Background: The concept of a dairy barn, a building specially designed to accommodate milk cows, is a relatively recent innovation in agricultural construction. For instance, in the northern Midwest barns specifically designed for dairy farming were developed only in the late nineteenth century. During the last quarter of the nineteenth century the Agricultural Experiment Station at the University of Wisconsin began promoting a barn better suited for the growing dairy industry of the state. The most common early twentieth century dairy barns were the one-story cow stable, with feed stored in a separate building, and the two-story barn, in which the feed was stored on the floor over the cows.

Hay fork. Abraham Cyrus Barn, Cyrus, West Virginia.

The evolution of the dairy barn occurred partly in response to the need to store more feed for animals to accommodate larger herd sizes. A significant development was the invention of the hay fork and hay carrier during the second half of the nineteenth century. The hay fork was the first of the two inventions. It grabbed hold of hay and was lifted by a pulley mechanism to the hay mow (Figure 2.3). A jerk on the rope caused the hay to be released. The hay carrier, developed by William Louden, a young Iowa inventor, was described by him in an advertisement: It elevates the hay perpendicularly any height, then conveys it horizontally to the back of the longest mow and returns the Fork back to the load without a single effort of the Pitcher. With Louden's invention there was less need for either low barns or barns with high drives to enable a hay wagon to gain entrance to the hay mow.

A second development that influenced the form of the dairy barn was the invention of the hay baler. During the late 1800s and early 1900s, hay balers were developed to bale the hay to reduce the space necessary to store it. In connection with baled hay, hay elevators came into widespread use to transport baled hay into the mow (Figure 2.3)

Hay elevator.

The evolution of barn framing accelerated in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century in response to the need for more hay storage. This evolution is discussed in substantial detail in Lowell Soike's essay, "Within All: Midwest Barns Perfected." As noted in Chapter One, early barns were constructed of heavy timber hewn or sawn into square members and raised as bents. A transitional technology, developed in the 1880s, saw bents constructed out of dimensioned lumber. By the early 1900s, balloon-framed barn construction had emerged. Soike described the evolution of Joseph Wing's "joist-frame" later known as the braced-rafter roof: In Wing's new roof, each set of rafters forming the gambrel received two braces, one running from the wall at the mow floor up to the midpoint of the lower rafter and another extending upward from there across the gambrel, to near the ridge…Cheap to buy and easily built, braced-rafter construction became the recommended standard for barns up to thirty-six feet in width

Dairy Barn Terminology

Barn Cleaner. An electrical powered mechanism installed in the barn gutters using chain-drive powered paddles to remove manure from the barn.

Bulk Tank. A central refrigerated holding tank for milk produced in the barn.

Hood. A projection of the gable, gambrel or roof arch peak intended to provide protection for the end of the hay track (see).

Washington State barn with prominent hay hood.

Milking Parlor. A room attached to or within a barn in which cows are milked, usually confined with stanchions (see).

Mow. The space in the upper level of the barn in which hay was stored.

Stanchions. A series of steel bars that serve to restrain a cow in order that she can be milked.

(from National Archives, USDA records)

Track. A steel guideway attached to the interior of the gable peak of the barn upon which the hay carrier/hay fork moves.

Ventilator. A means of exhausting air through the peak of the barn roof. Often this ventilators are elaborated, either as cupolas, or as fancy sheet metal cosntructions.

Ventilator, Cheyenne, Wyoming

Barn cupola

Additional Sources of Information

Cleaver, Thayer and Robert G. Yeck. Loose Housing for Dairy Cattle.Agriculture Information Bulletin 98. Washington: Government Printing Office, n.d.

Kelly, M.A.R.Principles of Dairy-Barn Ventilation. Farmers' Bulletin 1393. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1924.