Pigs Run Wild in Louisiana: Let’s Look at De Soto Parish

 

pigs, not domestic
Wild pigs in an agricultural setting: note the “furry” look and longer snout.

 

. . . . we talked to informants who were timber farmers, cattle ranchers, home gardeners, and pig hunters . . . . 

 

For several months, we did fieldwork for the Louisiana Folklife Program in Desoto Parish, up in the northwest corner of Louisiana. Our primary focus was the theme “living off the land”; as a result we talked to informants who were timber farmers, cattle ranchers, home gardeners, and pig hunters.  While doing this fieldwork, we began to learn much more than we ever thought we might about the noble hog – domestic and wild.

 

BACON, HOG BELLIES, AND HOPELESSLY UNHEALTHY YET DELICIOUS PORK SKINS

At first the critter seemed oddly funny – we thought of bacon, hog bellies, and hopelessly unhealthy yet delicious pork skins! But quickly we found the subject of cob rollers wonderfully interesting and complex. “For centuries wild pigs caused headaches for landowners in the American South,” says an apocalyptic article in the prestigious Scientific American,  back in October 2014, “but the foragers’ small populations remained stable. In the past 30 years, though, their ranks have swollen until suddenly disease-carrying, crop-devouring swine have spread to 39 states. Now, wild pigs are five million strong and the targets of a $20-million federal initiative to get their numbers under control.” Our interviews in Desoto Parish gave us some details about the extent of the feral pig problem and methods and means of dealing with it—not to mention a few legends surrounding the importation of the feral hog.

. . .  in the past 30 years . . .  [wild pig] ranks have swollen until suddenly disease-carrying, crop-devouring swine have spread to 39 states. . . 

 

Desoto Parish emerged when in the l820’s communities, such as Cow Pens and later Screamerville, began to develop. Screamerville was located about two miles west of present-day Grand Cane, where most of our interviews took place. The parish was created in about 1843 from parts of Caddo and Natchitoches Parish when the English-speaking settlers established the seat at Mansfield, which was incorporated in 1847. According to the historic record, “the French settlers who had been in the area much longer wanted the parish seat in Old Augusta, a steamboat landing on Bayou Pierre.”

Desoto Parish was named for Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto, who might well be called the “Father of Feral Pigs.” Based on shipping manifests, it’s believed that Hernando de Soto brought about 13 pigs to Tampa Bay, Fla., in 1539.  Ultimately the intrepid explorer would be struck with fever; he died on May 21, 1542, in Ferriday, Louisiana, best known now for hosting the Delta Music Museum which honors Jerry Lee Lewis and Mickey Gilley. Hardly a mention is made of it possibly being the final resting place of the man who may have “discovered the Mississippi” and was more certainly the first European to cross it.

 . . . based on shipping manifests, it’s believed that Hernando de Soto brought about 13 pigs to Tampa Bay, Fla., in 1539 . . .

 

During De Soto’s explorations in America, as the herds of hogs grew, Spanish explorers used their swelling swinish capital in a variety of ways: fresh, preserved, pulled, and salted. Mick Vann, in The Austin Chronicle, claims that  “American Indians were reportedly so fond of the taste of pork that attacks to acquire it resulted in some of the worst assaults on the expedition.”  By the time of the leader’s death three years later, the original drift of 13 pigs had grown to 700 – a very conservative estimate which did not embrace sows, piglets, or boars consumed along the way.

. . . by the time of the leader’s death three years later, the original drift of 13 pigs had grown to 700 – a very conservative estimate . . .

 

Most importantly the figure does not total up rascals that escaped and became wild pigs (the ancestors of today’s feral animals) nor the critters bartered, sold, or gifted to the American Indians to keep the peace – or which the solders “gave” to native women for their own reasons.

WE CAME CLOSE TO A GENRE OF HOLLYWOOD MOVIES ABOUT PIGBOYS AND INDIANS!

European settlers on the Eastern Seaboard of North America preferred swine to beef, it seems. However, with westward expansion and complications of hostile terrain and market distances, cattle husbandry eventually came to the fore. Good thing, too. Otherwise we’d have a whole bad genre of Hollywood movies devoted to “Pig boys and Indians.”

Pigs and the sale or trade in pork spread quickly through the colonies. Cortés the “Spanish Conquistador who led [the] expedition that caused the fall of the Aztec Empire and brought large portions of mainland Mexico under the rule of the King of Castile” introduced hogs to New Mexico in 1600.  Sir Walter Raleigh (who, in spite of introducing both potatoes and tobacco into Europe, was eventually killed by the Crown) imported sows to Jamestown colony in 1607.  Soon, Semi wild pigs ran amuck in New York colonists’ grain fields to the extent that every pig 14 inches in height that was owned by a colonist was required to have a ring in its nose to make it easier to control.

