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Devastating Losses From Wildfires for Texas Family

Mary Kennedy
By  Mary Kennedy , DTN Basis Analyst
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Pictured is one of the buildings lost in the wildfires at Rival Genetics farm outside of Canadian, Texas, and the barn where Tatum Swenhaugen and her brother kept their show pigs when they were growing up. (Photos courtesy of Tatum Swenhaugen)

The Swenhaugen family in Canadian, Texas, lost two rural homes and most of a swine operation when they were hit last week by the largest fire in Texas history, the Smokehouse Creek Fire. But the outpouring of help along with their faith is seeing them through the loss.

"Our home is still standing, but my childhood home where my mom and brother live at the farm and my dad's home up the road are both gone. We lost the majority of all of our buildings at the farm along with part of our livestock," Tatum Swenhaugen told DTN on March 2.

She and her husband Shane, along with their young son Bexton, live in the town of Canadian, Texas, and have a swine operation, Rival Genetics, outside of town. Here is her story -- in her own words -- of what she and her family went through before and after the fire hit.



It started Monday evening toward Perryton (northwest of Canadian about 45 miles), and we have some families there that we help with their show pigs, so we went over there to check on their pigs. My mom called me and said the fires were getting bad and they may close the roads, so we went back home and grabbed a few things in case we needed to leave in the night.

We made it through the night, but the winds were blowing pretty bad on Tuesday; 60 miles per hour with gusts of 70 to 80 mph. Shane and I were going to take our son to my mom's so we could go to the farm, because we had semen arriving to breed the pigs and also to feed them.

Then they called and said they were planning to evacuate. I was loading up the car with some things and my dad called and said we needed to leave and head toward Shamrock. My mom, Bexton and I headed out, but Shane stayed back, planning to load the piglets born in February in case the fire came, and we could at least save the babies.

Shane hooked up the trailer and then my mom got a call that the fire was at the airport which, as the crow flies, was right in line and about two miles from our farm. My dad and brother started heading that way and saw the fire. So, they went to tell Shane there was no time to load anything, meaning we had to leave all of our pigs. Shane left the pickup and trailer on the road at our farm and got in the pickup with my brother and my dad followed.

They had to cut through our neighbor's pasture and take lease roads and by the grace of God they found a wheatfield, which I had no idea even existed, on Texas State HWY 33 south of Canadian. They drove out to the middle of the wheat field that was greening coming out of dormancy and sat there for three to four hours while everything around them burned.

My mom and Bexton and I evacuated to Wheeler, Texas, with my grandparents and then they evacuated Wheeler, so we moved on to Shamrock and spent the night. It was there we got the news that my mom's house burned down, and my dad's house burned down. They lost everything except the clothes they had packed that day. We have been through fire threats so many times before that we only packed what we needed for a few days. As for our home in Canadian, we were fortunate that it was unscathed but have heard about 30 homes in one area of town had burned down. It is just so sad.


Late Tuesday night into Wednesday, Shane and my dad and brother went to the farm to assess what we had lost. By the grace of God, the building with the sows and new babies was still standing. We have had trouble finding hay and had there been more than what was in the back three pens, which was smoldering, we probably could have lost more sows. We did have the fire department come out and water it down.

We had a litter of eight from February in that building and it was amazing to see the insulation inside had burned and then stopped. If you could see the inside, you can't believe that the whole place didn't burn down. So, God was definitely watching over them.

On Wednesday, the sows and the February babies were loaded up and taken to a friend's place in White Deer until we could get started up again. We did lose one of the new babies who was having trouble breathing and didn't respond to the medication. We also lost 25 of our November babies that were in one of the buildings that burned down and 13 gilts that were in another building. It is tough, but we will be OK.

The other babies will be treated with a water-driven medicator to administer antibiotics and the sows will be monitored. If they start to cough, we will administer medications.

We ended up losing two barns, one birthing building and there are repairs that need to be made in the outbuildings. We know it will take time to rebuild, but today (March 3), a group of guys from Olton, Texas, down by Lubbock, showed up with big equipment and a semi with a trailer for the debris. We had two families near town that had lost their show barns and part of the crew had already stopped and completely cleaned up one place before coming to our place. I have about 40 people at the farm today helping us clean up and there are at least 25 of them that I don't know.

Besides the help here cleaning up, we were given eight tons of feed that will be kept at the feed store in Pampa or at White Deer until we get back on our feet. We also received offers of sows that were already bred and other replacement females to have when we get back up and running. I just cannot believe the outpouring of love we are experiencing.

I have always believed that the livestock industry is incredible and especially when things happen, people reach out.


There is a GoFundMe set up for the Swenhaugen family to help them rebuild and Tatum Swenhaugen said any leftover money will be given to the families near town that had lost their show barns. (….) The Rival grass fire relief fund was organized by Nick Albracht, who wrote on the site, "The Swenhaugen family has been a pillar in the west Texas community through 4-H and FFA. They are local pig farmers who lost almost everything in the west Texas grassfires. They will need help replacing infrastructure and livestock. Any amount will help. Please come together to help this great family."

As we finished the interview, I couldn't resist bringing up how amazing it was that her husband and brother and dad survived in the middle of a wheat field! I told her how wheat always gets a bad rap as far as markets go and having been a wheat trader much of my life, I am always defending it. We both laughed, and she agreed when I said that I love wheat even more now!

Swenhaugen ended the interview by saying, "I just want to reiterate that the outpouring of love from all over the country is amazing. It is unbelievable. She added, "God is so good ... He is so good."


Editor's Note: USDA is holding informational meetings on March 5 and 6 for ranchers and livestock producers affected by wildfires. More information is below, along with past DTN stories with links for more assistance or to give donations.


For Whom: Ranchers, livestock producers, and landowners that have experienced loss of forage, agricultural improvements infrastructure, and livestock due to the recent wildfires.

Purpose: NRCS and FSA employees will present options for recovery including, information on the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), the Livestock Indemnity Program (LIP), and the Emergency Assistance Livestock Program (ELAP), as well as other disaster recovery options available to farmers and ranchers. Additionally, how to properly document wildfire losses will be covered.

Times and Locations:

Canadian: Tuesday, March 5, 1:30 pm

Hemphill County Exhibition Center -- Sage Room

10865 Exhibition Lane Rd, Canadian, TX 79014


Borger: Wednesday, March 6 at 1:30 pm

Amarillo National Bank of Borger -- Rig Room on 3rd floor

301 W 6th St, Borger, TX 79007

For more information, contact your local USDA Service Center:

Carson: (806) 537-3504

Gray: (806) 665-1751

Hansford: (806) 659-2330

Hutchinson: (806) 878-2241

Hemphill: (806) 323-6752

Roberts: (806) 868-3531

Wheeler: (806) 826-3565


To see more links to resources for people affected by the wildfires or how to offer donations to help, "Donations Needed as Farmers, Ranchers Recover From Wildfires, Worry About Weather Outlook,"…

See more DTN coverage of the wildfires:

-- "Kindness Brings Hope After Texas Fire,"…

-- "Widespread Wildfires Force Evacuations in High Plains as Hundreds of Thousands of Acres Affected,"…

Mary Kennedy can be reached at

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