Greens, eggs and ham? Invasive feral hogs

Wild pigs are becoming an increasing issue on golf courses across the country.


Feral hogs
Invasive feral hogs have caused more than $1.3 million in damages to golf courses in Texas alone, through “rooting, compacting soil, wallowing and trampling.” Photo courtesy of USDA

While most readers might be thinking of a nice, juicy Thanksgiving turkey when they read this, others may be leaning toward a big, plump ham to adorn the dinner table. And why not? It seems that in some areas of the country, a whole freezer full of fresh ham, pork chops and bacon might be as close as the nearest golf course.

As it turns out, Thanksgiving guests are not the only hungry ones. Invasive wild pigs have become such a problem on golf courses in Texas that a group of researchers from Texas A&M University-Commerce and New Mexico State University conducted a study to pinpoint the level of damage these grub-eating porkers are causing on courses, and the answer tops $1.3 million.

The pigs are attracted by water, certain weeds and grubs living in the turf, and they are messy eaters. They are also as smart as the fictional Arnold Ziffel of “Green Acres” fame, tough to trap and quick learners.

“Typically reported feral swine damages include rooting, compacting soil, wallowing and trampling,” the researchers noted. “Our objectives in this study were to characterize the economic impact of wild pigs to Texas golf courses and cemeteries and to identify those areas of Texas with a greater likelihood of damage. Specifically, we sought to understand the seasonality of damages, changes in frequency and severity of impacts, and factors associated with damage.”

In 2019 and 2020, a researcher team led by Lirong Liu, associate professor of economics, and Steven Shwiff, professor of economics, both at TAMU-Commerce, and Frannie Miller, assistant professor of Agricultural Economics and Agricultural Business at NMSU, surveyed 389 Texas golf courses and golf associations to learn the extent of the problem. Being a Texas-sized problem, the state was divided into seven regions.

“Respondents who reported concern were asked what types of damage were caused (or possibly caused) by feral swine and what measure(s) they took to repair feral swine damage,” the study said. “They were asked to report the quarterly costs of feral swine damage from October 2018 to September 2019, the frequency of damage events, and how the frequency of damages has changed in recent years.”

Surveys were returned from 85 golf courses, with the most damage reported from golf courses in the Prairies and Lakes Region and Gulf Coast Region. Damage was most often done to greens and landscaping, but fences and irrigation equipment also fell victim to the boorish boars, sows and piglets.

The study was published earlier this year in the Western Economics Forum, a journal of the Western Agricultural Economics Association.

As may be expected, always helpful golf course superintendents were happy to share possible solutions to the problem. Hunting and trapping can help, but results-oriented superintendents also made suggestions that may help get to the root of the problem.

Eradicating the food source — subterranean grubs, acorns and nutgrasses — and fencing out the varmints can discourage hogs when they first visit.

“Fence inside the tree line, and call wildlife authorities to inform them you are having issues,” said one respondent. “They may come to assist. They may also have recommendations for your particular area and can inform you on why occurrences may be increasing in your area.”

“It must be addressed in Texas,” another said. “Our ownership and property owners association do a very good job planning each year on feral hog hunting and trapping. We have had only nominal damage to the course over the last six years. However, some owners out on the further, more rural edges of the ranch have had massive landscape damage. The plan is to keep them as far away from the course as possible. Basically, trap and hunt the lowlands and congregation points in the less residential areas of the property.”

Others use dogs to hunt the hogs, pesticides to eliminate the food sources and night-vision cameras to track the hogs’ movements. One respondent even set up cameras that automatically send images to a hunter who can go immediately to remove the animals. Another suggested Rambo-style tactics to bring home the bacon.

“Be diligent in finding where they sleep during the day,” the respondent said. “If you can afford it, hire a helicopter hunter to eradicate the herds.”

Show no mercy!

“Respondents reported most damage to vegetation, greens and other landscaping, and less damage to structures,” the researchers noted. “As a result, most repair costs accrued to repairing or replanting sod. … The analysis also showed that counties with more months of above-average temperatures were more likely to experience damage, perhaps because feral swine seek out the irrigated grounds of these properties when temperature rises.”

So, what is a superintendent to do? Well, by following proper handling and cooking guidelines, feral hog cooks up quite nicely. So, this Thanksgiving in Texas, the answer to one problem may also be a question.

What’s for dinner? How about ham?

Darrell J. Pehr is GCM’s science editor.