.  .  . Sir Walter Raleigh . . .  imported sows to Jamestown colony in 1607.  Soon, Semi wild pigs ran amuck in New York colonists’ grain fields .  .  .

 

As a curious fact, “on Manhattan Island, a long solid wall to exclude rampaging pigs was constructed on the northern edge of the colony; it created the name for the area now known as Wall Street.” How apt that Wall Street was named after the excess enthusiasm of marauding porkers!

Even today’s specialists are amazed at the beast’s prolific ebullience, as they note in Scientific Americanspeaking of the recent explosive growth: “Wildlife biologists can’t really explain how pigs from a few pockets were able to extend their range so rapidly in recent years.” Most farmers are aware of the enormous damage caused by feral hogs, with “a population of over 400,000* in Louisiana.” That many of almost any creatures will have impact on the habitat.

According to the state Ag extension experts,  “wild hogs drew wide interest at a natural resource symposium in Baton Rouge. The meeting devoted a day of the program to focus on what was called ‘Louisiana’s feral hog invasion.’” It’s lawful to transport these animals, but not to release them in new places or different locations in the state once they have been “live caught,” which seems to be taking place.  Chuck Griffin, County Agent with Desoto Parish, said nominal estimates of damages for 2011 would be about 1.5 million dollars or more with the problem growing. Everyone we spoke with said three factors intersected to create a perfect storm of destruction: the critters intelligence, their colossal capacity for reproduction, and their arbitrary and judicious diet predilections.

There are varying accounts of how the hogs came to Desoto Parish.  Mr. Billy Franklin, whose family has farmed in Grand Cane for three generations, tells this story:

[One day an] old sow got out, and wandered into the woods.  This is a true story. She was in the woods south of us, and then one day about, this has been 15-20 years ago, she got out in my pasture, and I took my still-legal semi-automatic rifle out there, and I slayeda bunch of them. Cause they weren’t afraid, they just didn’t know what I was. I think I killed all of the pigs but the sow, and later on she came back and I killed her. Now, others got out like that and bred and stayed in the woods, eating acorns and so forth. Over several generations, they are partially why we have feral hogs. I don’t know, some of them may have come in from Mexico; I don’t know where they all came from. They’re different-lookin hogs, they have a long snout.

He concludes his story by generalizing, “They either migrated or they got out and became wild.”

PIG WRANGLERS AND RUSSIAN SWINE

Joey Register, a farmer and pig wrangler from Logansport, has the following opinion:

We’ve always had the wild hogs, little piney wood rooters, in our area, and they weren’t a nuisance.  But someone, somewhere, years ago, thought it would be neat to put this Russian influence in our wild hogs, and by nature, they’re nomadic, they’re non-discriminatory. They don’t care how rich or how poor or whatever.  If you’re in their path, they’re gonna root your place up.

We contacted the Ag Extension representative in Desoto Parish, Chuck Griffin, and he was not willing to confirm the story of Russian hogs.  Billy Franklin speculates that the word Russian is to designate the breed, but Joey suggests that someone brought them in.  He says he’s read the stories of how this “big ole boar with these gigantic teeth,” and said, man, “I can really make money off these dudes. People would love to hunt these.” He dates this back to the early 1800s. The pigs escaped the hunting habitat, and the feral hogs took over the land.  He says, “The Russians are the ones that give you a lot of trouble.”

However they came to Desoto Parish, the farmers have to deal with them because a hog root up their pasture land overnight.

The Louisiana Sportsmanran a piece in 2015 (by Patrick Bonin “LSU Ag Center scientists creating poison bait to target wild hog population”), discussing the work of Dr. Glen Gentry, an associate professor based out of the Idle Wild Research Station in Clinton, Louisiana. Gentry, an expert in offing pigs, is designing a new bait around sodium nitrite, a common food industry ingredient which should be potentially deadly to the swarms feral pigs that call the Louisiana landscape home, yet it should not create a “pyramid effect” (it should not kill the crows or coons which might feast on pork corpses).  Nor does it seem to harm woodland fauna such as deer.

“[Sodium nitrite is] used in the food industry as a preservative in sausage and bacon to keep bacteria from growing in food,” Gentry said. “It turns out that pigs are more sensitive to its effects than people. That’s one of the things that makes it attractive as poison,” noted the Louisiana Sportsman.

