LUMBERTON — The U.S. Department of Agriculture wants information about the damage feral swine are doing to livestock operations, while Robeson County farmers just want them under control.
The USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service is conducting a Feral Swine Livestock Damage survey. At least one local farmer can tell you plenty about the damage the wild hogs are doing to the farms he has scattered throughout southern Robeson County.
“I have a problem with the wild hogs. It’s more of a problem than most people believe they are,” said Dan Lewis, an Orrum resident who has been raising crops in Robeson County for 44 years.
Lewis planted some pine trees about two years ago. They had grown to about 2 feet high when hogs rooted up some of them to get to the small nuts on nut grass that was growing around the trees, he said.
He also has had entire rows of corn rooted up by wild hogs trying to get to the kernels.
“You don’t hardly see them during the day,” Lewis said. “But you can work the farm during the day and come out the next day and see the damage.”
Lewis isn’t sure what can be done to control them, or if it’s legal to hunt them.
“I’m hoping they will have an open season on them,” Lewis said.
As it turns out, it’s legal to hunt feral swine all year long, day or night, according to an N.C. Wildlife Law Enforcement officer in Robeson County.
“They’re considered a nuisance, like coyotes,” Miles Sampson said.
Coyotes also can be hunted day or night year-round, according to Sampson.
But, he has not identified feral swine as a countywide problem, the officer said.
“I know they are here and there,” he said. “They tend to be here and there in Robeson County.”
Feral swine have not presented as a problem at Lumber River State Park, Superintendent Lane Garner said.
“We see some signs from time to time,” he said.
He has heard the animals are a problem at other parks, where they will eat large areas of native vegetation, Garner said.
But, since he has been at Lumber River State Park, the feral swine have not been a problem, said the superintendent who assumed the post on March 1, 2018. But the park covers 15,000 acres, and it can be hard to keep a close watch over every acre.
“I’m sure if we looked through the entire 15,000 acres we would see problems with them,” Garner said.
A farmer who has farms in the Parkton and St. Pauls areas has a story similar to Garner’s.
“We have not seen any evidence that they have moved into our community in the northern part of the county,” said Lance Herndon, who has been farming for more than 20 years.
But that’s not to say he isn’t concerned.
“It’s definitely been talked about by farmers because they can be very destructive,” he said.
He has heard that feral swine have a presence in Hoke County, and that they have been seen in Scotland County.
“They’re terribly destructive. They put that snout down and tear up everything,” Herndon said.
That destructive nature can cost farmers a lot of money, according to Herndon. A bag of seed corn can cost between $100 and $300 a bag, depending of the quality of the seed. He has heard that the animals can tear up 3/4 of a 10-acre field quickly. Lost crops equal lost money via the need to buy more seed and regrow the lost crops.
“We (farmers) definitely want people to tell us if they see them because we want to slow their footprint down,” Herndon said.
One of the biggest problems associated with feral swine is the speed at which they can reproduce, he said. He heard from North Carolina Cooperative Extension that one female can have three litters a year.
A mature sow can have one to two litters per year, according to an N.C. Cooperative Extension webpage dedicated to feral swine. Feral hog females on average have about five offspring per litter. Young females do not typically have their first litter until they are more than 13 months old, even though they can be sexually mature at 6 to 8 months old or even earlier in some cases.
“Between 1900 and 1990, the national population size and distribution of these animals in this country had been relatively constant, numbering between 500,000 to 2 million animals and being found in 18 to 21 states. The National Feral Swine Mapping System reports 35+ states with established populations of feral swine. Nationwide populations are now estimated in the multi-millions, making them one of the most abundant large invasive animal species to be found in the United States,” the page reads in part.
The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission has received reports of feral swine sightings near the southeast border of Robeson County with Columbus County, according to Falyn Owens, Extension wildlife biologist and member of the NC Feral Swine Task Force. The reports were sent to the Commission through the online reporting app.
People who want to learn more about reporting feral swine can go online to https://www.ncferalswine.org/report-feral-swine.
“At this time, we rely on voluntary reporting rather than scientific surveys, so we can’t extrapolate those reports into an accurate estimate of the number of feral swine in a county,” Owens said. “However, compared to reports from other counties, Robeson County doesn’t stand out as a ‘hot spot’ for feral swine.”
As for which government agency is responsible for monitoring the wild hogs, because they are running free in the wild they occupy a gray area where jurisdiction over them doesn’t fall on any one agency, according to the biologist.
“The NC Feral Swine Task Force is a collaborative partnership among several state and federal agencies working together to find effective strategies to reduce feral swine populations across the state,” Owens said. “From lessons learned in the past, we understand that successful management of feral swine must be a collaborative effort.”
One thing is certain, feral swine cause extensive and costly damage to agricultural crops and pose a substantial risk to domestic livestock by spreading disease, according to Owens.
“Conservative estimates show that they cause at least $1.5 billion in agricultural damage in the United States annually,” she said. “Since October 2020, people in N.C. have reported $295,947 worth of damage caused by feral swine, with the caveat that this amount is self-reported and hasn’t been validated on the ground.”
The USDA is surveying more than 18,000 farms and ranches in Alabama, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas to get information about damage to livestock caused by feral swine. The USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service will analyze the data as a baseline for future studies and any published information will be made available to the public through the APHIS Feral Swine Resources website: aphis.usda.gov/aphis/resources/pests-diseases/feral-swine/feral-swine-resources.
For more information on NASS surveys and reports, call the NASS NC Field Office at 919-707—3333.