By Danielle Emerson
LANSING, Mich. — When Shiloh Waldon, a blacksmith from Hillsdale County, moved into his home a year and a half ago, he thought, “a lot of deer” caused the occasional property damage until it persisted and got worse.
What Waldon was about to find out is that the problem was much more critical than he expected: feral pigs had invaded his property.
“When my buddy and I had gone out looking in the woods behind me, you could tell they had been here a while. When you walk through the woods, it’s like someone went through it with a rototiller,” he said.
Waldon killed eight feral pigs in January and February alone. Two of them weighed more than 400 pounds.
Feral pigs are free-ranging animals that can break through fences because of their size and aggressive nature.
“They will even climb on top of other pigs to climb over the fence,” said Kristine Brown, laboratory technician at the Department of Natural Resources and Environment Wildlife Disease Laboratory.
Patrick Rusz, director of the Michigan Wildlife Conservancy, said that the average size of an adult feral pig is between 200 and 300 pounds. Hogs more than 300 pounds are rare.
State conservation officials recently reported that Gladwin County has seen packs of 20 or more pigs, and 150 were counted in Arenac County.
According to the Michigan United Conservation Clubs, feral pigs — which look like wild boar — are a combination of free-ranging pigs that were captured elsewhere and illegally released, escaped or neglected domestic animals, and Euroasian wild boar that originated on farms and privately owned game facilities.
“We have a lot higher percentage of animals that look and act like classic Russian wild boars compared to other states,” Rusz said.
The population of feral swine is highest in Arenac, Gladwin, Midland, Gratiot and Washtenaw counties, according to the DNRE.
The pigs are considered a nuisance for several reasons — they have caused significant crop damage in 20 counties, including Alpena, Arenac, Berrien, Gladwin, Kent, Marquette and Otsego.
Rusz said feral pigs have a global track record of causing environmental damage, especially because of their eating habits. The pigs “root,” or dig up, ground a foot or more beyond surface level in search of grubs.
Rusz said the pigs feed on a wide variety of livestock and other animals as well. They are best known in south Florida, for example, for killing newborn calves.
“If they can catch it, they can eat it,” said Rusz.
Feral pigs also can carry diseases such as pseudorabies — a disease that attacks the central nervous system and can sometimes be fatal in cattle or sheep. When transferred by the pig’s saliva or nasal secretions, the disease can stay in well water for up to seven hours or in grass and soil for up to two days.
Rusz said Michigan has been pseudorabies-free since 2000 but that feral pigs are renewing concern, especially among pork producers, over transmission of the disease to domestic pigs.
Nine swine killed in Saginaw and Gratiot counties have tested positive for pseudorabies in the past five years, Brown said.
Two of 20 swine found in Mescosta County tested positive for toxoplasmosis, a parasitic infection that can be transmitted to humans if meat isn’t fully cooked.
Until now, feral pigs have been considered livestock at large and there were legal restricting on shooting them. However, as the problem progressed, many county prosecutors agreed not to charge hunters who shoot feral pigs as long as they have permission of the landowner or a hunting license.
Legislation to legalize the shooting of feral pigs across the state has passed the House and the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Bioeconomy. The House legislation is sponsored by Reps. Mike Huckleberry, D-Greenville; Sharon Tyler, R-Niles; and Andy Neumann, D-Alpena. It’s now waiting in the Senate to be voted on.