OVERTON – From now until spring green-up is one of the best times of the year to control wild pigs, according to a Texas AgriLife Extension Service expert.One factor is that hungry wildpigs are on the move and more likely to be out in the open to forage for food this time of year, said Dr. Billy Higginbotham, AgriLife Extension fisheries and wildlife specialist, Overton.
Wild pigs, aka feral hogs, browse wooded areas, graze pastures and root up planted crops for food, Higginbotham said. They also scavenge and raid deer-feeder sites. From January through spring green-up, many of these food sources are not as available.
“Native foods such as acorns disappear as winter wears on, and many deer hunters do not continue to supplement their deer population after hunting season,” Higginbotham said. “As a result, the wild pigs will be increasingly on the move and more susceptible to baiting as they search for food.”
Another reason to step up control efforts of wild pigs this time of year has to do with the animals’ breeding behavior, he said.
“Wild pigs are one of the most prolific large mammals in the world,” Higginbotham said.
According to a 2011 study, the average age of a sow having her first litter is about 13 months, he said. Mature sows will have an average of 1.5 litters per year, and the average litter size is 5.6 piglets.
“Though sows can have litters any month of the year, there always seems to be a peak in farrowing during the early spring,” Higginbotham said. “This is an added incentive for landowners to strike as soon as possible before even more pigs hit the ground.”
Landowners have the choice of several control methods for wild pigs. These include trapping, snaring, dogging and shooting, both aerially and on the ground, he said. But because of the large amount of cover afforded by forest and brush in many parts of Texas, trapping and shooting remain the most effective options for landowners in such areas.
“A 2011 survey of 700 landowners in 139 Texas counties by AgriLife Extension detailed the frequency of control method utilized,” Higginbotham said. “Of 36,664 wild pigs removed in 2010 by survey respondents, 57 percent were removed through trapping and 24 percent via aerial and landowner shooting. Hunting was responsible for removing another 11 percent of the pigs taken. Catch dogs removed 6 percent of the total while 2 percent were removed through the use of snares.”
Higginbotham has detailed information on designing wild-pig traps at http://feralhogs.tamu.edu. Though design is important, there’s more to successfully controlling hogs than just buying or building a good trap, he said.
“Trapping is a process — not an event,” Higginbotham said. “That process includes training the pigs to bait, determining the size of trap based on the size of the sounder (family group), training the pigs to become accustomed to the trap’s presence and to regularly enter the trap with the gate secured open. Then and only then should the trap be set to actually catch the pigs.”
Higginbotham noted that the most difficult pig to trap is one that has been “almost” caught, but got away because of poor trap design or planning. Mature pigs, especially boars, also learn to be wary of traps when they see other members of their sounder are caught. So it’s important to catch as many as possible with one setting of the trap.
He also recommended using a remote-sensing camera, available from sporting-good retailers, to determine the size and feeding habits of pigs before constructing the trap. The cameras are designed to operate automatically at suspected pig haunts. They are tripped by motion detectors with pig activity and take digital photos, marking the time in the process. Setting these cameras and interpreting the results are also outlined on the wild pig control website, he said.
“Landowners remain the first line of defense because Texas is 95 percent privately owned land,” Higginbotham said. “We are not going to eradicate wild pig populations with the current legal control methods, but research has clearly demonstrated that the economic impact wild pigs have on agricultural operations can be significantly reduced by the control methods we do have.”