Research HighlightsExperts are Advancing the Reduction of Oklahoma’s Feral Swine Population
By Carol Brown
A problem is growing across much of the southern United States that affects agriculture and the environment — and it has four legs and oinks. Feral swine can be just as detrimental to farm fields as herbicide-resistant weeds and possibly harder to control.
Federal and state programs have been initiated to eradicate these cunning creatures, saving the destruction of crop fields, forest areas, pastureland and water bodies.
“It’s a huge issue in Oklahoma in all aspects of agriculture,” said Scott Alls, Director of Wildlife Services for the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry. “The pigs are virtually statewide; the panhandle is about the only place we don’t have them.”
The wild pigs can wreak havoc several ways on agriculture fields. They root in the soil tearing up crops, also they follow crop rows to eat recently planted seeds. When soybean plants mature, they will feed on the bean pods, Alls said. It seems no crop is immune to their destruction.
“They are in hay, pasture, corn, sorghum, wheat, and even in cotton — the whole nine yards,” said Alls.
He estimates the damage feral swine cause is in the hundreds of millions of dollars in Oklahoma alone. Their destructiveness is hard on the equipment used to repair the crop fields in order to plant again.
Alls and his team are working to reduce feral swine numbers in the state — which is estimated to be approximately one million — locating herds using thermal imaging also capturing them in corral traps. The Oklahoma Soybean Board supports this effort through a grant and Alls has purchased some of the equipment with this checkoff money. The equipment is expensive but has several benefits, he said.
“We have cameras set up at the traps, which will send us pictures or live-feed video and we can actually spring the trap through communication with the camera,” said Alls. “Since we started implementing these traps and camera systems, our catch numbers have nearly doubled. Also, we don’t need to visit the traps every day, which saves us a lot of wear and tear and gas.”
The 2018 federal Farm Bill included funding for the Feral Swine Eradication and Control pilot program, covering 20 projects across 10 states. In Oklahoma, there are two of these pilot projects, one on the Kansas border and the other along the Texas border. Alls said Texas has the same project on their side of the river. The goal is to reduce feral swine numbers and to teach farmers and landowners why and how to reduce populations using various capture techniques.
Feral swine have been increasing in population dramatically over the last 25 years for several reasons including moving them to create more hunting opportunities as well as the pigs’ natural reproductive success, said Alls.
The feral pigs are impacting both the crop grower and the livestock producer. In addition to decimating a cash crop, they are carriers of disease. Feral pigs can transmit swine brucellosis to domestic herds and carry pseudorabies to both hogs and cattle.
Additionally, these pigs are creating environmental problems, competing with other wild animals for food and contaminating water supplies.
“The average feral pig eats 3 to 5 percent of its body weight per day; if there are 15 pigs that average 100 pounds, that’s 75 pounds of food per day they take off the landscape,” Alls said. “And in areas with larger pig populations, their fecal contaminants increase the amount of E. coli in the water system.”
Alls and his team also help neighboring states, as feral pigs don’t heed these boundaries.
“We have four aircraft that we use for feral swine,” Alls said. “We have a dedicated regional helicopter, and our crew travels periodically to Arkansas, Missouri, Kansas and Texas.” Getting control of feral swine numbers seems daunting, but Alls and his team are doing what they can with the resources they have to help Oklahoma farmers save their crops. With organizations including the Oklahoma Soybean Board and the USDA supporting the effort, they are making strides to reduce the feral swine population in the state and the region.
This project was funded by the soybean checkoff. To find research related to this research highlight or to see other checkoff research projects, please visit the National Soybean Checkoff Research Database.