When Maury County farmer Tommy Tindell went out to check his corn fields one Sunday morning in 2010, he couldn’t believe what he found.
“I had 12 acres of corn in one field and it was gone – I mean completely trampled and destroyed,” Tindell says. “I had another 18 acres of corn across the road, and about half of it was destroyed, too.”
Tindell contacted the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, and they confirmed the culprit – wild pigs had literally gone hog wild on his farm, digging up and devouring everything in their path. That was just the beginning of Tindell’s problems. Over the next three years, his farm suffered nearly $40,000 in losses caused by the wild swine. Unfortunately, he isn’t alone.
“Wild hogs are a national problem, but they didn’t become a huge issue in Tennessee until about 2000,” says Chuck Yoest, wild hog coordinator for TWRA. “Before then, the hogs mainly roamed the Cumberland Plateau and the South Cherokee portion of the state. But in the 1970s, there was a lot of interest in the sport of wild boar hunting in Tennessee, and some folks took it upon themselves to stock the hogs in new areas, including Middle and West Tennessee, where previously there weren’t any. That’s when we became more and more concerned with the damage they were causing.”
When feeding, wild hogs dig into the ground with their long snouts looking for grubs and plant roots to consume. The effects are often devastating.
“I don’t know where they came from, I just know they showed up one day,” Tindell says. “I’ve talked to neighbors in Marshall County who have also seen them. It’s been pretty rough.”
Not only do wild hogs destroy crops, they also carry diseases including Brucellosis, which can be transmitted to humans, as well as pseudorabies, which can be transmitted to other swine and can be deadly for dogs.
“We’ve had reports of hunting dogs being exposed through saliva or bodily fluids from the hogs, and those dogs have died,” says Tennessee state veterinarian Charles Hatcher, DVM. “Hunting dogs often fight the hogs, and they can be injured or killed.”
Fortunately, Tennessee’s commercial swine industry has not been affected, but Hatcher says hogs kept outdoors are more at risk than hogs kept in controlled buildings.
“Wild boars have no predators to keep them in check, and they can double their population in a year,” Yoest says.
In an effort to control the population, TWRA created a statewide feral hog hunting season between 1999 and 2010. But illegal stocking and transporting of hogs caused more harm than good, so in 2011 TWRA shifted its focus to trapping and killing the hogs rather than hunting. They are using high tech electronic traps and providing control opportunities for landowners to eradicate hogs on their property.
“TWRA has done an excellent job. They set traps with cameras on my farm, and they have often called me to say, ‘You’ve got three hogs in the trap – go shoot them,’ ” Tindell says. “In 2011, we shot a 450-pound boar, and after we got him, I didn’t see any more for a while.”
Nationwide, wild hogs cause more than $1.5 billion in damage every year. The problem has become so big in Texas, Kentucky and Louisiana that hunters are allowed to shoot the pigs via helicopter. Yoest says that’s a tool Tennessee may use in the future.
Meanwhile, TWRA, the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, Tennessee Farm Bureau and other partners have formed a Wild Hog Eradication Action Team (or WHEAT) with three main goals: to stop the illegal stocking and movement of wild hogs, to control and eradicate wild hogs through trapping and killing, and to inform the public that wild hogs are a problem.
“We’re headed in the right direction, but this problem won’t go away in a few years,” Yoest says. “We are seeing small successes, however, and we hope to see the elimination of small pockets of wild hogs over the next 10 to 15 years.”
Tindell hasn’t seen any on his property since April 2013.
“2013 was the first year in four years I didn’t have major damage,” Tindell says. “Between TWRA, myself and neighboring farms, we killed close to 125 hogs in 2013 alone.”
Hatcher says consumers shouldn’t be overly alarmed, as wild hogs are not a public health concern or a direct threat to household pets. That being said, landowners who choose to consume wild hogs killed on their property should “be extremely careful.”
“Anyone handling an infected carcass could be exposed through the blood or reproductive organs. Like any meat product, you need to cook it properly to eliminate disease,” Hatcher says. “There isn’t a food safety issue if the meat is cooked properly.”
Landowners who have seen wild hogs on their property can contact TWRA for educational materials and steps to take.