Wildlife biologists are desperately searching for ways to control the spiraling numbers of feral hogs. They are prolific breeders that have become a serious and pervasive threat to the Lone Star State.
But there is a growing market for feral hog meat that could help reduce their numbers. Hog stations across the state serve as holding pens for the hogs before they are sent to processing companies like Southern Wild Game.
James Bond operates a hog station just west of Snyder. He said, on a good week, 100 pigs move through his holding pens.
“We buy live hogs from all over the state of Texas,” Southern Wild Game plant manager Rusty Spannagel told the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal in a phone interview. “…I think it’s a way that we can take a product that is actually a problem for farmers and ranchers and make it into something that’s constructive instead of destructive.”
Processing plants like this are similar to those in a domestic pork plant. Pigs wait in holding pens, then enter a standardized, assembly line-style slaughter and processing system.
They process between 250 and 400 pigs on a typical day.
Spannagel said hog parts not fit for human consumption can have some purpose. He said hides, feet, ears and bones go to factories that make dog chews. Hearts are harvested for a company that uses the valves for human hearts.
“We try to use every part of the animal. There’s very little of the animal that we don’t use in some productive way,” Spannagel said.
Texas has a unique feral hog arrangement, according to Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service Wildlife Specialist Billy Higginbotham.
He noted it’s better to eat hogs trapped in colder months because there are fewer parasites. He also recommends eating younger hogs under 200 pounds, because the meat is tougher in older hogs.
Spannagel said Southern Wild Game is subject to the same USDA standards and inspections as at livestock plants.
“We use USDA-approved methods and follow human handling practices,” Spannagel said.
If you trap a wild hog yourself, there are safety measures to take before eating the meat.
Wash your hands, disinfect knives and keep uncooked meat cold. Also wear latex or rubber gloves and safety glasses, in case you’re splashed with bodily fluids. Higginbotham advises euthanizing and burying hogs if you notice any unusual behavior.
“People shouldn’t be afraid to eat wild pigs. They’re very lean. The meat’s very good, but you have to take precautions just to be safe,” Higginbotham said.