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Next Generation Farming

Feral Hogs: Public Enemy no. One

In Kansas, state funding for aerial hunting of wild pigs is necessary for farmers and ranchers.

Writing about feral hogs may seem ill timed, with Kansas Rep. Virgil Peck's foolish remarks about hunting illegal immigrants like wild hogs dominating the headlines. But I'm staying away from human immigration and focusing instead on the wild hog part.

I love to hunt feral pigs. There's nothing quite like bringing down a 200-pound boar with razor-sharp tusks and mounting the menacing head on your wall next to the fireplace.

One thing I never want to have to do, though, is hunt feral hogs on our own farm. The damage they can inflict can be devastating. According to one unfortunate farmer and rancher in Oklahoma, feral hogs did $40,000 of damage to a cornfield in a single night.

While wild hogs may be fun to hunt, we'd like to keep them in Oklahoma. 

Each year feral hogs cause about $800 million in damage to agriculture and the environment, according to the USDA National Wildlife Research Center. Most of that is in the form of crop damage. But feral swine also carry parasites and diseases that can be devastating to livestock, most notably swine brucellosis, pseudorabies and foot and mouth disease. 

My wife, Anne, and I, posing with our freshly killed feral hog at a ranch in Oklahoma.

What's terrifying about feral hogs is their sheer capacity to reproduce. Sows start breeding as young as six months old and can produce a litter of up to eight piglets twice a year. With that type of reproductive power, a hog population can explode within just a few months.

Because they can adapt to nearly any environment, survive on anything edible, are so destructive, and can reproduce so quickly, we must declare all-out war on this invasive species. But that attitude may be changing.

Population in check

In Kansas, we've had great success in keeping our feral hog population in check, thanks mostly to the Feral Swine Control Program. With the $175,000 in state funding, hunters armed with heavy artillery fly overhead in helicopters and rain fire and fury on a reported problem herd.  This method of aerial hunting has reduced the hog population in Kansas from 2,100 to around 500 since the program took effect five years ago. Compare that with Texas where the feral hog population is north of 2 million.

But with threat of this program being cut due to state budget woes, the feral hog population could come back with a vengeance. Somehow, though, I get the feeling that the proponents of eliminating the feral hog program are fueled by the excitement of just having more wild hog-hunting weekends.

Their argument is simple: Legalizing sport hunting of feral hogs makes money for the state via hunting tags; farmers make money from hunters paying to hunt on their land; and the hog population is controlled.

Unfortunately, this thinking is seriously flawed. Agricultural damages from wild hogs over the past five years have totaled more than $3 million even with the program in place. Can farmers recoup those kind of losses just from hunting fees?

Not to mention, one of the main reasons we have wild hogs in Kansas isn't because they simply wandered in from Oklahoma or Missouri. Feral hogs often times find their way here in the back of trucks and livestock trailers. People who want to hunt hogs for recreation bring them here illegally.

Legalizing sport hunting of wild hogs would only make this problem worse. Once people start making money off hunting wild hogs, it would be in their own self-interest to keep the populations growing. However, it would become a neighboring farmer or rancher's worst nightmare.

Ground shooting or hunting is also relatively ineffective when trying to control or eliminate hogs because of the low number of animals that can be killed at once, say wildlife biologists. The most effective form of control is aerial hunting funded by the state.  

At a cost of only $175,000 per year, our hunting program sounds like a heck of a deal. In the absence of state-funded hunting, feral hog populations are sure to mushroom into an even bigger problem for farmers and ranchers down the road.

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