Extension Agent: Finding truth in feral hog myths

March 29, 2011 at 4:03 p.m.
Updated March 28, 2011 at 10:29 p.m.

Joe Janak

Joe Janak

By Joe D. Janak, Jr.

According to quote from Dr. Billy Higginbotham, Texas AgriLife Extension Service wildlife specialist, "When it comes to feral hogs in Texas, separating fact from fiction is becoming a little easier as research reveals more about the pesky porcupines."

He says the highest ranking among the myths are estimates of the actual number of feral hogs in Texas. A common number that has been bantered about for years is 1 million to 4 million. But until recently, there just was no data to support this estimate.

Dr. Roel Lopez, associate director of the Texas A&M University Institute for Renewable Natural Resources, recently used an electronic map or geographic information system procedures to turn the guesses into reliable estimates.

Using GIS techniques, Lopez was able to quantify first the extent of the feral hog habitat in Texas. He estimates that about 134 million acres, or 79 percent of the state's 170 million acres, represents feral hog habitat.

By knowing the range of feral hog habitat and the species population density in various types of Texas environments, Lopez estimated that the actual number could range from a low of 1.9 million to a high of 3.4 million.

Exaggerated claims of feral hog population-growth rates are a related myth with many saying their population is doubling every year. Recent research shows that the average feral hog litter size in Texas is 5.6 pigs. Couple that with, on average, a sow is about 13 months old when she has her first litter, and that on average, mature sows have 1.5 litters per year. This means there is a significant population growth rate, but a far cry from the doubling-yearly myth, Lopez said.

He estimated the population growth of feral hogs in Texas averages between 18 to 20 percent annually. This means that it would take almost five years for a population to double in size if left unchecked.

Another common myth is that recreational hunting alone can control feral hog populations. Of the dozen studies conducted across the nation, hunting removes between 8 percent and 50 percent of a population, with an average of 24 percent across all studies, Higginbotham said. "In order to hold a population stable with no growth, 60 to 70 percent of a feral hog population would have to be removed annually."

One thing about feral hogs is definitely not a myth - the huge amount of damage they do to crops, wildlife habitat and rural landscapes, inflicting more than $52 million in damage annually. But lately, they have literally moved to town and are now causing significant damage in urban and suburban communities. This damage includes the rooting of landscapes, parks, lawns, golf courses, sports fields and even cemeteries, as they search for food.

It has been estimated that a single hog can cause more than $200 in damages annually.

Then there is competition for food and habitat for whitetail deer and possibly even endangered species.

Either way, it is big problem, and you the landowners are the first line of defense since 95 percent of Texas land is privately owned. This means arming you with best management practices and using various legal control methods to minimize the damage by reducing feral hog populations.

For more information on feral hogs, visit the AgriLife Extension website, "Coping with Feral Hogs," at http://feralhogs.tamu.edu. To assist Higginbotham even more in seeing where we are in relation to controlling this pest, he is asking landowners to answer four questions for him about your 2010 feral hog harvests. See and complete the questionnaire and return it to him by May 30.

Joe Janak is a Victoria County extension agent.



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