There are few domesticated animals that “go feral” as quickly as pigs, and there are few animals so well adapted to survival. Pigs can eat just about anything, and their adaptability means that feral swine are running wild in great numbers in Southeastern states like Florida, Texas, Georgia, and South Carolina. A recent study by the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agriculture Sciences, UF/IFAS, shows that feral swine can cost cattle producers upwards of $2 million a year in lost production.
The USDA has found that feral swine cost upwards of $1.5 billion a year in control and damage repair costs. However, the UF/IFAS study shows that feral pig activities may in fact be even more costly. The issue examined by the UF/IFAS study tracked the damages caused when wild pigs dig up the ground by “rooting” with their snouts in search of food. Researchers found that this damage to the ground in the pasture harms plants edible to cattle and encourages the growth of plants poisonous to cattle. During the 14-month study, beneficial plants had not regrown in the rooted areas, indicating that cattle producers would have to perform costly weed removal and replanting to recover the use of the field or pasture.
One thing that is helping control wild swine populations is the fact they are a popular game animal in much of the Southeast. In Florida, wild pigs are considered protected wildlife on public land and are hunted only within a season and with a permit. However, on private land, feral swine are considered livestock, and they can be hunted at will without need for a license or within a specified hunting season. Many private land owners offer private hunts or leases as a source of income for their recreational land. Such hunts may be one option for ag land owners to control feral swine populations and minimize the damage caused by wild pigs.
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USDA photo courtesy of NASA.