The biggest pest in peanuts today may be, well, the biggest pest, literally. Feral hogs are causing millions of dollars in damages to agricultural crops across the peanut belt. Once a population is established, experts say eradication simply is not possible.
Richard Petcher, regional agronomist with the Alabama Cooperative Extension Service, says in southwest Alabama wildlife damage to crops from both deer and hogs affects 10 percent of crops in a given year and results in a $16 million loss to growers.
“Some fields have had to be abandoned totally,” he says. “This is an ever-increasing problem.”
Petcher, who is now retired, spent the last couple of years observing and studying different fence systems for keeping both deer and hogs out of field crops. True wildlife fences are too expensive for most producers, especially on rented land. But a couple of producers in south Alabama and Mississippi hit on some fence designs that have worked well for them
Calling it the “Deer and Hog Mega Fence,” producers Charles Dean, of Baldwin County, Ala., and Lonnie Fortner, in Mississippi, created similar, cost-efficient fences that have helped to keep them in the farming business.
Dean, who has fields right on the Alabama River, an area ripe with deer and hogs, started looking for a solution in the mid-80s out of sheer desperation.
The fence is a two-strand high-tensile electric fence built with a stand at 24 inches and the other at 48 inches above the ground, and constructed around the perimeter of the field. Three feet inside the first fence is another fence with one strand of high-tensile electric fence placed at 24 inches above the ground.
Fortner’s fence has a similar design, but different strand numbers and heights. He uses three strands on the outside fence at 18, 36 and 54 inches above the ground. Three feet inside of this fence is one strand of high-tensile electric fence placed at 18 inches above ground.
Petcher says the fence charger needs to have at least an eight-joule output to deter wildlife. For fences covering 100 acres or more, a charger with a 12-joule output is recommended. He says it is not how many miles the charger will cover that is important as much as the output of the charger. Solar chargers can be used to cover remote field locations.
The cost of this type fence, using a 12-joule solar charger, solar panel, t-posts, rebar posts and high-tensile wire was approximately $3,000, at the time, to run one mile of fence or to fence in 40 acres. The cost does not include corner posts or labor.
“On a per-acre basis, that is $75 per acre,” Petcher says. “Over a three-year period, the cost would be $25 per acre to control wildlife, which is very cost efficient where field crops are under heavy wildlife pressure.”
Breaking The Free-Meal Habit
Petcher says there is something about the two separate fences that works to disorient the deer and hogs.
“They will hit one fence, but continue through, but when they hit the second fence, it seems they decide it is not worth continuing the possible shocks just to get into the crop,” he says. “The fence is not totally guaranteed to keep deer and hogs out, but it is very effective, and growers are pleased.”
A few key strategies can help producers make the most of their fence system. First, field border preparation is important. Petcher says to make the perimeter as smooth as possible because the deer and hogs will look for ditches and other low spots to go under the fence. Timing is also very important.
“Put the fence up the day after you plant, but it must be hot the day you put it up. Recheck the fence daily for a while. Deer and hogs are creatures of habit and will likely try to get into the field, which will possibly break the fence, until they realize the crop is not worth the effort of getting through the fences and move elsewhere for food.”
Petcher also says not to neglect the fence and to apply herbicides under the fence to keep grass and other weeds from possibly shorting out the fence. Keep the fence charged at all times, and remove the fence when the crop is harvested.
The fence can be built during the winter, when time is more available, and the wire strung just before or after planting.
“If built correctly, the fence will only need monitoring during the growing season,” Petcher says. “This takes much of the stress and worry out of trying to control wildlife that are damaging your crops.” PG
Offers New Feral Hog Fact Sheets
Feral hogs cause an estimated $52 million in damages to the Texas agriculture industry each year. They also cause problems in suburban areas, and in rural areas they compete with wildlife for food, cover and space. Though feral hogs are well-known pests to landowners throughout Texas, there is much people are unaware of with regard to their behavior and possible management.
To help fill in the blanks on feral hogs, a group of Texas AgriLife Extension experts have developed several fact sheets relating to management of this problematic species.
Jim Cathey, a wildlife ecology specialist at Texas A&M University in College Station, along with Extension personnel: Chancey Lewis, assistant; Matt Berg, program coordinator; Jim Gallagher, wildlife specialist; Nikki Dictson, program specialist; and Mark McFarland, soil fertility and water quality specialist, collaborated on several new feral hog fact sheets reflecting a variety of expertise and perspectives on management.
Damage More Than Just Crops
“We tried to address the realistic and practical aspects of feral hog identification and management through these publications,” Cathey says. “The content is based on what we know from our individual experience and professional expertise, as well as input from farmers, ranchers and other landowners who have had encounters with feral hogs.”
The new fact sheets were developed as part of the Plum Creek Watershed Feral Hog Project and address topics ranging from recognizing evidence of feral hogs to methods of capturing these non-native animals. The publications include photographs, capture-method building instructions and tips for successful capture.
“Feral hogs not only damage crops and other property in the Plum Creek Watershed and other areas of the state, they also have been identified as a possible source of non-point pollution to the water table in many locations,” McFarland says. “Their aggressive rooting and wallowing contributes to the problem of soil erosion in many areas of the state.
Range Of Topics On Free-Ranging Pest
In “Recognizing Feral Hog Sign,” you can learn to spot indicators of feral hog activity, including damage from rooting, crop damage, wallows and rubs, tracks and trails, droppings and beds.
Newer publications, including: “Box Traps for Capturing Feral Hogs;” “Building a Feral Hog Snare;” and “Corral Traps for Capturing Feral Hogs,” give detailed instructions on how to construct and use these different means of capture.
An associated fact sheet, titled “Placing and Baiting Feral Hog Traps,” provides instruction on how to choose promising locations for trap placement and the best types of bait to use. It also includes a hog bait recipe, list of baits and trapping tips.
“Feral hogs are not considered wildlife and are not classified as a game species in Texas,” Cathey says. “Instead, the exotic species is considered to be free-ranging livestock.”
Multiple Approaches Needed
Cathey says each management approach referred to in the new fact sheets may be viewed as one option in the “toolbox” for feral hog management.
“A combination of techniques will be needed to have a sustained effect and diminish feral hog impacts,” he said. “To produce the best results, the different techniques should be used simultaneously.”
Using multiple approaches, landowners and managers can limit the size of feral hog populations and reduce the level of damage.
The new fact sheets can be found on the Plum Creek Watershed Partnership Web site at http://pcwp.tamu.edu/feral-hogs/capture-techniques and may be downloaded free from that site.
Color versions of these publications may be obtained for a charge from the Texas AgriLife Extension Bookstore at https://agrilifebookstore.org and also are available in Spanish. PG