Feral Swine in America: Swine-Demic, a True Crisis
A Real American Crisis:
Feral swine are known by several names in English: hog, pig, piggy, piglet, warthog, boar, sow and more. Originally transported to North America by explorers and settlers in the 16th century, one billion swine are butchered each year in the USA.
They are livestock used for human food, clothing, cosmetics and medicinal purposes. America—and the rest of the world—has profited off swine in countless ways.
Enter Newton’s Third Law: Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. For all the benefits of farmed swine, there are drawbacks. Pigs are smart. They have escaped farms, traps and shipping containers.
They have chewed through wires and jumped over fences. Pigs have done more than exist, wild and free, in rural America – they have thrived and reproduced. Decades of mixed effort have failed to prevent these wild populations, these feral swine, from growing in number.
Wild pigs are an economic problem farmers, ranchers and rural Americans know all too well.
The Feral Swine Issue
The feral hog problem in the United States is well documented. Thirty-five American states now have sustainable populations of feral swine consisting of escaped domestic pigs, Eurasian boars and hybrids.
There are over six million total feral swine in the country. They do more than two billion dollars in property damage each year. Twelve states allow year-round hunting and no bag limits in an effort to reduce their populations.
This seems like a great deal of trouble over some swine, right? But these swine are not like Miss Piggy from the Muppets or Porky Pig from Looney Tunes. These creatures are much, much worse…
In the United States, farmers and ranchers make up a mere 1.3% of the total population, or about 4.5 million people. After accounting for production, labor and distribution costs, farmers receive 8 cents per dollar on the worth of the food they produce. Ask any farmer in America—they’re mainly in California, Ohio, Iowa, Nebraska and Texas—and you will hear firsthand how difficult farming is.
It is backbreaking labor from dusk till dawn, and farming won’t make someone wealthy, but it’s vitally important. People need to eat. With the above information, don’t you want farmers to have the best farming conditions and the least amount of preventable problems?
Ask any sane person about the state of American food safety, and they’ll agree – farmers need all the help and consideration they can get.
Consider feral swine. They inflict just under 1 billion dollars in direct damage to US agriculture each year. Wild pigs do not just come along, munch on a carrot or two, help themselves to some oats, then go about their business.
What Do Swine Eat?
No – adults can weigh from 300-700 pounds and consume almost any plant they come across, except for large trees and a few weeds.
They eat the tender leaves, fruits, nuts, roots, sprigs and seeds of anything their snout deems desirable. Feral swine overturn sod and pasture in their search for food, preventing any future crop life from growing, indirectly encouraging undesirable weeds species to grow in their place.
They dig up whole fields, leaving potholes that can blow-out a tractor tire or cause a horse to break its leg.
They trample anything they can’t eat and ‘wallow’ in ponds, rivers and lakes, fouling freshwater sources. Feral hogs chew through irrigation lines, trellises or any other specialized equipment associated with agriculture.
They can also transmit infectious diseases and parasites onto healthy livestock they encounter. Basically, feral swine are very, very nasty creatures.
US Agriculture feeds not only hundreds of millions of Americans, but it contributes over half of all foreign aid to the world’s hungriest countries.
Feral hogs are not just destructive to agriculture – they are a menace to the global supply chain. If you care about your family’s food security, you can’t turn a blind eye to the feral pig problem in the United States. It’s just too big.
Feral swine are opportunistic omnivores, but that’s not completely accurate. They will eat anything that has calories in it. Everyone knows they eat traditional farmer crops—fruits and vegetables—but did you know they eat worms, insects, larvae, small mammals, eggs, birds and lizards?
Feral swine deplete food sources that other animals rely on, forcing them into starvation. They will literally eat almost anything, and their glutinous behavior destroys the biodiversity of the environments they invade.
As of 2020, they have pushed nearly 300 U.S. native plant and animal species to the brink of extinction.
Why is biodiversity important? Biodiversity increases an ecosystem’s productivity and helps support all plant, animal and crop species.
