Wildlife and veterinary officials in a growing number of states are coming to a crossroads as increasing populations of feral swine become reservoirs for infectious diseases such as pseudorabies and swine brucellosis.
“Feral pigs continue to move northward ,” says Patrick Webb, DVM, director of swine health programs for the National Pork Board. “While some people don’t view them as a problem, we’re working to address the serious challenges these wild swine pose to the commercial herd.”
Ironically, one of the worries for wildlife officials and swine specialists is that hunters will learn to like having wild pigs around. In some southern states, for example, wild hogs are one of the most popular game species.
But where wild hogs are concerned, the tradeoffs for having another big game species are just not worth it, Webb says. In Southern states, for example, about half of the feral hogs tested have been positive for brucellosis and pseudorabies, reports Penn State University, whose home state recently formed the Pennsylvania Feral Hog Task Force to control feral swine.
“This is really a biosecurity issue,” Webb notes. “We’re trying to educate people about the health risks that feral swine can pose to the commercial herd, especially hogs raised outdoors.”
Feral swine can weigh more than 400 pounds, and sows can breed up to twice a year, producing from four to 13 piglets per litter. “These pigs have figured out how to survive in the wild and can do quite well in river bottoms and wooded areas,” says Webb, who notes that the animals are nocturnal and can be hard to trap.
Since feral swine are attracted to areas where they can feed and breed, swine that are raised outside have a higher risk of coming in contact with these marauders. This can also put producers at risk. In one case, a Midwest pork producer contracted brucellosis after feral swine infected his herd with the disease, Webb notes.
To protect your herd, ensure that your fences are sturdy, clean up spilled feed and remain vigilant for any signs of trouble. Also, contact your state veterinarian to find out if your state has a program in place to address the feral pig challenge.
Addressing the feral swine challenge is complicated by the fact that state wildlife bureaus often have limited funds. Also, feral swine are sometimes transported illegally between states, and there’s little or no testing done at auction barns.
“As an industry, we’re ramping up our efforts to address this issue,” Webb says. “This will involve focusing efforts on increasing producer awareness about the risks posed by feral swine to the commercial herd, along with education on the best practices to protect pigs from exposure.”