And that’s just in the wild. If domestic pigs and wild boars can break out of fences, certainly, feral pigs can break in, potentially bringing to farms parasites and pathogens like brucellosis, bovine tuberculosis and trichinosis – diseases that could compromise the state’s livestock industry and our own food supply.
Making matters worse, feral pigs are prolific breeders – we’ve bred their domestic mothers to be that way. Feral sows typically begin breeding at 18 months old, usually bearing two litters of four to eight piglets annually – though three annual litters of up to 12 piglets isn’t unheard of.
They’re also smart. Exceptionally so. For decades, circus trainers have proven pigs to be quick learners with extraordinary memories, able to solve simple problems such as the perennial crowd favorite, opening a bolted door. That inimitable swine savvy is evident in the wild. When hunting pressure becomes great, feral pigs will become nocturnal, says Ditchkoff. When they see one of their gang trapped, they will forever avoid that trap. When they see one killed, they’ll rapidly relocate.
And if pigs are smart, thanks to natural selection in the wild and artificial selection on the farm, they’re only getting smarter. And stronger. And healthier.
But, perhaps, therein lies the hope.
Because many feral pigs were once domestic pigs, or descended from them, we know a lot about them, says Ditchkoff. Thanks to the pork industry, physiological, nutritional and medical research on pigs abounds. There’s talk of using that knowledge to genetically engineer pigs to breed themselves out, maybe develop a pig with sterile daughters. And in the meantime?
Well, that’s where the hunters come in.
Just 300 yards into the chase of his wounded pig, Maxon knows it’s going to be a long day. He grabs his hunting buddies, Jason Smith and Darian Wright, who’ve spent the morning on a ridge to the east. Cackling at their good fortune, the three set out together, their plans for bringing down some deer this weekend discarded like a spent shell.
For her part, the pig gives a good, if illogical, chase. She shoots through the woods and over the ridge to the lowlands where the Rifle River cuts through. She runs up and down the thickets along the riverbank, stopping where the northern fence line meets the water, then turns and bolts the mile back to the southern fence line. She does this again and again, at least four times – the trio hot on her trail for each feverish loop – but she won’t cross the river. And though the fence is just a single, sagging strand of rusty, narrow-gauge wire – one she could easily scurry beneath – she won’t cross that either.Perhaps this pig’s learned something the hard way. Or perhaps because she’s hurt, she knows she’s safest under the bank’s tangle of downed trees and upended roots. Whatever the pig’s logic, it’s working.
The men are cold, and they’re wet. The day has been sunny, the snow has turned to soup, and they’ve spent the bulk of the hours crawling on their hands and knees, poking their heads and guns into endlessly knotty webs of timber, trying to catch a wily, wounded pig who refuses to be caught.And then, just before nightfall, they spot her. Hiding beneath the brush. Wright takes a shot. The pig races away. The men follow, see the familiar shape in the distance, this time standing above the brush. Another shot. Then they look down. Something about the spray of blood around their boots doesn’t match up to the direction of the pig in the distance. They crouch down and peer through the brush. Underneath lies their dead pig.