Not many forces on earth are more tied to the mystical realm than fire. Prometheus brought it to humans in Europe so they could cook their food and have an easier life. Fire myths are associated with the control of fire to make life more bearable as a human. We get to cook our food, be warm, and ward off predators. Controlling something as powerful as fire is what really differentiates us from the rest of the food chain. I remember my shock at seeing one of the great apes - a bonobo - make a fire, because of how human it made the ape.
On the farm, we harness the power of fire to keep animals warm, keep our house heated, and run machinery. We always try to design our shelters and houses so we have to use the minimum of fossil fuel to keep things heated, but for animals recently born, a bit of external heat helps to keep the small critters comfy and healthy. We’ve used propane brooder hovers and electric heat bulbs for the last ten years with varying degrees of success, but we’ve always had control over the heat they generate.
We recently lost control of our fire. We’ve heard of many people having brooder fires, barn fires from hay, and other fire calamities. Our piglet farrowing house was built into a shipping container that we insulated and divided into four open birthing pens with access to the outside. We use straw for bedding, and last week, one of our heat lamps must have fallen into the straw and started a fire. In its all-consuming fashion, the fire took over in the whole container, and burned up the wood and insulation in the floor and walls of the pens we built
Thankfully, all of our sows who were housed inside made it out alive. Two other sows had litters the following day, and they’ve been doing OK. We lost all of the materials and labor we had in making the container into a small farrowing facility. Part of what we love about shipping containers, though, is their modularity - this one is ruined, but the fire was fully contained, and we can scrap it and move another in its place if we want.
Why did we build farrowing pens indoors in the first place? We’ve tried letting sows do their thing on pasture, and we've had those moms who can do it well, and those who can’t. Plus, even in the summer, if pigs farrow outside and it rains, we lose piglets. A small, mobile shelter that can handle the rigors of weather and 500 lb sows exists in the UK, but not here other than huge heavy wooden DIY versions. So, once again, our ideas and labor have been wiped back to a clean slate, like so much soil washed off farms in last year’s rains.
Just like the decision to stop raising chickens after those rains, this will factor into choices made moving forward. Nature has a way of reminding us of poor discretion, and this time nobody was seriously hurt. Zero-energy input mobile farrowing shelters are in our future, as is a better system overall for raising pigs outdoors. For now, we will work with what we have while the sun shines, and prepare for keeping pigs warm next winter. As the green begins to push through the earth, and the buds swell on the trees, enjoy the chance for another year of nature’s lessons - the good and the bad - all part of growth towards resiliency.