigs, when full grown, usually weigh about 200 pounds, but can reach as high s 400 pounds if there is a good food supply. They tend to run in herds and there's almost nothing to stop them. Since 2008, there has been an increasing invasion in areas where feral hogs they have never been seen before, says Steven Dobey.
"These are not the big fat pink things where bacon comes from," Dobey explained. "They're like a plague in every state where they occur." Although they are the same species as domesticated hogs, there are plenty of differences. The sturdy feral pigs have a very tough hide and are very hardy. They can survive in almost any environment, and they'll eat almost anything.
“Acorns are the food of choice but feral pigs will eat most anything including eggs, grains, roots, amphibians, earthworms and even small mammals such as newborn lambs,”according to CrittrChasr.com.
"They're just like vacuum cleaners in the forest," Dobey said of the ecological damage the hogs inflict. "It looks like someone has gone through the forest with a tractor."
HUNTERS RESPONSIBLE FOR INCREASE IN WILD PIGS
Hunters are one of the main reasons for the pigs being in Kentucky and elsewhere, Dobey explained. Wild pig hunters first introduced them to Kentucky by trapping and bringing them from Southern states such as Georgia, Mississippi, Texas and Florida, and releasing them into the wild.
"Others, seeing it as a chance to cash in on a problem, have marketed their pig-infested property as an exotic hunting opportunity," Dobey added.
One of the main reasons for the rapid growth of feral swine population is that they reproduce so rapidly — one sow can have two litters of as many as 10 to 13 piglets a year, and females can begin breeding at six months.
FERAL PIGS MOVING INTO SUBURBS?
CrittrCatchr.com warns that wild pigs are even moving into cities and that they are a growing problem in rural and even suburban areas throughout Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky. Addressing specifically the situation in Ohio, CritrCatchr.com reports:
“Feral pigs are even known to trample through cemeteries, lawns and gardens in the suburbs. The potential impact of free-ranging pigs on both public lands and private property is such that the sighting of any new populations of wild hogs in the Greater Cincinnati area should be taken very seriously.”
DISEASES A MAJOR CONCERN
The pigs also carry diseases, some of which are zoonotic—transmissible to humans—including brucellosis, which causes flulike symptoms in humans. They are just an all-around vehicle for transporting wildlife diseases," Dobey said.
CrittrCatchr.com warns, “There is the potential of both bacterial and parasitic disease to be spread to wildlife, livestock and pets. Cholera, swine brucellosis, trichinosis, foot and mouth disease, pseudorabies and leptospirosis are some of the diseases known to be spread by wild pigs.”
FEDS BRING IN GUN-EQUIPPED HELICOPTERS
Kentucky started its Wild Pig Program two years ago to try to control the hogs' spread. This program entails a full-time employee in Western Kentucky working with landowners to trap the wild hogs, which are then shot and blood and tissue samples are tested for disease, Steve Dobey told the Herald-Leader.
The problem is so bad that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has brought in helicopters equipped with guns to shoot as many of the hogs as possible. In these areas complaints and damage estimates have dropped significantly, Dobey said.
WHY NOT JUST INCREASE HOG HUNTING?
Individuals may shoot wild pigs year round-during daylight hours in Kentucky, Dobey said. After dark hunting is not permitted because of the possibility of gun-related accidents. However, increasing the presence of hunters can be counterproductive because regular human presence causes the herds of pig to move.
"Wild pigs have poor eyesight but good hearing and an acute sense of smell; they can detect odors up to seven miles away or 25 feet underground. They can run 30 miles an hour in bursts," reports Smithsonianmag.com.
"They're extremely intelligent," Dobey said, “as soon as they detect hunters, they become nocturnal. He is also wary of promoting recreational hunting of boars because "that just leads to people dumping out more."
Kentucky has been prosecuting people for importing and selling wild pigs to hunters, but, so far, it has not impacted the problem. For instance, an Elkton man was arrested in 2012 for importing about a dozen pigs from Tennessee to sell to hunters. After his guilty plea in Marshall District Court, he paid only a $300 fine, plus court costs and $250 in restitution to the Fish and Wildlife Department.
It is hoped the increased penalties under the new Kentucky law will help reduce the problem.
But, it seems experts around the country agree that the population of feral hogs is already out of control and has spread to the point that eradication is no longer possible and the war will continue.