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Wild pigs breed trouble inTexas

States with feral hogs: 39, plus four Canadian provinces. Estimated Texas feral hog population: 1.5 million to 2 million (national population estimated at 4 million). Life expectancy for hogs: About seven years. Average size of mature feral hog: ...

States with feral hogs: 39, plus four Canadian provinces.

Estimated Texas feral hog population: 1.5 million to 2 million (national population estimated at

4 million).

Life expectancy for hogs: About seven years.

Average size of mature feral hog: 100 to 150 pounds.

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Reproduction capability: Sows are capable of breeding when 6 to 8 months old. In theory, the offspring from one mature sow could produce more than 1,000 hogs in five years.

Information: feralhog.tamu.edu

DALLAS -- Texas is going hog wild. Spread by hunters and landowners who wanted a game animal they could hunt year round, viable populations of feral hogs are thriving in 225 of this state's 254 counties.

Billy Higginbotham has heard the same sad story at least a hundred times. The Texas A&M Extension Service biologist has unintentionally become the state's leading authority on feral swine. He denies a rumor that he's changing his name to Hogginbotham.

"Over the years, I've gotten a lot of calls from people wanting to know where they could buy some hogs to stock on their property," Higginbotham said. "Invariably, they call back two years later asking how they can control the hogs."

Feral hogs became an issue recently in Northwestern Wisconsin when they began escaping from a Douglas County game farm. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources urged the public to shoot any hogs seen outside the game farm. DNR enforcement officials also urged the game farm's owner to improve his fencing to prevent hogs from escaping.

In the fall and early winter of 2005, DNR employees shot 42 hogs and trapped and destroyed 12 others. Another 30 to 70 have been killed by the public, according to DNR wildlife officials. The game farm's owner subsequently has repaired his fence.

Hogs reproduce exponentially. A sow may start breeding when she's 6 to 8 months old and have a litter of six piglets before she's a year old. If all the offspring from one sow survived for five years, the total could exceed 1,000 hogs.

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Higginbotham has a couple of one-liners to describe a feral hog's reproductive cycle: They have six piglets in a litter and eight of them survive; kill one wild hog and three more show up for the funeral.

For farmers and wildlife managers, hogs are no laughing matter. Hogs cause an estimated $52 million a year in Texas agricultural losses. If you manage for white-tailed deer, quail or other native game species, hogs are especially unwelcome, Higginbotham said.

"During the drought, we know that some hog populations have survived by eating cattail roots," he said. "They're vegetarians when they need to be, but they're also predators and scavengers. They're smarter than a dog and more wary than a deer. Once you've got hogs, you can't get rid of them. The best you can do is control the numbers."

Hawaii's hog problem is so bad that hogs may be hunted (without firearms) in the city limits of Honolulu. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources is asking deer hunters in that state to shoot every hog they see.

Trapping hogs is the most effective way to control them. In the open spaces of south and west Texas, shotgunning from a helicopter is effective, though costly. Texas sport hunters kill thousands of hogs annually, but the animals quickly learn to avoid hunters.

Wild pork is very good to eat. In fact, some people like the lean meat better than the fatter domestic pork.

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