Feral Pigs!?

October 25, 2022

Something strange was going on that didn't quite add up. And now that I was on the phone with a woman saying my pigs were on her property it became clear that something definitely was amiss! At that particular time I only had 8 remaining Mangalitza-Berkshire crosses and while on this call I happened to be looking at them, right in front of me.

At first curiosity was the dominant personal experience but then later, as the state DNR got involved, it was overshadowed by a feeling of uneasiness and even a little bit of worry. Some people aren't going approach this with the same level of curiosity. What about my farm's reputation? Are there damages that someone will be responsible for? I know these pigs on the loose aren't mine but is it even possible to prove? What if my story isn't believed?

At that moment, and actually even before the DNR was notified, I decided it would be best to figure out where these pigs came from. Hopefully this would lead to knowing how many there are and for how long have they'd been roaming the woods along the East branch of the Blue Earth River. After failing to find the animals the day I received the call from the woman on the neighboring property I immediately started making calls and asking around.

What surfaced several days later is still a little unclear. I called the local livestock sale yard (on just a hunch) and the person who answered the phone admitted that the animals had indeed escaped from the sale yard. I believe he even said that the sheriff's office was notified and I know he said their insurance company had been notified. News stories however have not entirely confirmed this and some stories claim that the DNR reported that they escaped from a sale yard while others claim the DNR said it was a farm. Most likely sloppy journalism! Also, the Star Tribune article reported that a representative of the Blue Earth livestock sale yard denied allegations that the pigs escaped from there.

Confusing! While the sale yard in Blue Earth is a well-respected business and the owners seem like great people (that I have no problem with) I'm going to choose to believe what I heard directly, and with details, that they did indeed escape from there.

So then what? The DNR did "capture" most of the escaped pigs but there are likely still some roaming about. What I'd like to share now are some observations about this story as well as some concerns I have. These concerns echo some expressed to me by other Mangalitsa farmers from around MN.

This story was totally sensationalized! The photo on this blog post is an actual photo taken on a trail-cam of the pigs in question. Some of the news outlets chose to use stock photos of "for real" feral hogs. Tusks, longer snouts, and other morphological changes that hogs can go through when they're truly feral, especially for generations. The pigs in question here are Mangalitzas, a generally docile breed, and more importantly they'd only escaped a couple of months earlier. The reporter who wrote the Star Tribune article told me it was incredibly popular among online readers even receiving more views than coverage of a debate for the governor's race! Number two most-read for the day! Photos are scary looking wild pigs and attention grabbing, but exaggerated, headlines and stories are great for tempting scrollers to click on a story. I understand the news business is tough and really do hope that the vast majority of readers can see through the hype!

My very brief interview on WCCO radio was not much different. The host (guest host actually) was former MN governor Tim Pawlenty and through the conversation I could definitely sense this was someone with years of experience in politics. Even my 17 year old son commented that the questions were "leading". He struck me as someone who'd read The Art of War and was so accustomed to using strategy in everyday life that he was totally comfortable with it and probably attempting to control the conversation at an almost subconscious level.

The main ideas it seemed they wanted listeners to hear were "this is interesting and a bit humorous but feral pigs are a huge problem and the threat needs to be taken seriously". I did my best, in the 30 seconds or so that I had available, to share the message that:

  1. There are no feral hog populations in MN despite over 150 years of raising pigs here
  2. Pasture-based farms in MN aren't raising "feral pigs" but are responsibly raising domesticated hogs.
  3. The Mangalitsa pig is great!

The former governor kept saying "Blue Dirt Farm, feral pigs" even after I explained that no one I know of is raising "feral pigs". I was just wondering, "why does he keep saying that? Is it the title of the news story or something?" Oh well! It was fun and a good experience to have.

My concern out of all of this, and because of the spin the media seems to be putting on it, is that incidents like this will be used by the government and incumbent industry lobbyists to place more restrictions on farms like mine, farms that in some way go against the status quo. I have absolutely no interest in raising pigs inside of large barns on concrete slats and I know Blue Dirt Farm customers generally have little or no interest in the products from that type of operation. Scary rhetoric has been used in other places for attempting to tighten controls and add extra expense for farmers. While this is unlikely to occur, it is something myself and other pasture & woodland-based farmers will remain vigilant of.

Will feral pigs ever be in Minnesota? Your guess may be as good as mine! One factor that is not discussed much is the role biodiversity and ecological health play. Nature will fill a vacuum in any way it can and life is resilient! When there were bears, wolves, large grazing herbivores pigs may have had a much more difficult time of

Pigs gone feral are certainly a problem for humans in other parts of the US. But it is important to keep it in perspective. In doing some quick research it appears that the economic costs of feral pigs in the US are on par with the costs of switching to or from daylight savings time! As most of us know there is an increase in injuries, accidents, and illnesses when we're compelled to change our clocks in the spring and fall. Also an associated drop in productivity. Estimates for these costs are in the ballpark of half a billion and some claim closer to 1 billion. The damages caused by feral pigs are estimated at around 1 billion as well. As you can see, not a lot of difference other than the types of damages and the obvious fact that one of the causes is easily remedied. I'm not making this comparison to trivialize the issue but just to bring some awareness to the true scope and magnitude.

Is this story finished? I hope it's getting close! Until the rest of the pigs on the loose are "captured" we probably haven't heard the last of it. And since it seems to be striking a chord with the public, news outlets will likely continue covering it. From media and reports given to me, the pigs that weren't shot the first day the DNR was out rounding them up were several piglets and at least one or two juveniles. Depending on the age of the piglets there's a good chance they won't make it or have already succumbed. And for the larger pigs I really don't know if they'd survive the winter on their own or not. Mangalitzas are well adapted to the cold, that's why I raise them on my farm, but without supplemental feed it could be hard for them to maintain body condition and survive. One thing that all of these pigs on the loose had going for them this fall season was the tremendous acorn mast crop! If you've seen some of my social media posts from fall of 2022 you'll know that some of the pigs on Blue Dirt Farm were being finished (going through their final stages of growth) almost entirely on acorns and natural forages.

Check back here for any updates and see the links below if you'd like to hear a recording of the radio segment or read any stories in the media:

WCCO radio interview

Star Tribune (pay wall)

Bring me the News

Bluestem Prairie

Scott Haase

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