Ag secretary threatens to call in feds to end great pig escape

ORANGE, Vt. (WCAX) Vermont agriculture officials are issuing an ultimatum in the town of Orange's great pig escape -- round up the animals or else.

It's been almost a month since dozens of pigs escaped from the Sugar Mountain Farm in Orange. The farmer, Walter Jeffries, has been working to round up the animals. But some pigs are still out of their pens and at least one neighbor is feeling the effects.

"I would like to start by saying that I am not anti-pig farm. I eat pork, I get it. I'm not even opposed to a pig farm next door, but it has to stay next door," said Brian O'Meara, Jeffries neighbor.

O'Meara has lived on the Riddel Pond Road in Orange since the mid 1970s. He says the farmer up the road has been a good neighbor. But as he points to a large section of lawn torn up by the pigs, you can hear a little bit of despair in his voice. "They are rolling the sod and they are just destroying areas of the lawn there. That has to be repaired, second year in a row," he said.

We spoke with Jeffries a week ago as he lured two sows from O'Meara's property and he claimed they were 99 percent contained.

The pigs escaped from their pens August 12th. Ever since then, boars, sows, and piglets have been spotted up and down the road. Jeffries claims someone burglarized his property and purposefully sabotaged the fences. Vermont State Police are investigating the claims.

On Thursday hired help was at the farm trying to get more animals contained, but multiple pig sightings continue every day.

"We understand it's a very difficult situation for him and we're sympathetic with that, but this has gone on long enough," said Vermont Agriculture Secretary Anson Tebbetts.

State officials have now set a deadline. If all the pigs are not rounded up by September 10th, USDA wildlife trappers will be called in to get the rest. "Domestic pigs, if they become feral or wild, they can be very destructive to the environment. They can destroy habitat, they can destroy crops, they can destroy lots of things in the environment as well," Tebbetts said.

Vermont is one of a handful of states that does not have a wild or feral pig population. O'Meara, who is a maple sugar farmer, hopes it stays that way. But he grows more concerned every day he spots another pig in his yard. "The acorns, the apples, the beach nuts -- they are all dropping fruit, and these pigs aren't going to have to go home for a pail of bread. They can live in the wild," he said.

If trappers are called in, it will be up to them to determine what to do with the pigs after they are caught. Vermont agriculture officials warn that the process could take several more weeks.