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Feral hogs: A four-footed plague

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Feral hogs are a significant problem that plague the entire state of Florida. They cause millions in damage to Florida crops annually and inflict terrible ecological damage. Feral hogs are not limited to rural areas and will invade anywhere they can access. Wild populations of feral hogs are descended from domestic animals that escaped from captivity. Feral hogs were first introduced to the Southeast by Spanish explorers as far back as the 16th century. European wild boars were introduced much later for hunting purposes. Once escaping, they interbred with already present feral pigs to create the animals we have today.

Feral hogs are invasive animals that are responsible for serious damage to agricultural crops, native vegetation and wildlife. A group of hogs is called a “sounder” and are most active at night. They commonly range between 100 and 500 pounds, with some becoming far larger. They spread quickly due to their ability to reproduce and survive easily in the wild. They are capable of breeding as young as 6 months old. Hogs may have multiple litters per year with each litter containing up to a dozen piglets.

The primary economic damage they cause includes rooting up agricultural fields, food plots and tree seedlings, as well as carrying diseases that can be transmitted to domestic animals and humans. Their rooting activity in the ground creates large holes in fields or dirt paths which impedes movement of vehicles and equipment. Feral hogs are also known to root through lawns and garden beds, causing severe destruction. Feral hogs also strongly compete with native species such as deer and turkey for food and territory. Pigs are omnivores, meaning they consume a variety of vegetation, insects, reptiles, eggs, and small mammals such as deer fawns. Feral hogs are known to be a serious threat to ground nesting birds’ eggs and even to sea turtle nests of coastal regions.

Feral hogs carry many diseases, like brucellosis, pseudorabies and trichinosis that can be transmitted to domestic animals and humans. If transmitted to hogs on a hog farm, the infected animals would need to be destroyed, creating losses for the farmer. Hogs will also wallow in creeks, creating muddy, contaminated water, causing harm for aquatic fauna inhabiting creeks and streams.

Methods for controlling feral hogs include fencing, live trapping and hunting. However, these methods are often individually ineffective because of the hogs’ intelligence and rapid ability to reproduce. Hunting hogs with firearms and dogs is another method of control. Since feral hogs are a non-native species, there is no closed season, bag or size limit when hunting on private property. Live trapping may be the most effective method of curtailing hogs because an entire sounder may be trapped and killed. Traps are typically large open cages that are constructed on site with a guillotine style door that can drop down. Corn-based baits are often effective for attracting and trapping hogs, though it can take time for the hogs to be comfortable enough to enter the traps.

The nation’s hog population is increasing every year and they are spreading into states where they have never been before. The best method of controlling feral hogs is to prevent them from being introduced to your property. If feral hogs do appear, they should be aggressively trapped and hunted in every legal way possible.

For more information call the Marion County Extension Office at 352-671-8400 or email [email protected]

— Mark Bailey is the Sustainable Agriculture & Food Systems Extension Agent for UF/IFAS Extension Marion County. For more information, contact the Marion County office, (352) 671-8400. The Extension Service is located at 2232 NE Jacksonville Road, Ocala, FL 34470.

This article originally appeared on The Gainesville Sun: Mark Bailey: Feral hogs – A four-footed plague

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