OVERTON — Wild pigs continue to plague farmers and ranchers in much of the state.
They are a year-round nuisance to producers, said Dr. Billy Higginbotham, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service wildlife specialist in Overton, but farrowing, the birth of new litters of pigs, typically peaks in the spring.
Higginbotham said farmers and ranchers in 253 of 254 Texas counties face a constant battle to prevent or reduce damages by wild pigs. The statewide population estimate is around 2.6 million wild pigs, and limited ways of controlling their numbers means they are here to stay, he said.
“Given the population numbers, there’s no way to eradicate them but you can reduce exposure to damage by managing their numbers,” Higginbotham said.
It costs producers time and money to repair damages and deal with the wild pig population, he said. Higginbotham said 71 percent of landowners with pastureland who responded to an AgriLife Extension survey reported damages by wild pigs.
A conservative estimate of statewide damages based on a decade-old study puts the annual cost to farmers and ranchers at $52 million. Producers spent an additional $7 million each year to repair damages and deal with wild pig populations, according to the same estimate.
Wild pigs are omnivores and will seek any food source for calories, Higginbotham said. They cause much of the damages to crops when they dig, or root, for food sources, such as grub worms, planted seed and plant roots.
Higginbotham said the wild pigs are especially damaging to hay pastures in East Texas. Pastures are rooted up and must be smoothed by farmers to allow hay equipment to access the land. Disturbed soil also creates weed control problems, he said.
Landowners should monitor for signs of wild pig activity, such as tracks, rubs against fence posts and trees, well-used trails and hair stuck on barbed-wire fences where they cross, he said.
“If you see the signs of hogs it’s best to take a proactive approach and try to reduce their numbers,” he said. “They may just be moving through your land but eventually they will cause problems. The more you reduce their numbers the more you reduce the damage they cause.”
Higginbotham said there are four legal ways to address wild hogs in Texas – trapping, snaring, shooting and catch dogs.
Hiring professional shooters to reduce wild pig numbers from helicopters represents a cost-effective way for farmers and ranchers in parts of the state with less tree canopy, but in East Texas trapping is advised, Higginbotham said. Corral-type traps work best, especially when a landowner can catch an entire family or sounder of pigs, he said.
But Higginbotham said it takes a process to trap effectively. Pigs must be “hooked” on the bait before placement of the trap, he said. The trap should then be baited to allow the pigs to get comfortable.
“It could take a week, it could take several weeks depending on how much trapping pressure they’ve experienced,” he said.
Higginbotham suggested landowners speak to their local AgriLife Extension agents for tips on what works best in their area to trap wild pigs.
AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries:
CENTRAL: Corn planting was completed. About 35,000 acres, or 50 percent, of corn acreage was replanted. Sorghum has been replanted as well. Timely rainfall helped activate fertilizer put out by landowners. Bermuda grass began to emerge. Hay was planted. Cattle were doing well with very little supplemental feeding. Tanks were full and creeks were flowing but there were still long-term concerns about continued precipitation. Crops were growing and cotton was in the ground. Insects have not made a large-scale impact, but rust has been found on some wheat. All counties reported soil moisture and overall range and pasture conditions were good. Livestock conditions were 100 percent “good” as well. Overall, 95 percent of crops were in good condition.
ROLLING PLAINS: It had been a few weeks since the last rainfall and producers were finding the top layers of soil were either dry or drying as they continued preparing fields for cotton planting. There was plenty of subsoil moisture, but the topsoil was problematic. Cotton producers plowed in pre-emergent herbicides. Pastures and rangeland were trying to green up, but without any moisture, the process has been slow. Wildfires have been an issue over the past couple of weeks because there was plenty of fuel and wind to spread fires. Producers have plenty of winter wheat for grazing and livestock were in good condition. There could be a fair amount of wheat baled for feed. Cows were calving in some areas. Some producers were beginning to ship gain cattle, but most said they would wait until May. Some cattle producers were feeding supplement, but only on a small scale.
COASTAL BEND: High winds depleted much of the topsoil moisture. Soil moisture conditions were becoming critically low due to the lack of rain. It had been a month since most of the region received measurable rain amounts. Planted crops needed rain to help roots develop and row crops, hay fields and pastures began to show signs of stress as well. Cotton planting was in full swing and wheat looked good. Corn, grain sorghum and cotton were doing well but suffered due to low moisture levels in other areas. Cattle and livestock were in good to excellent condition. Pecans were leafing out and pecan nut casebearer activity was being monitored.
