Pig Health - Fires on the Pig Farm
By Mark White BVSc LLB DPM MRCVS
This bulletin was written between 2000-2006 and is currently being updated, you should be aware that some of the details may have changed since publishing
Unfortunately indoor pig farms appear quite vulnerable to fire, particularly as many buildings are panel constructed and the materials used are highly combustible. In addition, very few pig farms in the UK now do not use straw and this is often stored for convenience close to buildings. The vulnerability of straw stacks to fire makes this proximity to buildings highly dangerous.
The causes of farm fires can be split into several broad categories:-
1) Natural e.g. due to lightening strike or ignition of straw by, for example, glass magnifying sunlight.
2) Accidental. Electrical faults, sows knocking creeps and igniting bedding with dislodged lamps or gas heaters and lamp drop (particularly 250w IR bulbs) onto floors can all set off fires.
3) Stupidity. Bonfires lit too close to buildings, maintenance work generating sparks (e.g. bedding) and use of flame guns to clean floors close to inflammable materials have all been implicated as causes of fires on farm.
4) Deliberate. Arson is most commonly encountered as a result of children playing in straw stacks but may also result from the activities of disgruntled ex staff, neighbours or just pyromaniacs. Occasionally, insurance scams involve setting fires to pig buildings.
Dealing with the fire
Consideration should be given as part of a planning exercise as to how to deal with fire. Many units will have extinguishers, which can cope with small fire but many farms do not have sufficient water pressure to deal with a major incident. Bigger vulnerable units may well need their own or access to a reservoir of some form. The siting of straw stacks should be given careful thought.
When a fire occurs, the natural instinct of stockmen is to try and get pigs out and, whilst this is a commendable attitude, there are major problems to consider.
1) Opening doors will often fan the fire.
2) Electricity may still be on and if water pipes have melted the building can be live.
3) Smoke and poisonous fumes may well already fill the building, making it dangerous to enter.
4) Pigs do not naturally move away from fire - in fact they will tend to be attracted to it and it can be very difficult to drive them out, increasing the dangers.
5) Release of pigs into the yard area around buildings can create a hindrance to firemen. Bare in mind that few firemen are familiar with pigs and many are actually scared of them, particularly sows. The fire brigade cannot attend a fire if they do not have unimpeded access.
Pigs damaged by fire represent both a humane and a financial disaster, although with respect to the latter it is usually one aspect that is actually covered by insurance on farm.
Any pig that has suffered burns require humane destruction as the facilities available in the normal farm for treating burns do not exist. Pigs also appear to be seriously affected by smoke and fume inhalation, with many apparently recovered animals dying within 24-48 hours. From an economic point of view, smoke damaged pigs stop growing and will often turn into "screws" if not despatched.
The veterinary surgeon attending the fire site will make the appropriate decision for each circumstance but, as a general rule, any pigs that have been significantly affected by smoke should be destroyed on humane grounds or slaughtered immediately (within 24 hours) if large enough and if viewed by the veterinary surgeon to be fit enough to be transported. The slowed growth, inevitable upsurge of secondary disease, compounding the lack of accommodation following a fire will only add to the suffering of the pigs and the economic loss.