By Chris Clayton
DTN Ag Policy Editor
ARDMORE, Okla., (DTN) -- A few years ago when the Noble Foundation announced an event to discuss the problem of feral hogs the organizers soon realized they were going to need to move the forum to another location because hundreds of people wanted to attend.
"It just underscored how significant this problem is," said Adam Calaway, a spokesman for the Noble Foundation. "They are an amazingly destructive force. They will destroy a field or a golf course."
The problem is getting worse as feral hogs are now also increasingly creeping into suburban areas. The hogs are violent and can attack both pets and people.
Since 1982, feral, invasive hogs have spread from being concentrated in 17 states to now being found in 41 states with pervasive range across the entire southern half of the country, according to USDA. The department estimates there are roughly 6 million feral hogs and the population continues to increase. The hogs root up and destroy crops and can damage farm equipment. The hogs also carry a number of diseases so they are a risk to wildlife, livestock and people.
Feral hogs are getting more attention on a number of fronts. Louisiana State University's AgCenter released an analysis earlier this month showing feral hogs caused $30 million in damage just in 2013 to farms in Louisiana. "Up to this point, we've only had anecdotes, so we wanted to quantify how much cost is associated with feral hog activity," said Shaun Tanger, an LSU AgCenter economist when the analysis was released.
The LSU analysis estimated Louisiana alone has roughly 500,000 feral hogs. About 31% of farmers in the study said they have a feral hog problem on their land.
USDA also announced last week the department would conduct a broader survey, reaching out to roughly 10,000 farmers mainly in 11 Southeast states to estimate the damage feral hogs do to agriculture.
"We believe feral swine are a significant concern for farmers in many states," said Stephanie Shwiff, project leader of the APHIS' Economic Research of Human Wildlife Conflict project. "With this survey, we begin the process of quantifying the extent of the problem, which should help us determine the best solution."
APHIS issued an environmental impact statement last month on plans to develop a national "integrated feral swine damage management program" that would coordinate different strategies to eradicate feral hogs. That translates into investing more research into the problem and working with states and outside groups on ways to begin reducing the feral hog population and range.
The Noble Foundation estimates feral hogs cause roughly $1.5 billion in economic damages to farms and other businesses annually. The hogs are known to tear up almost any crop field and will root under orchard trees as well.
"They will walk a line in a field and eat every corn seed in a row," said Joshua Gaskamp, a wildlife and range consultant at Noble. "They also do a pretty good job on peanuts. They are basically opportunistic omnivores. Pigs will eat anything with a calorie."
Staff at the foundation recognized several years ago that the feral-hog situation was getting worse for the farmers and ranchers they work with in Oklahoma and Texas. Staff at the foundation have been working for years to develop different traps for feral hogs. Early on, that translated into working nets that would drop on a herd of the animals collected in one place. The problem with that strategy is that it effectively means a farmer or landowner would be out all night in a field waiting for hogs to trap the animals. It wasn't a practical solution for a farmer who has been working all day to spend all night out trying to trap hogs in nets.
"That's why they were hesitant to adopt that technology," he said.
After years of testing, Noble researchers finally came up with a round corral cage that stands about four feet in the air and is wireless connected to a motion-sensor camera similar to those used to track wildlife. The camera, once gauging animals around the cage, sends an alert to a smartphone. A landowner can watch the video from the camera and then send a signal to trap the hogs.
"I can hit a button on the phone, capture the hogs and go back to sleep, then worry about them in the morning," Gaskamp said. "I can be anywhere in the world and as long as I'm getting a phone signal for this camera it will work."
The original trap design was square, but the corners actually helped at least some of the hogs escape. Gaskamp said he has seen the hogs even climb on top of each other and build a pyramid to help some of the hogs escape. The circle shape of the latest "BoarBuster" trap reduced some of that escape potential. The trap was so successful that Noble signed a commercial agreement with a company, W-W Livestock Systems, to sell the BoarBuster trap. While Noble is known for its plant breeding, the BoarBuster marks the first piece of equipment the foundation has signed over to a company to sell commercially. Gaskamp said W-W Livestock had 200 pre-orders for the traps before officially starting to market them at the beginning of July. The whole trap set, which is about 18 feet in diameter, takes about 20 minutes to set up and costs just shy of $6,000.
The trap took off when Gaskamp was pitching it at the National Wild Turkey Federation show earlier this year and actually showed a live feed trapping hogs while he was at the turkey show. One video that went viral -- more than 535,000 views -- shows the BoarBuster trapping 44 hogs in one catch.
One reason feral hogs spread so quickly is because they are prolific breeders. Gaskamp noted a sow can have up to 12 pigs in a litter and may have two litters a year. Because of such rapid breeding capacity, Gaskamp and others have pointed out that 70% to 75% of the wild hogs need to be killed annually just to keep wild herd from growing further.
Oklahoma officials held their own forum at the end of June on feral hogs as well. Most of the agricultural community was unified that the hogs are a growing nuisance across the state. However, there was push back from hunters and hunting outfitters who believe the strong demand for hunting the animals should allow the hogs to stay in some hunting refuges.
APHIS link on feral hogs: http://dld.bz/…
Noble Foundation BoarBuster video: https://www.youtube.com/…
Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com.
Follow him on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN.
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