Testing of the USDA’s sodium nitrite poison begins in February on a 1,500 acre ranch in an undisclosed location, stretching across several counties in northwest Texas. (Photo Courtesy of San Antonio River Authority)
Federal agriculture regulators have chosen Texas as the nation’s first testing site for a new type of poison aimed at culling the state’s feral hog population.
An estimated 2.6 million feral hogs have caused more than $50 million in damage to ranches and farms annually throughout Texas.
That’s one reason why the U.S. Department of Agriculture chose Texas as the first site to begin testing a new type of poison specifically designed for these intrepid animals, whose home base can range up to 70,000 acres.
Michael Bodenchuk, state director for the USDA’s Wildlife Services division, said the poison being tested is a sodium nitrite compound that causes the animal to die by reducing its oxygen-efficiency.
“Sodium nitrite when metabolized inside the pig causes the hemoglobin — the red blood cells — to become met-hemoglobin, and met-hemoglobin does not carry oxygen,” Bodenchuk said. “So the pig becomes drowsy, becomes a little wobbly and then lays down and goes to sleep and doesn’t wake up.”
The poison would be distributed through an enclosed trough that uses magnets, requiring 34 pounds of pressure to open. Bodenchuk said due to the weight of the lid, only an adult-sized feral hog could open it with its snout. He added that, unlike other poisons considered by Texas’ agriculture department, the compound tested by federal regulators does not pose a risk to other wildlife.
“We’ve conducted some trials on scavengers that might eat a dead pig, and there are no consequences to those scavengers. The chemical has be metabolized in order for it to work on the pig,” Bodenchuk said.
Bodenchuk said the USDA is currently using an Australian company to manufacture the poison for the agency’s field trial. He said once the Environmental Protection Agency signs off on selling the poison to farmers and ranchers, it will begin looking for an American manufacturer.
Testing of the USDA’s sodium nitrite poison begins in February on a 1,500 acre ranch in an undisclosed location, stretching across several counties in northwest Texas.