Feral hogs

Feral hogs are an invasive species that can cause damage to crops and wildlife, as well as possibly spread disease. The USDA, conservation departments and landowners are working together to contain and eradicate them in Missouri.

Feral hogs can cause significant damage to crops, transmit diseases and threaten native wildlife. As a result, the USDA, conservation departments and landowners are working together to contain and eventually eradicate the invasive species.

Jason Jensen is a community and private land conservation chief with the Missouri Department of Conservation, and the incident commander for feral hog operations.

“Feral hogs are a major problem and a major threat to Missouri for a variety of reasons,” he says. “…They will eat almost anything, from salamanders to turkey eggs to even deer fawns. They’re really detrimental to some of our most sensitive species.”

Feral hogs can also damage corn and soybeans with their rooting.

“It looks like you bush hogged the corn field overnight,” Jensen says.

Travis Guerrant is a certified wildlife biologist and the USDA APHIS Wildlife Services state director for Missouri and Iowa. He says feral hogs, which are not a native Midwestern species, pose a lot of problems.

“Feral hogs damage many agricultural resources including pastures, hay fields, corn, soybeans, milo and wheat,” he says. “They also have the potential to transmit diseases that could be devastating to a domestic swine herd should they come into contact with them. Feral hogs damage personal property such as food plots for wildlife, turf grass and lawns, landscaping and gardens.”

The hogs can also damage trees and compete with local wildlife for acorns, which are an important food source for a lot of wildlife, Guerrant says.

The hogs can move, but the main issue is when people bring them into an area to hunt, and the populations can grow rapidly. They are particularly an issue in southern Missouri, leading to the development of the Missouri Feral Hog Partnership in 2017.

“Feral hogs have been established in Missouri since the mid-1990s, but have become a much more significant issue in the past 10 years as their populations expanded into the southern portion of the state,” Guerrant says. “The increases in damages to both agriculture and natural resources prompted the development of the strategic elimination plan in 2017.”

Jensen says part of the concern was the hogs’ ability to spread disease, including swine brucellosis, which can be transferred to cattle.

“They carry diseases,” Jensen says. “Some of those diseases can be transferred to people or to pets.”

In Iowa, Guerrant says the feral hog numbers are very low, but the USDA still works to make sure escaped domestic hogs do not form big groups.

“In Iowa, there are very few if any feral hogs present, however, a few escaped domestic hogs on the landscape can quickly establish a population within a few years,” he says. “Wildlife Services has staff available to eliminate the few feral hog reports we do get to ensure this situation does not occur.”

Guerrant says Illinois has been able to eliminate its feral hog populations.

“Illinois has been very proactive in elimination of feral swine, removing their two known established populations and continuing to monitor for and remove potential populations as they are discovered,” he says.

In Missouri, the feral hog partnership includes 13 federal and state agencies with a strategic elimination plan. Trapping is the top way to remove the hogs since it allows the USDA and Department of Conservation to capture an entire group of hogs, known as a sounder, at once. They also use firearms, along with helicopters and drones to help locate groups of feral hogs.

Jensen says landowners can shoot the hogs, and they can request the department come in and remove them free of charge. He says the department of conservation appreciates landowners reporting feral hogs for tracking and information practices.

Trapping is most effective at eliminating them , he says.

“Hogs are super smart,” Jensen says. “They’re absolutely one of the smartest animals wandering through our woods. One thing they haven’t learned is to look up.”

The traps — large pens — are suspended in the air and they drop and catch the whole group.

In 2017, the feral hog partnership removed 6,567 feral hogs. Those numbers increased to 9,365 in 2018 and 10,495 in 2019. Through the end of August in 2020, they have removed 8,803 feral hogs in the state.

Jensen said the partnership has been increasing control and eradication efforts, although at some point it would be good to see those numbers plateau and decline as they make more and more of an impact on the number of hogs.

“Elimination of feral hogs takes significant time and effort to show results,” Guerrant says, “However, we are starting to see indications of progress.”

He says that the increased effort toward eliminating feral hogs in Missouri started in 2017, and when comparing the distribution of feral hogs from 2016 to July 2020, there has been a 4.1 million acre reduction in the hogs’ range in Missouri.

Guerrant also cites a study by National Wildlife Research Center economists that says efforts by the Missouri Feral Hog Partnership from 2016 through 2019 prevented at least $24.9 million in damage to agriculture and natural resources.

“While we are making good progress in our efforts, we must keep in mind that complete elimination of feral hogs in Missouri will take dedicated effort and resources for an extended period of time to be successful,” he says.

“It’s vital that property owners contact the (Missouri Feral Hog Partnership) if signs of feral hogs are seen and allow us to trap on their property. In the end, the benefits will far exceed the costs of eliminating these animals from our state.”

Ben Herrold is Missouri field editor, writing for Missouri Farmer Today, Iowa Farmer Today and Illinois Farmer Today.