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PROPOSED WILD HOG RULES AIM TO AID PRODUCERS, TRAPPERS & HUNTERS

Described as being as prolific as cockroaches, destructive as rats, and as surly as badgers, wild (feral) hogs are the bane of ranchers and farmers, but they're a boon for hunters. Nearly three million of these dirt slingin' critters roam free in Texas, rooting up pastures, wallowing in creek beds, and gorging themselves on crops and gardens. Trappers and hunters often are called in to help reduce hog numbers when feral swine run amuck.

For nearly a year, a team of commercial swine and show pig producers, slaughter plant operators, veterinarians, hunters, hog trappers and wildlife biologists have wrestled with rule ideas that would prevent captured wild hogs from creating more chaos, while still giving hunters an opportunity to bag a boar trophy worth bragging rites. In mid-May, draft regulations were presented to commissioners for the Texas Animal Health Commission (TAHC), the state's livestock and poultry health regulatory agency. Public comment on the proposed rules, to be published in the Texas Register June 6, will be accepted by the TAHC through July 6. TAHC commissioners will consider the rules for adoption at their next meeting on July 29 in Austin.

“The 80th legislature, in the TAHC's Sunset Bill, provided for the TAHC to regulate feral swine, which are regarded as free-ranging livestock. The TAHC regulations are to be limited to disease control purposes, including holding facilities, sale, exhibition, hunting or movement,” said Dr. Dee Ellis, Texas' assistant state veterinarian and TAHC advisor to the feral swine working group. “If these proposed rules are adopted, they will supersede TAHC's current feral swine regulations that aren't comprehensive. We know we can't get rid of feral swine, but we can find ways to deal with the animals so that it benefits all sectors of the industry.”

Dr. Ellis said the proposed regulations give trappers greater latitude for holding and moving trapped swine. Approved holding facilities and authorized hunting preserves would be sanctioned and inspected by the TAHC, and operators or owners would be required to keep records on the animals for at least five years. Applications for operating the holding facilities or hunting preserves will be available from the TAHC, if the regulations are adopted.

Because there is some limited interest in changing captured feral swine to "domestic" swine by testing the animals, the proposed regulations would allow for wild hogs to be reclassified as “domesticated” pigs after a series of at least three negative blood tests for swine Brucellosis and pseudorabies during a minimum 150-day quarantine period. (This practice is not recommended, however.) Additionally, sows and other sexually intact female swine would be required to undergo a fourth negative test for the diseases, at least 30 days after their initial farrowing in quarantine.

The disposition of feral swine that are not “domesticated” through the quarantine and testing process is limited to slaughter only, except for boars and barrows, which may be moved to TAHC-authorized hunting preserves.

The proposed rules also would allow for the wild pigs to be held after trapping in an escape-proof pen or enclosure on a trailer for up to seven days before moving the animals directly to a federally or state-inspected slaughter plant, to a TAHC-authorized hunting preserve, or to an approved holding facility, awaiting final disposition.

The proposed rules would allow only boars and barrows to be moved to TAHC-authorized hunting facilities, which would have to be equipped with swine-proof fencing at least five feet high. Boars and barrows also would have to be individually identified prior to being placed into the preserve.

Hunting preserve operators would need a “Hunting Lease License” and hog hunters would need a hunting license, both from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, but there is no season on these animals so often regarded as a pest and a threat to livestock health.

“It is extremely important that proposed holding facilities and hunting preserves be ‘escape proof.' Identification on the boars and barrows in hunting preserves would help us identify pigs that ‘get loose,' ” said Dr. Ellis. Required record-keeping would include the number of swine placed in or removed from the facilities, the animals' weight, size, color, sex and any identification applied to the animal, and the locations from which they were trapped and to which they were moved.

“Strict requirements are necessary to prevent moving an animal that has a potential livestock disease from one site to another,” said Dr. Ellis. “From tests on feral swine over a four-year period, we know that around 20 percent of wild hogs in Texas carry pseudorabies, a regulatory flu-like swine disease not related to rabies. About 10 percent of the feral pigs have swine Brucellosis, the swine form of “Bangs,” or cattle Brucellosis.”

Since January 2006, the swine form of Brucellosis has been detected in 26 cattle in 19 herds. Although the swine infection in cattle does not affect Texas' hard-won ‘free' status for cattle Brucellosis, it does cause positive test results when cattle are tested prior to sale. The bacteria must be “grown out” in the laboratory to differentiate between swine Brucellosis and cattle Brucellosis infection. In the meantime, cattle in the consignment or herd must be held up, and additional tests may be needed to ensure there is no cattle Brucellosis infection in the herd.

Feral swine also can have a health impact on noncommercial swine, which may be housed in facilities that are more likely to have feral swine contact than commercial swine facilities. Of the 41 noncommercial swine herds quarantined for swine Brucellosis infection since January 2003, 29 either had definite or possible contact with wild hogs.

“ ‘Contact with feral swine' can be as simple as a wild sow or boar either being allowed in, breaking into swine pens, or making contact through a fence,” noted Dr. Ellis. “Related contacts” can include an activity such as purchasing piglets from a producer who allows feral swine into his or her pens. In this case, a buyer could be purchasing piglets that have been exposed to disease carried by feral swine.

Dr. Ellis advised domestic swine owners to keep feral swine out of their pens. When purchasing replacement swine by private treaty, ask if the pigs have been exposed to feral swine. If possible, keep the animals isolated until tested for swine Brucellosis and pseudorabies. At livestock markets selling sexually intact swine six months of age or older, these tests are required, and blood samples are collected from the animals by TAHC personnel.

“Commercial swine herds are operated with great attention to biosecurity, and in Texas, these herds currently are swine Brucellosis and pseudorabies-free,” said Dr. Ellis. But each time we detect infection in a noncommercial herd, it puts a hardship on producers, because we must trace animal movement, test herds in a widespread area, and handle infected herds appropriately. Swine brucellosis also poses a significant public health threat to those handling or inadvertently producing infected animals. By adopting regulations that make it easier for trappers to remove feral swine from an area, and place boars and barrows only in a hunting facility, we encourage legal regulated movements of the animals and have less chance of disease transmission from these wild hogs. These proposed regulations can benefit swine producers, cattlemen, trappers and hunters, too.”

On June 6, a link to the text of the proposed regulations will appear on the TAHC website at http://www.tahc.state.tx.us. The proposed regulations also are available by calling the TAHC at 800-550-8242, ext 710. Comments on the proposed rules may be emailed to: comments@tahc.state.tx.us, faxed to 512-719-0719, or mailed to TAHC Comments, Box 12966, Austin, TX 78711-2966. Comments are due no later than July 6.

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