Feral pigs continue to create problems

Alpena, Mich. – More sightings and killings of feral pigs may
not mean more pigs. Although numbers are thought to be climbing,
officials say increased public awareness of free-roaming swine is
likely driving up the number of sightings.

Even the many recent metropolitan sightings could be the result
of media attention prompting public feedback, said Steve Schmidt, a
veterinarian for the Michigan DNR.

“Incidents are probably just getting reported in more counties,”
Schmidt told Michigan Outdoor News in a phone interview. “I don’t
think they’re gravitating toward the cities.”

No clear conclusions can be made, according to Schmidt, because
DNR records of the state’s wild pig population only date back two
years.

“Fifteen years ago, we weren’t hearing much about feral swine,”
he said. “Five years ago we started hearing about them, and a
couple of years ago we started looking at them.”

There have always been escapes of traditional farm pigs, Schmidt
said, but Russian boar sightings began 10 to 15 years ago. The
black, hairy, tusked boars are used at high-fence hunting farms.
Escapes from breeding ranches or farms are thought to be fueling
the growing wild population.

Russian boars can weigh upwards of 400 pounds. They are able to
tolerate cold climates, consume a variety of food sources, can
litter three times per year, and can breed with other varieties,
making for a population of adaptable feral swine.

Pigs are extremely destructive and can carry diseases including
pseudorabies and swine brucellosis, which can affect humans. Most
sightings have been of sows with piglets, and Schmidt said letting
the population continue to grow would be a mistake.

“It would be difficult to eradicate them if they have a foothold
in the state, and I think they do,” he said.

Authorization was given in 2006 for licensed hunters to shoot
feral swine in 23 counties. In 2007, the number of counties jumped
to 50. Some 27 pigs were reportedly shot in 2006. The 40 reported
in 2007 is not a final tally.

“I would expect to hear about more. The reporting is voluntary.
There could be more out there,” said Kristine Brown, lab technician
with the DNR. “Last year was the first year we tried to
aggressively keep records. Any data before that are sketchy at
best.”

Commissions for the Michigan Department of Agriculture and DNR
recently adopted a resolution that calls for banning recreational
hunting of pigs and raising of pigs for such use. It also allows
for year-round shooting of wild pigs as a nuisance species.

“The draft is being written by the MDA,” Brown said. “They’re
supposed to be working on the language. Nothing is in legislation
yet.”

Brown said she expects a modification to the livestock-at-large
law to be passed first.

“Pigs are currently legally livestock,” she said. “The law would
change so any hunter could shoot any pig anywhere in Michigan
without facing prosecution.”

Harvey Haney, part owner of Heritage Trophy Hunts of Michigan in
Lupton, said he sympathizes with the state in the effort to control
feral hog populations.

“The state had a tough call on what to do with hogs escaping,”
Haney said.

The term “livestock” encompasses a wide range of animals, he
said, and trying to draft a law that will reduce feral pig
populations without endangering other forms of livestock would be
difficult.

Haney said he’s had about 80 boars on his ranch for about three
years and none have escaped. He won’t allow them to escape, he
said, and doesn’t understand how other ranchers would.

“If I have animals getting out, I’m losing money. I don’t know
how they do it. If they keep letting hogs get out, I believe
they’ll go out of business,” he said.

Four-foot hog panels buried 18 inches into the ground keep his
hogs contained, Haney said.

“You could drive a car into them and not tear them apart,” he
said.

According to Haney, ranchers are facing financial woes as
hog-hunting rates have not increased, but feed costs have doubled
in the past two years. Ranchers tempted to skimp on feed quality
should think twice, he said.

Pigs need soy meal or possibly alfalfa for protein, Haney said,
and cutting corners on food may encourage more escapes.

“You obviously have to feed them, or they’ll go looking
somewhere else,” he said.

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