Minnesota barns

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Minnesota barn types

The following summaries appear in "Historic Context Study of Minnesota Farms, 1820-1960" Granger & Kelly 2005, MNDOT.

Beef Barns

  • Often called feeder barns 
  • Built from about 1890 through the post-World War II period 
  • Tall, fully-enclosed beef barns included storage for hay and feed inside; many had attached silos 
  • One-story semi-open and open barns had openings facing south and east to maximize sunlight but protect from winds 
  • Beef barns often had large openings to allow cattle to move in and out freely 
  • Most beef barns were framed with dimensional lumber, with pole barns becoming popular after World War II 
  • Metal siding became especially popular after World War II 

Dairy Barns

  • A few dedicated dairy barns were built in Minnesota as early as the 1860s 
  • Most pre-1960 dairy barns were either stall barns or, less often, loose housing barns
  • Two-story barns are characteristic of cold-climate dairying but were a fire hazard
  • A few Minnesota dairy barns were one-story before World War II
  • Most stall barns had two rows of stanchions; facing the cows in or out both had advantages
  • Loose housing grew after a University of Wisconsin study began in 1941
  • Round and polygonal barns were more popular in the Midwest than in other areas; an estimated 170-180 were built in Minnesota; about 70-75 were standing in 2001
  • Field hay balers and choppers became affordable in the early 1940s, as did blowers and mechanical conveyors to move the hay up to the loft
  • Feed and litter carriers were developed in the 1890s and paddle-type gutter cleaners date from about 1950
  • Many farmers bought their first milking machines between 1915 and 1925, but they weren’t widespread until after electrification 

General Purpose or Combination Barns

  • The most common type of barn historically built on Minnesota farms
  • Almost always included, at a minimum, housing for dairy cows and horses
  • Especially associated with the diversification of Minnesota farms, 1880-1960
  • Sizes ranged from very small two-horse, two-cow buildings to large L-shaped barns 

Hay Barns or Sheds

  • An alternative to storing hay in a haystack or livestock barn
  • In use by the late 19th century
  • Threat of fire was a significant reason to build a separate hay barn
  • Hay barns or sheds could be open, partly-open, or fully-enclosed
  • Field hay barns were one of few major structures located outside of the farmstead cluster  
  • Field pickup balers were first used in the late 1930s and became widespread in the 1940s

Hog Barns

  • Hogs were usually sheltered farthest from the farmhouse
  • Hog housing could be either permanent or portable
  • Permanent houses ranged from simple shelters to barns with central alleys and lofts
  • By the 1920s portable or “colony” houses were helping control soil-borne diseases
  • Confinement systems were first used in Minnesota in the 1940s

Horse Barns

  • Horses were the primary source of mechanical power until about 1920, and were used on Minnesota farms until the mid-1950s     
  • In 1930 most Minnesota farms kept five to seven horses
  • On small farms, horses were kept with dairy cows or in a general purpose barn
  • Farms with more than 5-6 horses sometimes housed them in a separate horse barn          

Milking Barns

  • Usually found on farms using a pen barn with loose housing     
  • Uncommon before 1950

Sheep Barns

  • Barns designed specifically for sheep were not common in Minnesota     
  • Except when lambing, sheep needed little shelter and were often raised with only makeshift winter protection
  • Sheep barns often resembled beef barns with open sides but with more interior partitions
  • Two-story barns offered storage for hay and bedding; one-story barns often required a nearby storage structure

Threshing Barns

  • Threshing barns were built in Minnesota between the 1850s and the time of farm diversification, which began in the 1870s in Southeastern Minnesota  
  • Most threshing barns were timber frame, three-bay structures with a central drive
  • After diversification, the three-bay form persisted, often as a raised, three-bay barn
  • Most threshing barns were built in southeastern Minnesota

Tobacco Barns

  • Gable-roofed sheds with good air circulation for drying tobacco
  • Built largely in central Minnesota; survivors are likely rare today