LUBBOCK, Texas — More than 7,150 feral hogs were killed as part of a competition to curb their numbers in Texas and limit the hundreds of millions of dollars in damage caused to crops and ranchland every year, state agriculture officials said Wednesday.
The Texas Department of Agriculture awarded Sutton County in West Texas the $20,000 first-place prize in the Hog Out Challenge that ran from October through December.
Five other counties will share the remainder of the $60,000 in awards.
"Texans respond to a challenge, which is why I initiated a competition to reduce the numbers of hogs in the state," Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples said in a statement to The Associated Press on Wednesday. "With no natural predator and the ability to reproduce rapidly, these hogs will continue to cost Texas millions of dollars if they are not eradicated and controlled in a coordinated, statewide effort."
The standings were based on a formula that considers the number of animals killed along with participation by ranchers, landowners and others in educational programs to learn techniques to keep the hogs' numbers down.
Sutton County removed the fewest hogs (435) of the top eight participating counties but took first place because it had the most participants (888) in educational programs. Coryell County finished second and got $15,000 in grants, while Callahan County finished third and received $10,000 in grants.
Three additional $5,000 grants were given to counties that killed the most hogs: Clay County removed 1,194, Goliad County 1,100 and Caldwell County 1,025.
Initially, 28 of the state's 254 counties sent in notices of their intent to participate. But in the end, only 15 submitted information about their three-month efforts.
The tally from October through December — 7,154 animals — is down from last year, when more than 12,630 of the animals were eradicated in the three-month span. This year was the second in which helicopters could be used to kill the animals but it was not clear Wednesday whether participating counties used them.
The grant money comes from funds appropriated by the Legislature to combat the hog problem.
Since the challenge began in 2010, 23,684 hogs have been killed. More than 4,200 additional hogs have been killed outside the months of competition, also with grant money awarded.
An estimated 2.6 million hogs cause $550 million in damage and destruction annually in Texas, which is more than any other state. The hogs reproduce so prolifically that wildlife specialists often use this saying: 'When a feral hog has six piglets, only eight are expected to survive.'
With their razor-sharp tusks, the hogs shred fields and pastures and wreck ecosystems by wallowing in riverbeds and streams. Even perennials planted at graves aren't safe. In recent years, the hogs are increasingly showing up in urban neighborhoods around the state.
Feral hogs can stand 3 feet tall and weigh up to 400 pounds. They make meals of lambs, kid goats, baby calves, newborn fawns and ground-nesting birds. The hogs compete for food and roaming room with many native species of wildlife.
The animals commonly destroy urban yards, parks and golf courses, as well as rangeland, pastures, crops, fencing, wildlife feeders and other property. Additionally, they contribute to E. coli and other diseases in Texas streams, ponds and watersheds.
The hogs also are a road hazard. Motorists sustain an estimated $1,200 in damage per hog collision.