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'We're Busy All Day Long': Feral Swine Program Aims To Remove More And More Hogs

Michael Horinek (center) and Trey Lam look at feral hog tracks near farmland in Pawnee.

Farmer and rancher Dan Ripley got a surprise recently. 

“We saw these pigs, we saw these pigs actually with the cattle!” 

He said he hated to see it.

“But the cattle were fine. They were just lying out there and the pigs were just lying right out there among ‘em.” 

Wild pigs are a problem in Pawnee, Oklahoma. They can carry over 30 diseases, and one year they destroyed 240 acres of Ripley’s corn crop.

“They went right down the row, picking out that - back then it was about $100 a bag corn seed - and eating it.”

They’re even bothering dead people.

 “And it looked like someone had taken a rototiller to the cemetery. And it was actually a group of pigs,” said Lisa Knauf Owen. 

Knauf Owen is the assistant director for the Oklahoma Conservation Commission. In 2020 the state-run commission got part of $75 million dollars set aside by the federal government to help farmers and ranchers deal with the feral hog problem. And according to the government, feral hogs are a problem. 

The United States Department of Agriculture said its estimate of $1.5 billion dollars a year in damages done by hogs nationwide is low. And it’s not just the agricultural industry. The USDA says wild hogs can harm forests and rivers, too.

Feral Hog Control Technician Michael Horinek is part of an eradication pilot program involving the commission and the USDA. He said he and his two co-workers are always moving. They’ve killed about 650 hogs in Pawnee, Kay, and Osage counties in the past year.

“We’re busy all day long and we don’t cover enough ground. I don’t know if logistically you can get rid of all of them. Our main goal is to help as many farmers as we can and alleviate as much damage as we can,” said Horinek.

After a farmer who wants help makes contact with Horinek, he drives around the farmer’s property and looks for signs of pigs.

“When they go under the barbed wire fences they’ll be mud on the bottom wire. What you’re looking for is the area they’re using the most. So when you put your bait pile out and your camera there you’re most likely to get pictures of them,” said Horinek.

After figuring out the best spot, Horinek and the men he works with put out a trap. These traps are big. They require a flatbed truck to move and they can catch a lot of pigs. This is a good method to use because feral hogs are smart. If you shoot just one in a sounder the others will learn from it. So catching a lot of pigs at once is preferable. 

It might take a few nights of the pigs getting comfortable with the trap before they go inside. A trapper watches on the camera.  

“The trappers are up at night and they’re watching them and seeing how they react to the trap. Eventually, when they’re all comfortable, they’ll enter the trap and the trapper will activate the door. It’ll drop and we’ll come and euthanize them in the morning,” said Horinek.

 Euthanize means shoot.

So is there any reason to have these pigs around? And if not, why aren’t we working together more to rid ourselves of this disease-ridden scourge? 

One problem is that people apparently don’t know about eradication efforts. Trey Lam is the executive director of the Oklahoma Conservation Commission.

“I think people need to understand and be educated. But they also need to know who to call. We have local conservation districts in every county. We have 84 conservation districts.”

The federal pilot project is active in Kay, Osage, Pawnee, Roger Mills, Beckham, Harmon, Jackson, Tillman, and Cotton counties. Lam said there are options for people outside of these areas, too.

“So they can call the conservation district and they can put them in touch with the state trapper, or in touch with our people, or they can loan them out their own trap that they have onsite to work on the problem themselves.”

But Lam said there are also some people who want the hogs around. 

“Some people do want to hunt them, some people want to take them and put them on their property and charge other people to come and kill them.”

Some of these pigs are being transported across state lines, and that makes the problem worse.

“Part of our biggest problem wasn’t that hogs just suddenly started coming up creeks from the south. People put them on cattle trailers, horse trailers and transported them up here because they thought they’d be fun to hunt,” said Lam.

There are laws around moving hogs. A permit and a certain type of fence are required.

“The rules are there, they’re just hard to enforce. You see a cattle trailer behind a truck, a pickup or a one ton moving down the road, and it’s hard especially at night to see what its got in it: cattle, calves, wild hogs or domesticated hogs,” said Lam.

Some years ago some groups tried to make more legislation to control the problem but that didn’t go over well in the agricultural community. 

“Anything that affects private property rights raises a red flag,” said Lam. 

Which brings us back to Dan Ripley. Farmers and ranchers like Ripley are the ones dealing the most with wild hogs. They’re the ones replanting 240 acres of corn. And Ripley has a pretty stark philosophy.

“Any dead pig is a result. Any dead pig is a result.”


Before joining Public Radio Tulsa, Elizabeth Caldwell was a freelance reporter and a teacher. She holds a master's from Hollins University. Her audio work has appeared at KCRW, CBC's The World This Weekend, and The Missouri Review. She is a south Florida native.