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Boar Running Hog Wild in the Lone Star State

posted on August 3, 2007


Last fall, tainted spinach from California was blamed for a food poisoning epidemic that killed three people and sickened more than 200.

In a joint report, state and federal officials said they found E. coli "indistinguishable from the outbreak strain" in river water, cattle manure, and of all things -- wild pig feces -- on a ranch within one mile of spinach fields.

While large populations of feral swine are a relatively new phenomenon in California, their presence is well known in Texas. As Andrew Batt discovered last spring, their numbers are growing steadily. And, as the beasts run "hog wild" some farmers are squealing for help.

 

As the saying goes…everything is bigger in Texas. Big wide-open rangeland, big prize-winning steers, and in many Texas counties…big, wild boars.

Kenneth Kelm, Hill County, TX: "There is 20-some acres of crop land over there in that one field. We planted it one day and it was gone the next."

Last year, central Texas farmer Kenneth Kelm was forced to replant his corn acres three times in a matter of weeks after wild hogs devoured every seed. The swine are known as feral hogs while the males are often referred to as wild boar.

The beasts are running free across much of Texas – wreaking havoc on crops and angering farmers.

Kelm: "That hog gets his nose down there, he has such a good sensor and he knows exactly where that seed is…he goes right down that row and he virtually digs it all up."

Kelm's troubles are not confined to his farm's fence line. Feral hogs also are a constant headache for owner Chad Radke.

Chad Radke, Malone, TX: "They populate so fast that it really becomes a problem in a hurry and that's how it's built up over the years and has been a big problem."

Feral hogs have a distinctly different appearance than your average farm pig. In the wild, hogs develop course hair and long snouts that replace the short snouts and soft pink skin of pen-raised pork.

Like other hogs, feral swine are sexually mature by one year of age and can reproduce in three months, three weeks and three days. The rapid gestation period can quickly turn a pesky problem into a devastating environmental menace.

Billy Higginbotham, Texas Cooperative Extension: "We're not going to control them with a rifle. We're going to have to control them with some very aggressive trapping techniques."

Billy Higginbotham has studied feral hogs in Texas for over two decades. He estimates 2 million feral hogs are found within the state's borders…causing $52 million in agricultural damages each year.

Billy Higginbotham, Texas Cooperative Extension: "The idea is to pre-bait the trap…get the hogs used to coming in with the gate locked open."

Working through Texas Cooperative Extension, Billy is coaching landowners on ways to prevent damage and trap feral hogs in large numbers. He claims his feral hog abatement project has already saved farmers in eastern Texas $1.9 million dollars in operating costs. While early results look promising, Billy and many farmers across the country may be fighting an uphill battle.

In 1988, feral swine were spotted in a handful of states – mostly concentrated in sections of California, Florida, and southern Texas. But nearly two decades later, the wild swine have expanded into traditional farm belt regions like the Midwest and Southeast.

Despite farmers' headaches, the glut of wild boar across the country is spawning some profitable business ventures.

Maurice Chambers, Owner of Chambers Bowhunting: "You have absolutely no idea the amount of dollars the wild hog brings to this state. I mean it's in the millions, there are many, many people that come to Texas just to hunt the wild hog. And many, many ranchers just like me don't want them eliminated."

Maurice Chambers runs a wild hog hunting operation near Sabinal, Texas - the self-proclaimed "Wild Boar Capitol of the World." He says that wild boar, known in South Texas as a "poor man's grizzly bear," are an essential part of the Texas economy and culture. Chambers, who runs hunting operations for everything from buffalo to antelope, says farmers should be cautious with the methods they use to control wild boar.

Maurice Chambers: "What I do have a problem with is when they kill them and leave them laying. And that's a tremendous amount of wonderful meat they're allowing to lay out there and rot."

When Market to Market visited Chambers' ranch, located two hours away from the Mexico border, he proudly displayed a freshly trapped group of more than 20 wild boar.

Chambers emphasized that his guests bow hunt primarily at night and the majority of visitors process all of the meat off every boar.

Maurice Chambers: "It's the most delicious wild meat that there is. If you haven't eaten wild hog, you need to."

Hunting operations are not the only business capitalizing on feral hogs. The tasty flavor and lean meat of wild swine is changing some opinions in farm country and urban restaurants. A handful of processors are cashing in on a niche market.

Chris Hughes, President & CEO of Broken Arrow Ranch: "All of the animal we harvest are wild animals, truly wild animals."

Chris Hughes is President and CEO of Broken Arrow Ranch…a full-service meat processor and supplier of so-called exotic meats. Chris' business model is simple…farmers don't want wild boar on their farms but restaurants in large, urban cities consider the meat a delicacy.

Chris Hughes, President & CEO of Broken Arrow Ranch: "It really runs the gamut. We can sell cuts to fine dining restaurants in New York that will sell items for $30, $40, even $50 dollars a plate. We'll also sell it to a neighborhood bar in Chicago that could be selling wild boar stew for $10 a bowl."

Over the past two decades, Broken Arrow Ranch has built a network of farmers and ranchers that allow the processor to trap feral hogs on their land. After culling the swine, Hughes says the wild animals are slaughtered under full USDA inspection, then brought back to Ingram, Texas for processing.

Chris Hughes, President & CEO of Broken Arrow Ranch: Audio Sync with Chris inspecting the hogs coming in

Wild boar cuts sold through Broken Arrow Ranch include everything from ribs, sausage, and shoulder roasts…

Chris Hughes, President & CEO of Broken Arrow Ranch: "And this is our wild boar stew…a very popular item."

It seems as if every corner of the country has a taste for wild boar. Hughes says the company ships product to restaurants in 47 states with Iowa, the nation's leading pork producer, as one of only three states not to receive Broken Arrow products.

While the exotic meat market is booming for companies like Broken Arrow Ranch, Hughes concedes that an expansive wild boar population is good for business.

Chris Hughes, President & CEO of Broken Arrow Ranch: "There not a nuisance to us. We like them."

Hughes' sentiment isn't likely to draw strong support in Texas farm country. And Texas Extension services are concerned that wild hogs will continue to push further into urban areas.

The feral hog abatement project is nearing the end of its two-year pilot program. Higginbotham says more progress is needed and that statewide or even federal funding to expand the program is essential.

County commissioners in eastern Texas are expected to campaign for over $4 million in feral hog prevention funding at the state capitol this year.

But it's still unclear whether the funds will be secured. And as half of the estimated 4 million feral pigs in the U.S. run hog wild in the Lone Star State….Texas farmers have a lot of work to do.

For Market to Market, I'm Andrew Batt.

 


Tags: agriculture animals boars business farmers news pigs Texas