Football fans are wild about the nationally ranked Arkansas Razorbacks, but wild hogs of a different kind are grabbing national headlines, suspected of causing E. coli contamination in California-grown spinach that killed three people and sickened 200.

California is not alone in dealing with feral hogs. Arkansas Extension county agents occasionally receive complaints from landowners about hogs damaging their property. Earlier this year, two producers in Pope County complained about hogs that had turned wild, or feral, and were damaging their farms.

“One producer lost about 30 to 40 acres of soybeans, and the other experienced damage in new pine and hardwood stands,” said Becky McPeake, Extension wildlife specialist. “They were separated by several miles with both their landholdings located along a river.”

Ken Combs, the agent who got the two calls, said one producer was really upset. “They had rooted up a lot of pine trees he planted in the spring and last year,” Combs said. “The other producer was checking to see if his soybeans had emerged when he found that hogs had rooted up his newly emerged plants.”

Combs has heard reports about wild hogs for years. He suspects a population of escaped hogs has grown in numbers and is large enough now to cause considerable damage.

The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission says wild hogs are free-roaming and can damage wildlife habitat, compete with wildlife for food and pose a disease threat to humans and domestic livestock.

They can range up to 19 square miles and travel up to 15 miles in search of an area to call home. They can have as many as two litters a year with four to 10 young.

Feral hogs eat both plants and animals. They eat grasses, forbs, roots and tubers, acorns, grapes, persimmons, mushrooms, carrion, eggs, live birds, earthworms and other invertebrates. These same foods are eaten by many native wildlife species, including deer, turkey and squirrels.

A hog's favorite agricultural crops are corn, milo, oats, wheat and, of course, soybeans.

“Despite the problems hogs cause for wildlife, habitats and farmers, they also provide recreational hunting opportunities,” said McPeake. “There's already a lot of hog hunting in the state. Hunting is the major reason hogs are released into the wild.”

The best solution for controlling wild hogs is a combination of shooting and trapping or fencing.

But the most effective means of controlling feral hogs is not releasing them in the first place, the wildlife specialist said. Legally, one can't turn hogs loose on public land to hunt. With the landowner's consent, hogs can be released on private land.

McPeake said feral hogs may be taken on private lands any time, as long as the hunter has legal access and the landowner's permission. Hogs may also be taken during open hunting seasons if they are roaming freely upon public lands and the weapon used is legal for the season.

To prevent accidental shooting of prized domesticated hogs, a hog that has escaped from its pen is not considered a feral hog for five days. If the owner gives notice to adjacent landowners, the hog isn't feral for 10 more days.