EAST: Dry, windy conditions were reported around the region. Topsoil was drying out. Most counties reported pasture and range conditions as fair to good with subsoil and topsoil as adequate. Ponds and creeks were full. Farmers were planting vegetables. Jasper County reported crops were doing well with some watering taking place. Application of herbicides and fertilizers to pastures started. Cooler night temperatures slowed warm season forage growth. Winter pastures were looking good. Producers were preparing hay fields for the first cutting. Some producers bailed crimson clover and ryegrass. Livestock were doing fair to good. Some producers stopped supplemental feeding. Spring calving continued along with calf working and sales of cull cows and market-ready calves. Feral hogs continued to pose problems across the area.
SOUTH PLAINS: Producers were in need of moisture throughout the region. Bailey County producers received light scattered rainfall. Sub and topsoil moisture levels in Cochran County have improved with some rainfall received last week. Pasture, range and winter wheat needed rain. Producers continued preparations for spring planting. Floyd County producers needed moisture to help suffering dryland wheat crops. Moisture before planting cotton and corn would also help. Weather was warm and windy. Crop and range conditions were less than ideal in Hale County. Lubbock County experienced light rain of up to one-third of an inch. Isolated rain and hail occurred in the southeast portion of the county. Average minimum soil temperature at 8 inches was up to 56 degrees. Corn planting will begin soon. Field preparation and equipment maintenance was ongoing as planting time approaches. Producers remained concerned about the prospects of a profitable season in light of depressed prices. Scurry County received 0.75 inches. Temperatures were about average. Yoakum County had steady precipitation all day on April 8 and soil moisture increased.
PANHANDLE: Conditions were dry and windy with temperatures near to slightly above average. There was high fire danger as soil moisture levels were mostly short. Producers were actively irrigating. Conditions remained dry in Collingsworth County. Winter wheat looked healthy but needed water. Wheat continued to head out at a rapid pace and was coming along nicely. Conditions in Deaf Smith County were almost perfect for producers. Preparations continued in fields for planting season with center pivots running on wheat fields. Pre-watering on corn fields began in preparation of planting. Wheat was still in a holding pattern with many dryland fields needing water. Irrigated wheat looked good. Silage chopping was expected to start soon. Irrigated triticale was growing well. Graze-out wheat was continually stocked with extra animals to graze down wheat to avoid any forage losses. Hutchinson County was in dire need of rain. Moisture to begin the 2016 crop season was short. Lipscomb County winter wheat was hurting from lack of moisture. Windy, dry weather continued to deplete soil moisture levels and cause wheat conditions to decline in Ochiltree County. Summer crop pre-plant activities continued. High winds prevented herbicide spraying. Cattle on range were still being supplemented. Randall County remained dry. There has been less than 1 inch of rain there since January 1. Corn on pre-irrigated fields was expected to be the only planting done in the near future. Cotton and sorghum acres were not expected to be planted until some type of pre-plant moisture arrived.
NORTH: Topsoil moisture varied from short to adequate with some surplus. Days were warm and nights were cool. Ground temperature was right at 65 degrees. Wind dried topsoil to allow more field work. Bermuda grass greened but was not growing. Winter wheat looked decent across the county. Some fields were inconsistent in growth. Many producers were expected to start baling winter forages soon. Cattle were in good condition. Feral hogs were highly active. Small grasshoppers were out on warm days.
FAR WEST: Glasscock County received two-tenths of an inch of rain. The effects from a slight freeze started to show in some wheat crops. Damage was minor and generally limited to low lying areas. Overall, wheat crops look good. Pre-emerge herbicides were applied to cotton, and planting of sorghum continued. Howard County reported rain but no measurements were available. High winds were reported in Hudspeth County where farmers planted crops. Winkler and Loving counties received 0.25-1.25 inches of rain. Conditions in Reagan County were very dry and high winds caused crop and range conditions to dry up. Farmers in Upton County prepared the fields for planting. Goats and lambs continued to kid. Livestock and wildlife were still receiving supplemental feed. Upton County received rain showers. Across the district pasture and range conditions were poor. Subsoil and topsoil were short and all counties needed rain.
