ABOVE: Free feeding of feral pigs. Photo: Riverina Local Land Services
With declining water and food resources available for feral pigs in late summer and early autumn in the major pig production regions, it’s the perfect time to talk with your neighbours to plan and conduct your joint feral pig management programs.
If you choose to bait or trap feral pigs, the most important yet overlooked aspect is the initial free (or pre) feeding stage.
If free feeding is not done correctly, is not done for long enough and is not done with lots of patience, it will break your management program.
An adequate duration of free feeding is essential to attract to the site all the feral pigs present in the group.
Generally, it’s better to bring free feed to the pigs rather than hoping the pigs will find the free feed.
Free feeding can:
- Encourage regular visits of feral pigs to a site
- Determine how many feral pigs are in the area, particularly if field cameras are being used to monitor feral pig visitations to the free feed site
- Be used to familiarise feral pigs with the bait material
- Be used to train pigs to access bait boxes and traps
- Inform how much poison bait will be required to destroy the whole group of feral pigs
- Monitor non-target species risk.
Once feral pigs start feeding, it’s imperative that you keep the experience positive.
Any kind of disturbance – such as ground shooting, hunting or chasing by dogs – should be avoided because this will reduce the effectiveness of your program.
Note that legislative requirements and label instructions for the use of sodium fluoroacetate (or 1080) must be complied with – these differ between states and territories, therefore the information in this article may not be applicable to all producers.
Where to free feed
Understanding where pigs may be traversing and are active in the landscape will help you to identify sites where free feed can be placed in piles and increase the efficacy of your management program.
Using your property map can also be useful in determining free feeding sites.
Free feeding sites can also be identified by looking for and recognising feral pig signs and or physical damage caused by feral pigs in the area.
Field cameras are also very helpful.
The images they capture can be routinely viewed to understand whether feral pigs are in the area, how many are present and the group structure.
This information will inform how much free feed will be required to attract the group to the site.
How to free feed
Key considerations for how to free feed are:
- Place free feed on the ground in locations away from areas that can be accessed by domestic stock or have high human traffic, and remove livestock from areas where the feed will be placed
- Place small amounts of bait material around the site, such as along tracks or animal pads, creeks and areas of thick cover
- Ensure free feed is placed under sufficient shade on flat ground if you are planning to use a trap
- Initially place 10-15kg (a large bucket) of your chosen free feed at each of your selected sites – making small piles of 2-3kgs in a checkerboard or concentric circle pattern will ensure all pigs in the mob will have access to the feed and avoid being bullied by dominant pigs, as pigs can be very territorial and aggressive around feed sites, even within family groups
- Monitor whether free feed has been consumed by feral pigs on a daily basis and replenish with increased quantities for several days to get the pigs used to the feed and to optimise the number of animals coming to the site
- If feral pigs eat all the free feed, increase the amount by 50 percent – though of the feed put out each night, expect to have 5-10 percent uneaten each morning
- The duration of the free feeding period will be dependent on the availability of the pig’s current diet
- It is important that there is adequate feed available per pig.
Once you’ve determined which sites are being regularly visited by feral pigs, focus on those areas of high use and stop free feeding in areas where it is not being taken.
Due to their natural wariness, feral pigs may refuse to eat at some sites for no obvious reason or may take some time to commence feeding.
Once pigs have been attracted to your free feed sites, if you wanted to use a feeder – such as a Pigbaitta, Hoghopper or deer feeder – it is critical to allow additional time for the pigs to become familiar with the equipment and to learn how to use it.
The consumption of free feed by non-target animals can be reduced by using feeders and they help protect the feed from adverse weather.
The use of feeders also means that you will not need to visit the site daily to replenish the feed – effort, labour and time can therefore be substantially reduced.
What to free feed
When deciding what to use as free feed, understanding what the feral pigs are currently eating and are familiar with is necessary.
In agricultural areas, this can generally be influenced by the types of crops present.
A range of different grains and or legumes can be used as free feed.
Feral pigs generally prefer grain that is less prickly in their mouths, with wheat, barley and oats the most preferred cereals.
Corn and sorghum are also commonly used, though manufactured pellets may also be offered.
Pigs will be more attracted to baits that have a strong odour.
To attract feral pigs to free feed, consider the use of fermented grain and bait attractants such as Carasweet and molasses.
Do not use seed grain that has been treated in preparation for sowing as free feed or bait material.
When it is exposed to moisture, including 1080 solution, it can have an unpleasant taste.
Poor quality free feed may limit the number of pigs attracted to the site.
The use of meat or meat products as free feed is illegal.
In some areas, free feed such as apples, bananas, mangoes, pumpkins or rockmelons may be used.
How long for free feeding
This is the critical step and lots of patience is required here!
If you get this wrong, you can create many problems, including bait and or trap shy pigs.
Having field cameras set up at each free feeding site can be extremely helpful to figure out how much free feed to place at the site, and how long the free feeding period should be for.
View the images being taken by the camera daily and monitor and record the number of feral pigs accessing the free feed.
Once free feed is continually being eaten at a site by feral pigs, trap materials should be left for 2-3 days so that pigs become familiar with the smell of the steel mesh.
If you decide to have multiple free feed sites, monitor feral pig activity at all the sites during this time.
If pigs continue to come to the site to consume free feed, partially erect the trap, leaving a wide entrance way, and place the feed inside and outside of the trap.
Once pigs are confidently entering and exiting the trap, finish constructing it – leaving the gate open – and place free feed at the rear of the trap.
Usually, 1-2 weeks – sometimes even longer – of free feeding is needed before the entire group enters the trap.
All traps must be inspected daily.
Cameras can be used to assist with daily checking and trap inspection.
The trap’s door can be set after a few more days of further feeding within the trap.
It’s recommended that pigs free feed inside the trap for at least three nights to ensure the whole group is captured.
Large amounts of free feed will be required each time the trap is set.
Do not change the type of free feed being used once the feral pigs have started to eat it.
Also use the same type of free feed when you progress to baiting or trapping.
If you only have one trap, it may be that the trap can be moved to another of these sites once all the pigs are removed from the first site.
Free feed must be laid for at least three nights before laying any poisoned baits.
The free feeding period may need to be extended for up to 2 weeks or more to ensure as many feral pigs as possible are feeding on the bait.
Incorrect free feeding or laying poisoned bait too early can result in substantial numbers of pigs failing to consume the bait.
Progressively offer more free feed until the amount consumed is no longer increasing.
Once the amount being taken is consistent, adjust it accordingly to ensure the minimum amount of bait remains at the end of the night.
For more information on free feeding, as well as how to progress to poison baiting of feral pigs using 1080 or Hoggone, visit:
Glovebox Guide for Managing Feral Pigs – pestsmart.org.au/wp-content/uploads/sites/3/2020/09/CISS-Glovebox-Guide-Pig-web.pdf
A Field Guide to Poison Baiting: Feral Pigs – pestsmart.org.au/wp-content/uploads/sites/3/2021/10/CISS-Glovebox-Feral-Pig-field-guide-to-poison-baiting-web.pdf
Hoggone product guide at Animal Control Technologies Australia – animalcontrol.com.au/products/hoggone
NFPAP Baiting feral pigs fact sheet – feralpigs.wpengine.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/Feral-pig-management-baiting-v7.pdf
Best practice management videos at Agriculture Victoria and NSW Local Land Services accessed via feralpigs.wpengine.com/resources/#bestpractice
For any questions related to effective feral pig management, including free feeding, contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org or 0423 056 045.