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Dome home built for pigs – but other uses springing up

SASKATOON – With an off-farm job in the winter, 45 cows and 1,200 acres of crop, Ken Serviss doesn’t have much time to shovel manure.

But the mixed farmer from Ethelton, Sask., likes to keep a few pigs, and he likes to keep them outside. That way, shoveling is kept to a minimum.

When the weather turns cold, the animals can take shelter in the old barn, but then that nasty cleaning problem raises its ugly head.

Serviss said he was lying in bed one night last winter when a solution came to him. He had been thinking about an experimental shelter using the top half of an old sprayer tank. Specifically, he was pondering how the pigs were attracted to its dome-like shape.

“I thought of a pigloo,” he said, unconsciously altering an Inuit word for farm purposes.

It has taken a year for Serviss’ idea of an igloo for pigs to become reality. In August of last year, he took it to the engineers at Free Form Plastic Products Inc. in St. Brieux, Sask. Besides making the sprayer tanks for Bourgault Industries, Serviss said the firm has a reputation for being willing to work with local inventors.

Engineers at the firm found inherent advantages in the igloo shape: In cold weather the domes reflect heat into the centre of the shelter. The shape minimizes exterior surface area and accompanying heat loss. It also resists wind, requiring less anchoring, and its tunnel entrance creates a static pressure zone that makes it hard for cold drafts to get in.

For Serviss, however, the pigloo’s biggest benefit is its open bottom. When it needed to be cleaned out, “you just move it to new ground and throw in a couple of bales of straw.”

The pigloos, which are 1.5 metres high (five feet) and 2.1 m (seven feet) in diameter, give 3.3 square m (36 square feet) of shelter. That’s enough for six full-grow pigs or 20 weanlings. Entrances are 85 centimetres (32 inches) high.

And since a pigloo weighs only 36 kilograms (80 pounds), one person can move it.

As with any good invention, modifications have been made. Serviss said the first pigloos had no vent in the dome. In cold weather especially, the pigloos stay warm and humidity builds up. “The pigs came out just wringing wet,” he recalled.

Newer versions have a twist vent built into the dome, which Serviss said should cure the humidity problem.

His invention is catching the attention of pig producers, but some prospective buyers speculate they could be used for doghouses, ice-fishing huts and sandbox covers. One of the first sales was a bright pink pigloo, ordered by a neighbor for the kids to use as a playhouse.

Serviss said farm supply stories aren’t interested in his pigloos. For now, he’ll be selling them himself.

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