|From The State Vet's Office|
|Wild Hogs (No, It’s Not the Movie)|
This little piggy went to market. This little piggy stayed home….. Once upon a time there were three little pigs….. And who could forget that saying, "b’dah, b’dah, b’dah. Dat’s all, folks!" made famous by that great American philosopher, Porky the Pig. Pigs have always had a fond place in American culture. In addition to the contributions of those characters, the swine industry has contributed greatly to our American way of life. There is bacon and eggs, ham and cheese, bar-b-que on the Fourth of July. I appreciate the place the swine industry holds in animal agriculture. However, this article will not be devoted to domestic swine, but their roguish cousins running wild and plundering the country side. I am talking about feral swine or, if you prefer, wild hogs.
I am not a wildlife biologist, do not play one on TV and I did not stay in a Holiday Inn Express last night, so I will try not to venture too far into the wildlife technical areas about feral swine. I will address the headaches those pesky characters cause the Office of the State Veterinarian. What is the distinction separating feral swine from their domestic relatives? From my perspective that would be a fence. If hogs are on the inside of a fence, they are domestic; if they are on the outside, they are feral. Well, I’m not necessarily talking about those hogs your neighbor down the road owned when you were growing up. You know the ones I’m talking about. About one Sunday a month, right after the preacher got into his sermon, someone would ease in the back door and tell the farmer his hogs were out on the road again. Then the farmer and his two sons would "quietly" exit the worship service to round up their hogs.
The point I want to make is a disease makes no distinction of whether a hog is domestic or feral. While most wild hogs have some ancestry other than Hampshire, Yorkshire or Duroc, there are typically no diseases that occur in feral swine but not in domestic swine, or that occur in domestic swine but not in feral hogs. Diseases like brucellosis, pseudorabies and trichinosis, which are all rare in domestic swine, are not uncommon in feral swine. Government eradication programs have nearly eradicated swine brucellosis and pseudorabies, yet the disease lurks in the wild population waiting for the stars to line up and a biosecurity break at just the right time, and we could face those old problems in domestic swine again. Intense biosecurity practices and the nature of commercial swine operations today make disease breaks between feral and domestic swine more difficult, but by no means impossible.
Early in my tenure as State Veterinarian, one of our Agriculture Compliance Officers stopped a livestock trailer coming into Alabama out of Florida. Among chicken, turkeys and maybe one or two other species, there were 22 "feral" swine on board. Recall the difference between feral and domestic is "confinement." Because these hogs had no health certificate and had not been tested, and because of the risk posed to our domestic swine industry, it was decided those hogs be humanely destroyed and tested. The test results were almost shocking. Seventeen of the 22 hogs were positive for brucellosis or pseudorabies or both. The scary thing about that is these hogs were likely going to be turned out in some area in Alabama to be hunted. So even if these hogs never came in contact with any domestic hogs, they would pose a public health threat to those who dress or process these hogs. There have been some serious swine brucellosis outbreaks in packing house workers who were unaware they were working with brucellosis-infected product. That was several years ago when brucellosis was still prominent in domestic swine.
Another concern with feral swine meat consumed for food is the potential of contracting trichinosis. Trichinosis is a disease caused by a microscopic parasite that can end up in human skeletal muscle tissue, the heart or the central nervous system. To destroy trichinella, meat should be heated to at least 140 degrees Fahrenheit to kill the organism.
The final area I want to discuss is how feral swine fit into the regulatory world of meat inspection. Here’s the deal, PORK is considered an amenable species to be under either state or federal meat inspection. What that means if anyone other than the owner of the hog (which gets a little murky when talking about wild hogs) processes the meat, they must be under the oversight of a federal or state meat inspection program. There are some wildlife and conservation laws that do not allow for transporting a live feral hog. There is also a regulation not allowing a killed feral hog to be taken to a slaughter or processing facility.
No one actually knows how many feral swine are out there, but according to a USDA fact sheet, a single female feral hog can be responsible for around 1,000 descendants by the time she is five years old. They are indeed a growing problem and are found in practically every county in Alabama. As their numbers continue to grow, we will need effective management techniques to deal with the feral swine problem.
Now, speaking of a Wild Hog, have I ever told ya’ll about my Harley Davidson Road King Classic?