By Chris Jaworowski, Wildlife Biologist
The feral hog (Sus scrofa) in Alabama is a non-native species that was brought to the Southeast centuries ago by Spanish explorers. Domestic hogs were brought to the Southeast to provide a major food source for early explorers and settlers. Hogs that escaped or were released adapted readily to the wild and prospered in a variety of habitats. Reproductive dynamics, omnivorous diets and lack of natural predators allowed this non-native species to proliferate across the region.
Though popularity with hunters is increasing, current feral hog populations across Alabama and the Southeast are growing at alarming rates. Population and reproductive dynamics, competition with native wildlife for food sources, nest predation, destruction of wildlife openings, and habitat destruction are just a few reasons why feral hogs are considered a threat to wildlife in Alabama.
Feral hogs reproduce at alarming rates with man being their only major predator. A healthy female (sow) will breed when she is six months old and will continue to breed every six months producing four to 14 piglets in each litter. With a lack of natural predators and control methods being expensive and time consuming, feral hog populations are capable of doubling or tripling in just one year.
Feral hogs are omnivorous with a seasonal diet consisting of grasses and forbs in the spring, fruits in the summer and fall, along with roots, tubers and invertebrates throughout the year. Feral hogs are also opportunistic feeders. If given the chance, hogs will prey on young fawns, turkey poults and eggs of ground-nesting birds like turkey and quail. Acorns are a preferred food source for feral hogs in the fall. A small group of hogs can deplete the forest floor of this valuable food source forcing native wildlife to move to other areas or feed on lower energy food sources. With an annual home range of over 10 miles, feral hogs can greatly affect food sources for native wildlife over a very large area.
Wildlife openings and supplemental feeding are two of the most common management techniques used by Alabama sportsmen and land managers. Feral hogs cause thousands of dollars of damage to wildlife openings annually. Hogs will graze openings planted in small grains and clovers in the fall and then feed on the hardened grains in early spring. In late spring and throughout the summer months, hogs will root up wildlife openings to find earthworms, grubs and tubers. Chufa plots planted for turkeys are also a favorite food source for hogs. In areas with high populations of feral hogs, a two-acre chufa plot can be destroyed in one night. Some land managers have stopped planting for wildlife due to the costs associated with feral hog rooting and subsequent damage to agricultural equipment. Feral hogs also affect supplemental feeding programs. Hogs will readily come to corn, soybeans and protein pellets put out as supplemental feed for deer or turkey. Damage to feed troughs and spincast feeders is common in areas of high feral hog populations.
Habitat destruction from the aggressive rooting behavior of feral hogs is another concern for Alabama sportsmen and land managers. Rooting can destroy, prevent or eliminate valuable habitats of threatened or endangered species of native plants. Erosion around farm ponds, creeks and streams is also caused from the rooting behavior of feral hogs. Damage to young pine plantations and hardwood regeneration is also a concern in areas of high hog populations.
Feral hogs in Alabama pose a serious threat to native wildlife. High reproductive rates with a lack of natural predators, voracious omnivorous feeding habits, destructive rooting behavior and habitat destruction are just a few reasons why Alabama sportsmen and land managers need to control this non-native enemy of Alabama’s wildlife.
For more information on feral hogs or control methods for feral hogs, contact Wildlife Biologist Chris Jaworowski at 154 Battlefield Rd., Lowndesboro, AL 36752 or call your local Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries District Office.
Brucellosis and Hog Hunters (pdf from the CDC)