Feral pig numbers may be on the rise

Concerns feral pigs may be moving, through south-west Victoria

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PIG PROBLEM: Ron Millard and Phill Saunders are fed up wild pigs ruining their farms. Photo by Morgan Hancock.

PIG PROBLEM: Ron Millard and Phill Saunders are fed up wild pigs ruining their farms. Photo by Morgan Hancock.

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Feral pig trapping and control to continue in south-west Victoria.

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South-west Victorian land managers and farmers say they're concerned feral pigs are moving east, from the traditional areas were they've been found.

Forest Fire Management Victoria far south-west district manager Mark Mellington said authorities were hoping to contain feral pigs, where they were already established, while eradicating new populations.

Mr Mellington said data indicated that the population of feral pigs, and their distribution, was increasing.

"A stakeholder group has been established with local agencies and businesses to examine reported sightings and damage caused by feral pigs," Mr Mellington said.

"This collaborative approach will increase our understanding of the pigs' behaviour and impacts and determine future control options across public land."

He said trapping programs began on public land in 2015 and would continue, along with regular patrols and monitoring.

Since trapping programs started, 208 feral pigs had been caught, including 123 sows and 85 boars.

New feral pig populations have been identified on public and private land in the south-west, including areas around Heywood, Portland, Dartmoor and Casterton.

Under the Catchment and Land Protection Act (1994), it is the responsibility of the landowner to control feral pigs.

Ongoing control

Animal Control Technologies strategic commercial manager Craig Louey said his company supplied on commercial bait PIGOUT, a 1080 based poison, and was working on another one, HOGGONE.

He said he'd heard of pigs in the Heywood and Casterton areas.

"The pigs breed quite quickly if there is a food source and water," Mr Louey said.

"They can breed twice a year, with litters of up to 10 piglets."

Mr Louey said his company had been working on feral pig control for more than a decade.

"These solutions are not set and forget," Mr Louey said.

'You need to go ongoing baiting programs, you can't just throw it out in the field one day, and expect to see dead pigs.

"It's a long term program."

He said feral pigs in the south-west might have come from escaped domestic animals. He also heard, anecdotally, hunters may have released them illegally.

"What we would advocate is using every available technique - you can even use helicopters if they are suitable."

He said feral pigs were very smart but did tremendous damage to all types of farming activities.

"They will take newborn lambs; they will eat them.

"They can run through wheatfields, just rolling around and flattening them, not just eating the wheat, but flattening it."

He said that while biosecurity was tight in Australia, feral pigs could be a vector for transferring such diseases as African swine fever into the domestic industry.

Populations monitored

Agriculture Victoria Established Invasive Animals biosecurity manager Jason Wishart said feral pigs were found throughout much of Victoria.

"They cannot be eradicated from the state and require ongoing management," Mr Wishart.

He said feral pig populations were found throughout much of Victoria and it was common for them to move into open country, to seek food and water.

"Agriculture Victoria works with community groups to support coordinated community-led action, including providing information and advice to assist land managers or community groups to manage feral pigs," he said.

"Land managers are encouraged to contact Agriculture Victoria for information and advice on managing feral pig populations on their properties or to report sightings of feral pigs."

Agriculture Victoria monitored feral pig populations, across Victoria, which contributed to an understanding of trends and distribution.

It didn't undertake on-ground feral pig control programs, as it was not a land manager.

FERAL PIGS: This skull was found near St Helens.

FERAL PIGS: This skull was found near St Helens.

Basalt to Bay Landcare network facilitator Lisette Mill said there appeared to be evidence of pigs moving eastward.

"If the population is increasing, it will be moving across to colonise new territory, including the highly productive and important Basalt to Bay Landcare region, which starts on the edge of Moyne Shire," Mrs Mill said.

"Feral pigs and farming are not conducive to each other; they bring massive biosecurity risks with them.

"Pigs cause land damage, potential predation of livestock and damage fences," Mrs Mill said

Mrs Mill said tackling pigs involved the whole community, including crown land managers, Parks Victoria, councils, water authorities and farmers.

"As we come into autumn, pigs that have spent time in the bush, where they can get cover and food, start to move.

"There's a point where the feed runs out, and they start to look for other places to find food."

She said pigs would also be seeking water sources, such as rivers, creeks and farm dams.

Ongoing problem

Tyrendarra veal producer Phillip Saunders said feral pigs had first been seen in the district seven or eight years ago, and he'd been having problems for about five years.

He estimated pigs could cause as much as $1000 damage a hectare to pasture land.

"You're looking at losing production for the winter and spring, the ground doesn't grow much pasture after they've been through it, and you have at least drag and resow it."

Although it was nowhere near as big an issue as in northern Australia, Mr Saunders said the pigs tended to come in waves.

"We tend to have smaller paddocks.

'When they come in, they can very quickly damage between eight and 10 hectares, in a pretty short time," Mr Saunders said.

He said government authorities were currently trapping, to the north of his property.

'The pigs tend to live in the stones, where the lava flows were, and probably the bluegums and state forests," he said.

"They are going for roots and grubs, so burrow all the ground up."

The establishment of bluegum forests had given the pigs cover, to travel greater distances.

He said he was concerned that ships, coming into Portland, could bring foot and mouth.

"The Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning look after the state forest stuff, and do that on the smell of an oily rag," Mr Saunders said.

"For the resources, they have got, they do a fantastic job."

But he said he believed it was up to the Department of Agriculture to take a lead role in controlling feral pigs.

It had experience in dealing with foot and mouth disease, as chief veterinary officer Dr Charles Milne had extensive experience in dealing with the disease, in the United Kingdom.

"My rationale is pigs are the number one vector for foot and mouth, so we need on agency to take the lead role."

Ron Millard, who runs sheep on a small block at Tyrendarra, said his property was close to a state forest.

"There's a road between us and about a square mile of state forest," Mr Millard said.

He said he hadn't experienced stock losses, as the pigs appeared to have gone, by lambing time.

But the pigs did extensive damage to paddocks.

"When the pigs were there, they used to venture into my block, they didn't have far to go out of the bush, and when they did they rooted all my paddocks up.

"They did an awful lot of damage, they rooted it all up, like you'd got in with a plough."

But he said it appeared last winter the population, living in the state forest, had been cleaned out by hunters.

"I had the authorities there," he said.

"They were out setting traps and cameras, but never had much success, probably because there were that many people with dogs coming out hunting the pigs."

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