Let's Reminisce: Pig tales
By Jerry Lincecum
Mar 13, 2018
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As a former hog farmer (during my Future Farmer days), Iím always interested in new information about swine.  Iím reading a book entitled Pig Tales, by Barry Estabrook, which includes a section on feral pigs and some of the reasons they are rapidly increasing in numbers and causing so many problems.  During my growing-up years in central Texas in the 1950s, I never saw a wild hog or any damage to our farmland caused by them.  But today more than 2.5 million of them live all over Texas and do at least $52 million in damage each year.

Estabrook writes that it is hard to imagine a better candidate for this countryís most destructive invasive species than the feral pig.  One of them can run thirty miles an hour and leap over three-foot fences.  They are virtual breeding machines, with every sow producing a litter of six to twelve piglets each year.  Once those babies mature, humans are the only major predator they face, and they are ideally suited to live in the woods.  They can and do eat anything that is edible.  For example, earthworms (up to 300 have been found in the belly of dissected wild hog), domestic grain crops, vegetables of all kinds, and the eggs of ground-nesting game birds, such as turkey and quail.  As long as they have water to drink, you can be sure they will find plenty of food.


Their rooting erodes riverbanks and they can swim well enough to dive for crabs.  In some urban areas they destroy parks, golf courses and sports fields.  Their well-adapted snouts include a pre-nasal bone that is attached to the skull and works with a cartilage disk that flexes.  Itís like having both a spade and a pickaxe, and a rooting hog is a self-propelled digging machine.  They can walk at a brisk pace with their snouts placed in the ground, and the upturned dirt they leave behind looks like it was churned by a rototiller.


Most feral pigs today are hybrids between escaped farm pigs and wild boars.  In some cases their expansion has been helped by misguided sportsmen who thought they wanted to hunt them.  For example, hunting enthusiasts introduced wild pigs to the Canadian province of Saskatchewan to populate hunting reserves.  They ridiculed the concerns of environmentalists about what would happen when some of the animals escaped the fenced reserves, saying no wild boar could survive the winter temperatures of -60 degrees.  Alas, when too few hunters were willing to pay to bag a wild boar, the scheme was abandoned and the pigs turned loose.  Plenty of them survived the winter by tunneling into rolled bales of straw and digging caves in snowdrifts, and some migrated into slightly balmier North Dakota.  Their impact on agriculture and native vegetation has been nothing short of a disaster.


A big problem for those in charge of efforts to reduce their numbers is the fact that pigs are intelligent.  In South Carolina, for example, the eradication program used pen-like traps in the early years.  But after the pigs saw enough of their buddies locked into the pens, they avoided traps no matter how enticing the bait.  Then trained hog dogs were used, and in one year they caught 1,000 pigs, which was half of the stateís population at the time.  But the pigs figured out that whenever they retreated to a thicket and stopped running, the dogs were able to catch them.  So they just never stopped running, and soon the feral pig population began growing again.  Currently the Carolina pig catchers do not have a new strategy that works.


Across the country there is a pig population explosion building toward a crisis.  Twenty-five years ago they were a problem in only 19 states.  Today they have spread to 48 states, and the best guess is that their numbers have surged to at least 4 million.  What is really disturbing is that we may be on a path to match Australia, which has become home to 23 million wild hogs, outnumbering their human population.  That is a cautionary tale about what can happen when feral pig populations go unchecked.


Jerry Lincecum is a retired Austin College professor who now teaches older adults to write their autobiographies and family histories.  Email him at