Having many different species improves food resources, and it also promotes soil formation and protection, ultimately leading to better-filtered freshwater sources.
Biodiversity aids in breaking down pollutants, stabilizing the climate and recovering from natural disasters. It also helps humans find medicines and pharmaceuticals for diseases and provides environments for tourism and recreation.
Feral swine have upset the balance. They have greatly harmed native plant and animal populations and decreased biodiversity. They prevent healthy nutrient cycling and regrowth.
Feral hogs seem to have little purpose other than to eat everything they can and devastate natural environments.
Swine Attacks on Humans
Feral swine will generally flee from confrontations with humans, but they are still wild animals that can inflict great violence. Feral pigs are lightning-fast and have long, razor-sharp tusks that can gore a human to death.
They can run up to 30mph (Usain Bolt, the world’s fastest human, has reached a top speed of 28mph). Feral swine have nasty, bacteria-infested mouths filled with sharp incisors. Get a large group together—the scientific term is ‘sounder’—and they can easily trample a child or small human to death.
While not all feral swine attacks on humans are documented, several instances of unprovoked violence have occurred. It is estimated there have been roughly 100 attacks in the United States in the past century, with only five being fatal. One researcher found 24 fatal attacks worldwide in 2019.
- In remote Papua New Guinea in 1985, a mother was recovering from a baby delivery when a wild swine attacked and fatally injured her newborn.
- In November of 2019, 59-year old Christine Rollins of Texas was killed in front of her house by a herd of feral pigs. She died of blood loss.
Feral swine reproduction numbers are outrageously high. Female swine or ‘sows’ can become pregnant at seven months old and produce a litter of 12 or more. Also, they can have multiple litters per year. Does that sound bad? No? Here, let’s do some math on this one:
One boar (male swine) and one sow mate. The sow gestates for 3 ½ months.
They have a litter of 12 piglets, six boars and six sows. Often, a litter will only have 6-8 piglets, and maybe a stillborn or two, but we’ll assume the upper-estimate of 12 piglets for the math.
Seven months down the road, those six female piglets mature and find mates. 3 ½ months pass for gestation, and they have their first litters, another 12 each.
That’s 84 pigs in under 14 months.
OK…here is where the math gets interesting. Of the 84 pigs born in the past 14 months, half are female. That’s 42 females.
If they each get pregnant and give birth ten months down the road to litters of 12, that’s 504 pigs.
Again, half the offspring pigs are female, and they mate and give birth within 10 months. That’s 252 pregnant females, each carrying possibly 12 piglets.
That’s 3,024 potential piglets deriving from one boar and one sow who mated roughly three years ago, and that’s a conservative approximation.
Fighting The Math
To stop the growth of the feral swine population, 70-80% of ALL feral swine in the country must be culled per year, and that won’t eradicate their species, it will merely stabilize the population.
Feral pigs not only reproduce like crazy – they’re remarkably adaptable. They can live in almost any climate—though they prefer warmer ones—and have even been known to burrow into snow to create ‘pigloos’.
Swine can survive over a day’s walk away from a water source. They take mud baths to thermoregulate, brush off parasites like ticks and lice and mark their territory.
Wild pigs are remarkably disease-resistant, and adult swine are too large for most natural predators in America. Only bears, alligators and some big cats can challenge them.
Let’s Fix This Swine Problem
Eradicating feral swine is the job of every responsible American. It is not about hating or feeling malice towards these wild animals – it is about responsible conservation of your country.
If you see feral pigs on your property, in your suburban neighborhood or even poking around the dumpsters of an urban area, you must report their presence to the proper authorities.
As feral swine numbers increase, more contact and interference with human activities is inevitable. Wild pigs cause over $36 million dollars in damages due to traffic collisions alone each year.
For rural landowners, farmers and ranchers, a few options exist to eradicate feral swine. First, you can shoot them, but you need sufficiently large-caliber ammunition.
A .22 will not kill an adult pig unless you shoot it in a vital area. You should employ a .30-06, .223 or something larger to put them down for good. However, merely shooting feral swine does not mean they are dead.
