MARION, Mich. — A central Michigan farmer is asking a circuit judge and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources to allow him to continue raising a type of hybrid swine he says have caused no problems.
Mark Baker, of Bakers Green Acres in Marion Michigan, a small village about an hour and a half south of Traverse City, has been breeding “Mangalista” swine crossed with “Russian-looking” boars since 2006, and selling the meat to chefs and restaurants.
The Department of Natural Resources has issued $700,000 in fines against the Bakers for continuing to keep his pigs.
The Mangalitsa, according to a fact sheet by Oklahoma State University, is robust, resistant to diseases and stress and of a balanced disposition. It has “powerful legs and strong hooves that allow it to securely move about in any landscape.”
One of the Mangalista’s most noticeable traits is its “thick, bristly coat” that protects in all kinds of weather.
But according to the DNR, the Russian Boar is the breed they’re concerned about.
“Russian boar is the only issue,” said Ed Golder, public information officer for Michigan Department of Natural Resources, as well as “hybrids of Russian boar.”
The DNR insists “owners of heritage pigs are not affected unless they own a Russian boar or Eurasian wild boar or a hybrid of a Russian boar or Eurasian wild boar.
“This species (Russian boar) is the terrestrial equivalent of Asian carp,” according to DNR. “The swine are incredibly destructive omnivores that destroy wildlife habitat and carry diseases that threaten domestic hogs, other livestock, wildlife and people.”
Russian boar mix?
Baker says his pigs do look like Russian Boars, including some that he culled in 2012, but he insists they’re not truly Russsian boars. He argued that to be Russian hogs, or Eurasian Hogs he’d have to go to those countries to get them, which he has not done.
Enforcement of the order began April 1, 2012, and was put into place over concern that invasive and “feral” swine caused disease in domesticated swine, and also posed a public safety hazard when they get loose.
But Baker and his legal counsel, Attorney Michelle Halley of Marquette, maintain the Baker pigs have never caused an issue and that they’ve always stayed on the farm.
They’ve filed a complained within the 28th Circuit Court of Michigan and appeared July 12 for a hearing. A decision by the judge is pending, but the Baker family hopes the case goes to trial.
Baker said his pigs “have never gotten out,” and that when it comes to disease, they don’t carry any more diseases than modern swine.
“The disease issue, that’s a joke,” Baker said. “It’s almost kind of comical because the pork industry in Michigan is (wrought) with disease.”
But the pork industry sees it differently.
“Given the serious threat wild hogs pose to Michigan’s farmers, rural landowners and family businesses, we must defend and uphold Michigan’s ban on these destructive disease-carrying animals and close the door to all invasive species,” the Michigan Pork Producers Association said in a released statement.
“Just as we have banned possession of zebra mussels, Asian Carp and other invasive species that threaten our economy, we should ban possession of wild hogs which endanger thousands of jobs and Michigan’s entire agriculture sector,” the statement continues.
The Pork Association says other states are taking similar actions, including Ohio and Pennsylvania, in what it calls a nationwide problem.
The Department of Natural Resources, in a statement to clear up rumors about feral swine in Michigan, said “Feral swine are a problem for two main reasons: They can host many parasites and diseases that threaten humans, domestic livestock and wildlife; and they can cause extensive damage to forests, agricultural lands and Michigan’s water resources.”
The new law prohibits the possession of a “wild boar, wild hog, wild swine, feral pig, feral hog, feral swine, Old World swine, razorback, Eurasian wild boar, and Russian wild boar (Sus scrofa Linnaeus).”
The law does not affect swine involved in domestic hog production.
But the Bakers say the law doesn’t do enough to define domestic hogs. As they see it, their hogs are domesticated, because they “live under the husbandry of humans” and are not “feral,” a definition that applies to swine that are “free roaming or not under the husbandry of humans.”
They also take issue with the $700,000 levied against them, the DNR’s authority to enact such a penalty, and constitutional rights that protect against excessive fines.
Counsel writes in its complaint: “The Bakers’ farm pigs have never been feral. They have never escaped the farm. They are not diseased. Prohibiting the Bakers from maintaining their herd of farm pigs does absolutely nothing to address the State’s concerns about feral hogs.”
Other farmers who raise these types of swine, and some hunting preserves that keep these swine, have filed separate complaints.
The Michigan Farm Bureau, in its policy on game farms and hunting preserves, says it supports the new law and “supports the elimination of feral swine.”
The Farm Bureau, however, also supports “the continued development and implementation” of regulations on hunting facilities “that allow swine hunting.”