When it comes to feral hogs in Texas, separating fact from fiction is becoming a little easier as research reveals more about them.
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 to 4 million. But there was no real data to support that number until recently.
Dr. Roel Lopez, associate director of the Texas A&M University Institute for Renewable Natural Resources, recently used geographic information system procedures to turn guesstimates into reliable estimates. In other words, he used an electronic map. Using GIS techniques, Lopez estimates that approximately 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 estimates 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. The misinformation is that because of feral hogs’ high birth rates, their population is doubling every year.
So what are the facts?
A 2011 consolidation of past studies revealed that the average litter size in Texas and the Southeast is 5.6 pigs. It is also known, that on average, a sow is about 13 months old when she has her first litter, and that, also 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 estimated the population growth of feral hogs in Texas averages between 18 percent and 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. Billy Higginbotham, AgriLife Extension wildlife specialist, said that “Of the dozen studies conducted across the nation, hunting removes between 8 percent and 50 percent, with an average of 24 percent across all studies. 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 that is definitely not a myth is the huge amount of damage they inflict upon crops and landscapes. It has been estimated that a single hog can cause more than $200 annually. This estimate does not include the damage feral hogs do as they compete with other wildlife species, such as whitetail deer, for food and habitat. And some of the species challenged by feral hog invasions are endangered species. For those landowners actively engaged in deer management, their tolerance of feral hogs should be very, very low.
The good news is the damage caused by feral hogs can be reduced by control efforts. In a 2006-07 study conducted by the Texas Department of Agriculture, agricultural damage was reduced by 66 percent via control efforts in just two years. Subsequent studies have confirmed that control measures such as trapping and shooting prevented millions of dollars in damage by reducing feral hog populations.
“Landowners remain the first line of defense since Texas is 95 percent privately owned land,” Higginbotham said. “This means arming the public with Best Management Practices and using various legal control methods to abate the damage by reducing feral hog populations.”
Clay County will once again be participating in the County Hog Out Program administered by the Texas Department of Agriculture. The Program is designed to encourage counties across the state to make a concentrated and coordinated effort to reduce the feral hog population and damage caused by these animals during the 3 month period of October-December 2012, with the month of October being deemed “Hog Out” Month. Landowners, managers and trappers that kill hogs during this 3-month period should keep a tally. Hog buying stations will also keep a record of hogs brought in from Clay County.
The public is invited to a meeting about the County Hog Out Program and feral hogs set for 6 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 18 at the Jeff Fitts barn, located at 290 Spur 510 in Henrietta.
During the meeting, Russell Stevens, Noble Foundation wildlife specialist, will present information about the biology of feral hogs and control methods. A meal will be included and several hog traps will be given as door prizes. There is no cost to attend. RSVP to the USDA-NRCS office at (940) 538-4681, ext. 3, by Monday, Oct. 15.