A County Agent's Perspective of Feral Hogs in Ranch Country

ALFRED M. (MAC) GILLIAT, JR., County Extension Agent, Texas Agricultural Extension
Service, Box 698, Leakey, TX 78873.

Real County is located towards the southern edge of the Edwards Plateau and is characterized by rough, hilly terrain and moderate to heavy brush cover. The prevailing land use is livestock ranching (mostly sheep and goats), but absentee land ownership is common, so recreation is an important land use.

I have served as county Extension agent in Real County since 1973. During that time, we have seen feral hogs become much more common and widespread than they were 20 years ago. From the rancher’s viewpoint, the hogs have become a major predator and nuisance problem. However, to a growing number of hunters (and some absentee landowners), the hogs are welcomed. Recent years have seen more landowners actively stock their ranches with hogs. This might have been done 20 years ago, but no one would lay claim to it.

A hundred years or so ago, several ranchers in this area raised “range hogs” as a means of putting meat on the table and also for market. The hogs did quite well on the number of acorns, but during the 1930s, the packers began to discriminate against the “soft fat” characteristic of hogs fattened on acorns. When the market vanished, most of the hogs were either driven or shot out of this country. During the 1950s, some “Russian boars” were brought to this area into fenced game preserves. However as the fences deteriorated, the hogs began to disperse. Other Russian boars were turned loose anonymously. Some of these have stayed fairly pure, while most have interbred with the common feral hog.

The western side of the county tends to have smaller hogs than the eastern side, probably relating back to the breeds of hogs that used to be raised. Most of the hogs were either Guinea or Essex breeds that tended to be small hogs. Along the Frio River, there tends to be a more Russian boar influence and the hogs tend to be larger. However, a 200 pound boar is still a big hog in this country.

Hogs cause the greatest problems for sheep and goat ranchers. A hog kill is difficult to detect, because they generally leave very little sign: a hoof here, maybe some wool, but often not even enough to attract turkey vultures. Goat kills are especially difficult to find; it may be that all you know is that animals are disappearing. Hogs don’t seem to like wool, and they will often skin a lamb and turn the skin inside-out. Most of the livestock losses occur from March into June, as that’s when most lambs and kids are available.

In my opinion, not a lot of hogs are livestock killers, but when you’ve got a killer hog, you’re in for all kinds of trouble. Generally a boar will just kill one goat at a time, but a sow with pigs may kill several at one time and let the carcasses lie. Most people think hogs are dumb, but they’re one of the smartest and wildest predators there are. The 3 most common means of controlling hogs in this area are snares, hog traps, and shooting.

Hogs are also destructive to fences and feeding facilities. Hunters tend to be reluctant to admit that hogs can be destructive, but a hog can pretty much dismantle many of the corn feeders that deer hunters use. Some commercial hog hunting occurs in this area, but most hogs are just shot incidental to deer hunting. The hogs are too unpredictable and difficult to locate for specialized hog hunts to be very successful in this area.