There are several questions that people have asked (or been too confused to ask) about the DNR Invasive Species Order declatory ruling regarding swine. Mark is working on another video that may answer more questions, but here are some answers to Frequently Asked Questions:
First, this link will take you to the ISO declatory ruling itself. The declatory ruling came about as the Mighigan Animal Farmers Association requested clarification of the very vague ISO.
1) The DNR is only worried about “Wild Boars” and “feral pigs”, but yours are domestic so you are exempt, right?
The legislature defined “feral” as an animal not living under human care and “domesticated” as animals that do live under human husbandry. The ISO states that sus scrofa linneas and any hybrids thereof are targeted, yet there are farms that raise Russian boars and hybrids in very much domesticated fashion and therefore are not sure if their hogs fall under the domestic exemption. Note that, according to Wikipedia, all hogs are descended from these “wild” breeds and are considered by most scientists to be a subspecies of sus scrofa. The DNR declared they will determine legality of an animal based on phenotype (how they look) rather than genotype. The list of characteristics they will use (pg.s 3 and 4 of the Ruling) is so generalized as to include all hogs. For example, the Vietnamese potbelly pig is all black, has a straight tail, and erect ears. Wild or domestic? You tell me. Legal? NO. It is apparently a sus scrofa hybrid. How about the Berkshire hog? This photo shows a solid black body, erect ears, and straight tail. Wild or domestic? Hmmm…. Legal? NO. It is apparently a sus scrofa hybrid. Note that the DNR will use one or more characteristics and these pigs each show three characteristics. In a letter to Representative Edward McBroom, DNR director Rodney Stokes stated:
“Any swine, whether pure or hybrid, exhibiting these characteristics are prohibited. All people in the state of Michigan are subject to this prohibition regardless of their use of this type of swine. Your constituents that wish to purchase swine can look at the characteristics listed in the Ruling and choose swine that do not exhibit the prohibited characteristics.” (Italics are mine.)
So, it appears that, even though they state the ISO doesn’t apply to sus domestica, the DNR will disregard the use of the hogs for slaughter for human consumption (as on our farm) if the hog demonstrates phenotypic relationship to a “wild hog” by having a curly or straight tail and erect or floppy ears and Mr. Stokes states no one is exempt. When the department has been asked to clarify this dicotomy they maintain their confusing stance and give no help to the farmer except to leave us fearful for our livelihood.
2) This is about hunting camps, not farms, right? Why would the DNR be concerned about hogs raised for human consumption on small farms like yours?
Firstly, hogs shot on hunting preserves are under human husbandry. They are tested and proved free of pseudo rabies, brucillosis, etc. They live and die stress-free, something we have to work hard to provide to our hogs in the same degree (it’s hard to get a stress-free USDA kill in a large processing facility). They are fed regular hog feed from a feed mill along with what they forage. The camps themselves, are for the most part very well provisioned. This is not a red-neck recreation and the farmers involved are conscientious, capable, responsible people. The hogs are used responsibly for human consumption.
However, we do not sell our hogs to a hunting preserve. Our hogs are nicely maintained on our farm until they go to the USDA slaughter facility for processing and finally end up in someone’s kitchen for food. We are conscientious, capable, and responsible people who do not allow our animals to escape and be unaccounted for. On the very rare occassions we’ve had escapes (3 times in the last 4 years), they head for the barn and trash the feed, then try to get back in. The sow we recently culled had become adept at escaping and we tired of cleaning up the barn. Our hogs are clearly under our husbandry and have no desire to be otherwise. Yet, a governmental agency decided they are a hazard to the environment and has made it clear that, regardless of breed, our curly and straight tailed hogs have to go. Our hogs meet their phenotypic criteria for an invasive species, regardless of how we use them. We raise a Mangalitsa hybrid (some crossed with Berkshire, some with some variant of Boar), but, as I showed above and you can see in the Ruling itself, any hog can meet the criteria. Genotype doesn’t matter. That is our concern: that this ruling effectively eliminates genetic diversity in the Michigan hog population, leaving us with the less hardy, non-foraging hybrids suited only for large hog-house production.
Why is the Dept. of Agriculture allowing the Department of Natural Resources to run roughshod over a whole agricultural industry? The Michigan Pork Producers helped the DNR craft the ISO and declatory ruling. We also were told that the soybean and corn producers encouraged it (they have would stand to lose business if the large Pork Producers change status at all). Could politics, money, and power be at play? Why would the DNR be worried about what hogs are being raised inside farm fences? Aren’t they in charge of what goes on outside farm fences? Deer do far more damage than hogs, and there are many feral animals currently. In fact, feral dogs are a greater hazard than feral pigs. Why the focus on hogs, calling them an invasive species rather than livestock?
Did you know our hogs aren’t livestock? In the letter to Rep. McBroom, Mr. Stokes stated, “Indemnification cannot be paid to prohibited swine that are destroyed. Indemnification in statute is for livestock and invasive species are not livestock, and are therefore, not eligible for indemnification.”
3) We don’t want feral hog problems like they have in the southern states, so why not get rid of the source of the problem?
The source of the problem is hogs outside of fences for an extended period of time, by definition making them “feral.” To control the feral pig population by eliminating farm pigs is like tackling the drunk driving problem by prohibiting car sales.
There are several reasons why the feral pig population in Michigan is not likely to flourish like the ones in the southern states.
1)They were not purposely planted (as a self-perpetuating food source) and allowed to flourish. They have been established since the Pilgrims and Conquistadors. Not so in Michigan.
2)With the winters we have they do not have the survivability rates of southern hogs and don’t reproduce as often.
3) Michigan has an open season on feral hogs . In 2010 656,500 hunters shot approximately 418,000 deer. This year is expected to be close to the same. The DNR stated in a meeting on February first of this year that only 42 hogs were shot last year. How could so many hunters spend about 9.6 million total days in the field and only shoot 42 hogs if there are thousands of them out there?
On a recent Points North radio article on Interlochen Public Radio, Jim Moses made some good points regarding the whole invasive species problem. I’ve looked at pictures on the internet of feral hog “damage.” It looked like our woods after the hogs have grazed through. Our experience has shown that the “damage” doesn’t last long and that with the soil aerated the flora comes back stronger than ever. Humans are natural predators and we need to do our part to control wild and feral populations of animals. However, perspective is important. It isn’t our hogs or the other heritage breeds raised by small family farms throughout the state that are running wild or going feral.
I hope this helps answer some questions. Please comment or e-mail if you have other questions relating to the ISO declatory ruling, pigs, or why this is an issue every farmer should be concerned about. We’ve chosen to stand up and take a legal stand in court to challenge this ruling not because of our Mangalitsa pigs, though what pig we could raise under this ruling is anybody’s guess. We’ve chosen to take the DNR to court because American citizens sometimes need to tell the government to go home, relax, and not be so invasive to our pursuit of life, liberty, and the pursuit of a legitimate and successful business. We feel that we represent all farmers who want to raise food that challenges the status quo. Any support, both morale and financial, is much appreciated as lawyers and courts are unfamiliar and costly territory. Let us know what you think!