Farmer Allen Moe and his wife figured that raising hogs would be an easier way to make a living than milking cows twice a day.
Then the eagles came.Moe's pigs delivered their first batch of piglets this spring, on his farm about 5 miles east of the St. Croix River, where bald eagle numbers have been increasing in recent years.
Last week he noticed an eagle perched expectantly on a fence post near the pen where 30 sows had given birth to 157 baby pigs.
"I saw an eagle go off the post and grab a little pig and take off," Moe said. "That day we saw them take four of them."
Because the bird, the nation's symbol, remains a protected species despite its recent removal from the endangered ranks, Moe called the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, which sent an agent to his farm Monday. When Moe and the agent counted, they found only 90 piglets, each of which weigh about 3 pounds when born. And as the agent watched, Moe said, an eagle swooped down and took another. The agent also found pig carcasses under an elm tree in an adjacent field, he said.
He said the agent, Jason Suchow, warned him that if he shot or disturbed the eagles, he could face a felony charge for harassing a protected species.
"I don't blame the eagles, but by the same token, I guess you should be able to protect your property," said Moe, 43.
Suchow could not be reached, but his supervisor, Bob Willging, said Moe might be eligible for reimbursement from a state fund to pay for damage done by protected species. He said eagles previously had killed turkeys, and one other report was filed of an eagle absconding with a piglet. He said Moe could apply for a permit to allow him to scare off the eagles.
Marlys Bulander, a permit specialist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Minneapolis, was skeptical that eagles, which weigh 10 to 14 pounds each when mature, could consume more than 60 piglets within a few weeks. "There is no way they have eaten that many," she said.
Bulander said bald eagles are protected under several strict laws that prohibit anyone from interrupting their feeding. However, she said that if the Moes wanted to bang pans to scare off the eagles, "I don't think anyone is going to fault them" as long as they did not do it near an eagle nest.
The state also suggested Moe move the pigs into a shed nearer his barn, as most hog farmers do. His wife, Darlene, said they had planned to use profit earned on the pigs this year to build a pig hutch.
Moe said he is afraid that eagles with a taste for pork could cost him more than $10,000 invested in the hog operation.
"I don't see any way of stopping them short of shooting them, and they aren't going to let me do that," he said.