Hogs on the highway, pigs in the pasture. After more than four centuries of alien invasion, we here in Texas are finally overrun by wild hogs.
As their population expands, so, too, does their territory. Increasingly, these creatures are leaving their traditional homes in the river bottoms and rural creek drainages and moving ever closer to cities and towns and their suburbs. It’s a destructive trend.
“The destructive nature of wild pigs is well-documented since their arrival in Texas some 450 years ago, courtesy of Hernando De Soto’s expedition,” Higginbotham says. “The toll they take on Texas agriculture alone is conservatively estimated at some $52 million per year, with an additional $7 million spent by Texas landowners on removing (them) or repairing the damage they cause.”
Beyond the agricultural losses, there’s the injury toll on humans caused by vehicle collisions involving wild hogs, plus the damage done to cemeteries, parks, ball fields, golf courses, gardens and other areas where hogs are likely to root and grub for food.
It is against this backdrop that special attention falls at this time of year on hunters, many of whom make the situation worse by using corn to attract deer.
Texas hunters feed lots of corn to deer during the course of a year, more than 300 million pounds of it, according to Billy Higginbotham, a PhD extension biologist and professor with Texas AgriLife. They also put out about 100 million pounds of protein pellets and cottonseed.
There is evidence that all the corn and protein and other supplemental foods on the landscape might also be contributing to the ever-expanding hog populations. With sows in better physical condition thanks to that extra food, more babies are born and raised to adulthood. Other than disease and rifles, hogs have very few predators.
Higginbotham says hunters can help. “Fence your feeders,” he says. Fencing can keep the hogs away from the feed without discouraging the deer.
When hogs close in on a feeder, deer leave and stay away. It’s that simple. Hunters lose money — shelled corn sells for as much as $11 for a 50-pound bag these days — and they lose the deer.
That’s why Higginbotham and his colleagues at Texas A&M have studied fencing techniques and have come up with some very useful advice for hunters who want to keep hogs at bay.
“I have always believed that the height of a fence necessary to keep wild pigs out was lower than the height necessary to keep wild pigs in,” Higginbotham says.
Using enclosures at least 28 feet in diameter, researchers staked out hog panels that were 20 inches, 28 inches and 34 inches in height. The 28 and 34-inch panels kept all hogs out off the enclosures, he says. They also kept out some whitetail fawns but that result was mitigated by cutting small spaces out of the tops of those panels to allow the smaller deer to enter without any problems.
“The estimated cost of fencing one feeding station with a six-panel enclosure made up of the standard 34-inch high swine panels and twelve short t-posts is in the neighborhood of $175,” Higginbotham says. “That may be a small price to pay in order to lower your feed bill, reduce the disruption of your deer herd and perhaps reduce the number of (hogs) on the landscape.”
Higginbotham also noted that recreational hunting cannot reduce the number of pigs on any piece of property. The animals are too wary, are often nocturnal and are far too prolific to be held back by a small number of rifle rounds.
Steady and varied control efforts — shooting, trapping and snaring, for instance — are the only ways to hold down a wild hog population, he says.
Fencing feeders is one way to diminish wild hogs’ impact on a hunter’s day.