WEST CENTRAL: Dry, warm and windy conditions continued. Light scattered rain showers were reported but were not significant. High winds caused extreme range fire concerns in many areas. All areas needed rain. Field activities continued to increase as planting season began. Weeds continued to be an issue and required control. Preparations for row crops were mostly complete and producers waited for moisture to plant. Producers sowed some spring seeded hay crops. Some cutting and baling of wheat and oats began. Sudan planting started. Grain sorghum was planted but needed additional rainfall to emerge. Winter wheat and oats were planted for winter grazing. Field preparations for cotton planting continued. Winter wheat progressed quickly with the warm, dry weather. However, drought stress was becoming a factor in wheat crops. Wheat conditions were fair to good with some rust showing. A large number of wheat acres continue to be grazed out. Some wheat was harvested for forage. Winter grains were beginning to head out. Range and pastures began to decline due to dry conditions. Forages began to show stress. Winter grasses were still doing well and coming on. Tanks remained in good condition with plenty of water. Livestock remained in fair to good condition. Cattle prices held steady.
SOUTHEAST: Weather provided excellent growing conditions for warm-season plants in Brazos County. In Fort Bend County, most producers had planted crops but needed rain. Livestock were in good condition throughout the county. Hay producers cut winter ryegrass remnants to promote warm-season forage growth. Soil moisture levels throughout the region varied widely. Most levels were adequate to surplus with adequate being the most common. Rangeland and pasture ratings varied widely too, mostly from excellent to good, with good being most common.
SOUTHWEST: Recent rains helped forages, and spring growth of grass and wildflowers. Pecan trees continued to leaf out, and hay producers shredded winter weeds and prepared to fertilize hay fields and pastures. Livestock remained in good condition. Spring shearing was underway.
SOUTH: Temperatures began to rise, with cool nighttime temperatures and no rainfall was reported in any counties. Mild temperatures were reported in Atascosa and Brooks counties. The majority of crops in Frio County were being irrigated. Potato crops were in the flowering stage in Frio County and the majority of wheat and oats were headed. Sorghum and corn were completely planted and corn was emerging. Cotton planting began. In Live Oak County, conditions were good for field activities and crop spraying as winds calmed enough to prevent a drift. Topsoil moisture conditions declined in McMullen County. Dry-out could impact further range and pasture improvement until topsoil moisture levels improve. Range and pasture conditions remained fair to good in McMullen and surrounding counties. Body condition scores on cattle remained good. Soil moisture conditions were 98-100 percent adequate in Atascosa County, 50 percent adequate in Frio County, 80 percent short in Live Oak County and 70 percent adequate in McMullen County. Pasture conditions were average in Brooks County. Fog and mist provided some moisture, but the lack of rainfall took its toll. Livestock prices remained steady. In Jim Wells County, weather conditions were favorable for field work. Row crop producers progressed well with planting crops. Some producers finished planting, and a few hoped to be done soon. No significant rainfall was received in the last few weeks, but some rainfall was forecast. Range and pastures throughout Jim Wells County were good and improving. Livestock conditions were good. The local cattle market experienced a five cent drop in 500-pound steers as compared to the previous week. Offerings and demand remained steady. In Kleberg and Kenedy counties, temperatures were cooler than normal. Soil moisture conditions were 100 percent adequate in Brooks and Jim Wells counties and 70-75 percent adequate in Kleberg and Kenedy counties. Maverick County did not receive rainfall and temperatures reached 80 degrees during the day. Nighttime temperatures continued to be quite cold. Crop farmers continued to plant but most have already finished. Pecan orchards started to turn green and look healthy. Also in Maverick County, Coastal Bermuda grass was ready for the first cut. Producers will make either round or square hay bales. All wheat and oats were maturing well across Zapata County. Early reports from producers indicate yields should be average or a little better compared to last year. Native range and pastures continued to provide adequate forage for grazing livestock and no supplemental feeding was reported. In Zavala County, corn, sorghum, carrots and onions made good progress following irrigation. No insect pressure was reported on any crops. Soil moisture conditions were 35-50 percent adequate in Dimmit County, 70 percent short in Maverick County and 100 percent short in Zavala County. Range and pasture conditions continued to improve with recent rainfall in Starr County. Spring vegetable crops were also progressing well and soil moisture conditions were 90 percent adequate.