Killing 80 pig sows and their piglets in cold blood this spring to comply with a controversial order from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources was the toughest thing Dave Tuxbury has ever had to do.
“I was flabbergasted that the DNR can just declare something like this and make me kill my own hogs,” says Tuxbury, who owns the 1,600-acre Deer Tracks Ranch in the forests and wetlands along the Manistee River south of Kalkaska. “I was told that if I didn’t kill them by the April 1 deadline I’d be fined $20,000 per animal and be charged with a felony.”
Tuxbury raised what is known as a Duroc hog that was crossbred with a long-haired pig to survive the cold weather climate of Northern Michigan. Although he operates a game ranch which provides hunters with an opportunity to bag trophy-quality deer, elk, bison and formerly hogs, he also considers himself a farmer who has been preserving his land from development thanks to a lucrative business raising hogs for hunting purposes.
But that plan came crashing down this spring with a DNR invasive species order mandating the destruction of feral hogs throughout the state (see related article).
Tuxbury said he had approximately 200 living hogs and an equal number of unborn pigs on his property when he got word from the DNR that the pigs had to go. The pigs roamed a 200-acre enclosure surrounded by a 10-foot fence with an additional two
feet of chain-link fence trenched into the ground in a forest habitat that Tuxbury considered escape-proof. Additionally, a 10-foot fence runs for 9 miles around the entire property, which represents an overall investment of $7 million.
When the kill order was handed down, Deer Tracks offered hunters across the state a bargain rate to cull more than half the hogs on the property. But that left Tuxbury and his staff to finish the job.
“Almost all of the pigs were mothers – this was my breeding stock,” he says of the animals he put down with a shotgun. “They were all pregnant sows or sows with young piglets that I had to shoot before the deadline.
“When you walk up to a mother with piglets, the mother naturally wants to protect her young,” he adds. “So we had to shoot the mothers first, and then all of the piglets that were running around. It was sickening.”
Gary Giles, a guide at the ranch, said it was a heartbreaking day.
“It was probably one of the toughest things I’ve ever had to do,” Giles says. “To have to shoot an eight or ten-pound little piglet knowing that no one’s ever going to eat it was tough. We’re all hunters here and we always eat what we kill unless it’s something like a coyote.”
As for the hogs which were shot, Tuxbury had them butchered and frozen to serve as meat for his ranch.
Tuxbury says he couldn’t sell his hogs to out-of-state ranches because there’s no market for them. But they were valuable as a game animal because “dirt-raised” hogs fed on grasses in a wooded environment are more flavorful than the white pork sold in grocery stores, which comes from domestic pigs raised in concrete pens. He says he’s lost approximately $240,000 per year in revenues, based on the fee of $600 each to hunt the hogs on his property.
“You would think that the state wouldn’t be able to take your farm animals away from you without reimbursing you, but the DNR says it’s not going to reimburse anyone,” he says.
In light of his losses, Tuxbury plans to sue the state for damages, but notes that many other small farmers are unlikely to sue because of the legal expenses.
In the meantime, the future is in doubt for his game ranch and Tuxbury fears he may have to develop the property, which includes virgin wetlands and forest habitat.
“The hogs were basically paying the expenses of the ranch and keeping the property from being developed,” Tuxbury says. “You can’t afford this large of a property anymore without making any income from it. If you can’t farm it, what can you do