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Get ready for feral hogs to invade Somervell County.

Wet weather means more food available for the hogs, Josh Blanek, county extension agent for the Texas AgriLIFE Extension Service, said.

Feral hogs are omnivores, meaning they eat plants and animals. They forage for bulbs, fruit, berries and roots. They love acorns and agricultural crops of corn, milo, wheat, rice, peanuts, potatoes and melon. The hogs also feed on insects, amphibians, reptiles, bird eggs, deer fawns, lambs, kid goats and carrion.

“If this year continues to be wet, we could see an increase in the litter size and number of litters because there will be more food available, increasing nutrition, as we saw in 2007,” Blanek said.

No data on the number of hogs in Somervell County is available, but the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department estimates their numbers at more than 1.5 million.

“Some think that is conservative,” Blanek noted.

The hogs particularly thrive in the eastern half of the state, but they have spread to western Texas as well.

The Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife's Rick Taylor, author of a booklet about feral hogs, said that early Spanish explorers likely introduced hogs to Texas more than 300 years ago. During Texas' fight for independence, many hogs were released as people fled for safety. In the 1930s Russian boars were imported by ranchers for sport hunting. When they escaped, they bred with feral hogs, contributing to the growing population.

Most of the county's feral hog population is on the east and southeast sides, up and down the Brazos River and all its tributaries where the soils are better, he added.

But Blanek has spotted signs of feral hogs in the Summit Ridge subdivision and seen them on game cameras at Chalk Mountain. Most of the damage has occurred east of State Highway 144 where the hogs have caused damage in cemeteries, home lawns, wheat fields and coastal fields.

While feral hogs thrive in wet conditions and like to root around near rivers and creeks, they also adapt very well and can live in rocky and dry areas. They have virtually no natural enemies and, once they establish themselves in an area, spread quickly. While feral hogs typically produce one litter a year, litter size can range from five to 12 piglets.

Because they're classified as unprotected, exotic, non-game animals, feral hogs may be hunted and trapped year-round with no bag limits. A hunting license and permission from landowners are required. The county funds a trapper to try to keep the feral hog population down.

People should use “extreme caution” when encountering feral hogs, Blanek said.

“Females can become very aggressive protecting their young and males can be aggressive in general if they feel threatened,” he added. “If you are trapping feral hogs, use strong, well-built traps. And the larger the trap, the better so you can catch more.”

However, the hogs are very “trap savvy,” Blanek noted. “Meaning, if you allow some to escape a trap or if you kill any in a trap you will have to move it because you will have a hard time ever getting any more in there.”

Feral hogs also carry diseases that they can transfer to livestock and even people.

For more information and plans for inexpensive homemade traps, visit the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department website at www.tpwd.state.tx.us/huntwild/wild/nuisance/feral_hogs/.