Biologist: Feral hogs growing issue

Thomas Garcia

The feral hog is rapidly becoming the new coyote, or new pest, of the state’s Ag agency, said a New Mexico Ag official at the 41st annual Agricultural and Home Economics Seminar in Tucumcari.

Feral hogs can cause damage to irrigated land and crops and carry 37 parasites that can affect people, pets, livestock and wildlife, said New Mexico Wildlife Services, wildlife disease biologist Justin Stevenson.

Stevenson is part of the USDA/APHIS (Animal Plant and Health Inspection Services) Wildlife Services.
Stevenson said feral hogs can be carriers of bovine tuberculosis and pseudorabies.

“When a feral hog spreads the pseudorabies to livestock it usually results in what we call instant death,” Stevenson said. “The livestock start exhibiting symptoms such as a mad itch and die within one day.”

“Two years ago in Texas 9,500 feral hogs were killed,” Stevenson said. “This number reflects the number of hogs killed on public or state land. The private landowners want to keep the hog on their lands for hunting.”

Currently in Oklahoma they are killing 400 feral hogs a week, Stevenson said.

The exact number of feral hogs in New Mexico and surrounding states is still unknown, Stevenson said.
The agency has taken fewer than 100 feral hogs in New Mexico for hog damage management and disease testing, said Ken Podborny, Northern New Mexico district supervisor.

“Our agency works by request,” Podborny said. “We receive calls from landowners seeking help to remove the animals from their land.”
Podborny said that when he became district supervisor in 1984 there was not a feral hog problem or management program.

“We currently do not have the same problem as Texas and Oklahoma,” Podborny said. “In just a few years these feral hogs are becoming a problem in New Mexico. Several calls have come into our agency from Quay County. These animals are moving and they are moving west (from Texas).”

Stevenson said that he would like landowners to contact the agency when they have killed a feral hog so that a blood sample could be collected.

“We would like to draw blood to test the hogs in different areas to see how many are infected with a disease,” Stevenson said. “This can help us to determine if there is a concentration of diseased hogs in an area that could pose a threat to area landowners and their livestock.”

The agency is working on a new way to cut back the population of the wild omnivores in New Mexico.

The population control program has been dubbed the “Judas Hog Operation.”

The program would release a female feral hog that has been sterilized by a state veterinarian into the wild. The female would be equipped with a tracking collar that gives out her position. Once located with a pack of hogs, the hogs would be killed and the female would be released once again to locate another pack. The agency has not launched the program but plans to do so in the future.

Besides hurting and sometimes killing livestock, feral hogs can cause invasive weed spread and erosion damage to property, said Quay County wildlife specialist Ron Jones, with USDA/APHIS-Wildlife Services.

“The hogs can cause a lot of damage by rooting for food,” Jones said. “They will also wallow and root at water sources such as drinking ponds and stock tanks.”

“I thought it was a great program,” said Arthur Barnard of Conchas. Barnard said he had picked up a lot of useful information on the feral hog problem.

More than 30 residents, farmers and ranchers attended the session on feral hog management and biology, and more than 85 people attended the seminar on Thursday which was hosted by the Quay County Extension service.

“We had a great turnout today,” said Tom Dominguez, Quay County Extension Agent. “The nice day might have hurt us a bit. Many farmers and ranchers might have taken the opportunity to work out on their land.”

If you kill a feral hog and want to contact the New Mexico Department of Agriculture to test the hog for diseases, call Justin S. Stevenson (505) 346-2640 or Ron Jones at (575) 799-2640.

Ferahog facts:

• Travel in groups known as ‘sounders’.
• Females can breed at 8-10 months.
• Sows can produce 10-15 piglets twice a year.
• They can carry 30 major viral diseases and bacteria.
• They can carry 37 parasites that can affect people, pets, livestock and wildlife.
• They will kill livestock.

Source: New Mexico Department of Agriculture