 . . . “[Sodium nitrite is] used in the food industry as a preservative in sausage and bacon to keep bacteria from growing in food,”  . . .  “It turns out that pigs are more sensitive to its effects than people  . . .

 

Doctor Gentry explained that pigs were especially sensitive to this chemical, which is not dangerous to most other animals likely to come in contact with the baits.  “The FDA says food for human consumption can have up to 200 parts per million sodium nitrite, so the lethal dose for the pig is lower than what the FDA says we can have in a finished meat product for human consumption,” he said. “If a pig comes in and gets a sub-lethal dose and walks off, and a hunter sees the pig and shoots the pig, then the meat should be fit for consumption because the nitrite breaks down so readily.”

IF ONE CAN’T BEAT EM’ EAT EM’

Billy Franklin has invested in a large, automated trap called the “Boarbuster.”  He says:

We don’t have to do anything except put feed for them.  Now there’s several different recipes as to what to put in there. [Some people] have ideas about, well don’t shoot one in the trap because the blood scent means more hogs won’t go in there. That’s not true. We have shot them, and they go in there. This boar-buster trap seemed more suitable for us. It’s all on computerized and the Internet, and when hogs go in there during the night, it will tell you; it has a camera and a sensor device.  And so you can dial it up on your phone, and you can look and see the trap, and you can see if it’s a hog or a deer. [There’s a theory], it developed in I think Oklahoma State . . . the theory is that a hog don’t look up. It looks straight ahead. So he don’t see that trap. It’s the theory, and I suppose it’s right ‘cause they walk right on in there. You can fill that 16-foot in diameter up, and then catch what you can.

Once the trap fills up, he can drop the trap with his cell phone.  Once the hog is caught, he either shoots it or lets gives them to people who are going to take them and sell them.

One person who might collect the hogs is Joey Register. Joey doesn’t work with traps because of how labor intensive they are.  He has made his own traps in the past, when he has used them.  He used designs on the Internet to make “the big-heart trap” with “six-foot by twenty-foot heavy duty two by four panels and T-posts, and build huge circles.  With the panels, they can build the traps to catch as many or as few as they want.  The hogs can get in, but they can’t get out. He live catches the hogs, using pit bulls and hog ties to push them off of open pasture, moving them to timber land where they can’t do as much financial damage.

The pit bulls bay the hog, and sometimes latch onto the hog’s ear until Joey can tie the hog.  He puts Kevlar vests on the dogs to try to protect them from harm.  He does do gun hunting, but rarely.  If they do kill the hog, they try to have a buyer lined up.  They don’t like to “leave the dead hog laying.”  Some of his friends do night hunts with night-vision goggles.  Some farms hire helicopters to come in to “take care of them.”

. . .  the pit bulls bay the hog, and sometimes latch onto the hog’s ear until Joey can tie the hog.  He puts Kevlar vests on the dogs to try to protect them from harm . . . .  

 

Register sells the hogs to a distributer in Texas, for $50 per 100 pounds.  The distributor then sells them to high-end restaurants throughout the United States that serve “wild boar” on the menu at a hefty price. He recognizes that his tactics may not be suitable for everyone.  He says, “I’ve had calls to go into subdivisions in Shreveport, and I refuse to because the tactics we use may not be appealing to those that’s unaware of what we have to do to get them out.”  He says, “A lot of people are anti-gun, and you just don’t need that bad media on you.”  Instead, that try to get a licensed “nuisance guy” from the state to capture the hogs, and move them out of the city limits.

IMPORTANT TO FIND SOME FORM OF REGULATON

The farmers in the area seem to be more willing to use whatever method it takes to rid their land of the hogs.  He has helped one corn farmer, who row farms.  He said that on the night of the first planting, in a perfect row that “you’d almost have to see to believe,” the hogs will come in and eat all the seed out of the ground.  He said this particularly farmer planted 15-20 acres three times.  The hogs also seem to know when the corn kernel has the most sugar in it—when the kernel gets what Joey calls “the dent.”  The hogs will come in and “break the stalk off, and when it falls they’ll eat the ears off.”  They’ll eat in a circle, and each night the circle increases.

This farmer lost over $50,000 in a year.  So one can readily see why the farmers will not be delicate about how the hogs are removed.  He comments on how prolific they are: “The females can have their first heat cycle within six months; it takes three months, three weeks, three days” to gestate. They’ll have 8-10 per litter.”  He says, “There’s hardly nothing that the hogs are scared of, with the teeth—we call them canines—they have.  There are very, very few predators in our area for them.”  The wildlife biologist has told them that they have to take 70-80% of the wild hogs to stay even.”  Wild pigs can prove tough completion to even well-armed, modern men.

 

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