They have thick hides and powerful bodies, and multiple shots (or a well-placed head-shot) are necessary to finish the job.
If you intend to hunt feral swine, they tend to be fat, warm-blooded creatures. During the hot summer months, they are more active at night when temperatures drop.
How Sightmark Helps
During cooler seasons, wild hogs may be active at any hour. A Digital Night Vision Riflescope, like the Sightmark Wraith 4K Max 3-24×50, is the perfect optic to hunt pigs at all hours.
If the Sightmark Wraith 4K Max is more riflescope than you’re willing to invest in, consider a more affordable low-powered variable optic (LPVO).
Because feral hogs (and varmint) run so fast, you need quick-adjusting, rapid target-acquisition optics like Sightmark’s Citadel 1-10×24 HDR riflescope. It comes with fully multi-coated optics and a second focal-plane hunter reticle with 11 brightness settings.
Tough as they come, the Sightmark Citadel is IP67 rated waterproof, shockproof and fog-proof.
Trapping Feral Swine
Another extremely effective tactic is trapping feral swine. There are several types of swine traps, and we’ll review some of the most popular very briefly:
Corral trap: This is a circular fence construction consisting of metal poles and cattle paneling, or some equally strong material. A trigger covered by bait is placed in the rear of the trap, often via a wire or pressure plate. This trigger is placed near the last place the pigs root, so you maximize the number in the trap before it slams shut.
Box trap: This is a steel cage with one end open. In the back of the cage is bait. When the swine walks into the cage they step on a pressure plate, slamming the gate behind them. This is great for people on a budget or who are dealing with small numbers of pigs.
Drop-net trap: Drop-net traps are similar to corral traps, but instead of the fencing slamming shut around the swine, a weighted net falls from above. Drop net-traps are an extremely effective tactic for capturing entire sounders.
A note on traps: Feral swine learn. If they see a corral trap sprung on a bunch of their friends, they will avoid them in the future.
If swine are left in a trap for several hours, some may escape either via burrowing, climbing or jumping. Some feral pigs have been known to scale five-foot fences! For these reasons, you should use different types of traps on different areas of your property. And always make sure they’re well-tended.
Snare-based traps are rarely used for capturing feral swine unless they are outfitted with a heavy metal cable. Snares tend to lack the weight and reliability needed for large feral hogs, and they may capture non-target animals.
Biologically-focused solutions to eradicate feral swine have been proposed, such as anti-freeze and sodium nitrite, but none is ecologically viable.
Poisons don’t work because there is no way to guarantee only pigs will consume it. If pigs do eat the poison and die, their meat may poison the environment or a human or other animal.
Warfarin, a human blood thinner (anticoagulant) and lethal pesticide, continues to be studied in universities and congressional committees for viability. It has not been approved for large-scale swine eradication use yet.
Another interesting method is ‘hog-dogging’. This is essentially hunting feral swine with well-trained dogs. To read a full article on hog-dogging, click this link.
If you catch or kill feral pigs, you can take their carcasses to processing plants and receive a good slab of pork for your efforts. Some land-owners rent their acreage to hunters with the specific purpose of killing swine.
Some professional bounty hunters have arrangements with local authorities, whereas they bring the tails of dead pigs in exchange for cash.
As the feral swine issue spreads, more creative and lucrative business opportunities will surely spread, too.
After reading this article, you may feel the need to go harvest some feral swine. That is a noble pursuit, but do not underestimate the enormity of this challenge.
Pigs may be virtually impossible to eradicate in the wild, so merely keeping their population numbers low is a worthy achievement. Before you start, ask some seasoned hunters about how you can help, watch some Youtube videos and take this problem one porker at a time.
The feral swine population won’t be gone overnight. But, with some focus and dedication, the swine-demic could be a thing of the past within a few years.
America is not the only country with a severe feral swine issue. Australia and Canada have also been particularly ravaged. Those countries have their own laws and concerns with swine, and you must conduct the proper research if you’re interesting in providing aid.