family history, History

History in the Barn

Dairy farming has been a long tradition in my family ever since the Fredericks came to America in the 1870s (my brother and I are the first on our branch to break tradition). It is extraordinary to think how much farm mechanization has changed in 140 plus years my family has been in this country. Our dairy barn has some remnants of the old mechanical devices formerly used by dairy farmers.

North Facade
North Facade

The dairy barn’s structure has changed dramatically over the years. Our barn was built with a mortise and tenon frame, which required a lot of skilled woodworkers to build. As time went on, constructing barns in this fashion gave way to the cheaper plank frame. The open-style hayloft of the plank frame barns made movement of hay in the loft faster; free from obstruction of mortise and tenon framing.

Mortise & Tennon
Mortise & Tenon

Inside the barn were special mechanical devices to make the farm work easier. Most of these devices have long since been removed. A lot of barns, including ours, had a hay carrier in the loft area. A long rail ran the length of the barn and out a large door at one end. Hay was brought to the barnyard (loose or baled form), and the hay forks were lowered to the hay, hoisted up, and shuttled  into the barn. All that remains of our hay carrier is the rail and trolley; an electric bale conveyor was installed to replace the old carrier. Click here for more information on this technology.

Hay carrier rail at the peak of the barn.
Hay carrier rail at the peak of the barn.
South Peak & Door
South Peak & Door

Example of a Hay Carrier

Our barn also used to have a few other old items you cannot find in a modern dairy barn. There used to be a manure carrier running  the length and out of the barn. It was essentially a tub suspended from a rail that could be moved around the barn, loaded up with manure, and transported out of the barn. Mechanized barn cleaners eventually replaced this system of cleaning the barn. Before we gutted our barn, there used to be stanchions for locking in our dairy cows. The cows would put their heads through a headlock, and then we went to each stanchion to manually lock them in.

Click the picture to see more products used in dairy barns.

There were many other tools and equipment used in dairy barns. Milking has drastically changed in 100 years. My Grandpa Frederick once told me that he started off with less than a dozen cows. Now dairy farms are milking thousands of cows using automated milking technology. Little dairy farms are disappearing; small-scale milking operations do not pay well. Nevertheless, it is very interesting to look inside these old buildings to see how a farmer made his living.

Do you have an old dairy barn? What sort of old tools are still equipped in your barn? Has your dairy farm been in the family for generations?


7 thoughts on “History in the Barn”

  1. Wonderful article Austin. We have our old barn on the farm yet. It is now part of the Iowa barn foundation. My great grandfather built it in 1921 and used it to house the dairy herd and all of the horse teams. He wanted all of his chores under one roof so the barn is 113 feet long and 45 foot tall. Very neat building. We need to get a full history put together on it along with some detailed pictures.

    1. Jim,

      Thank you for your kind words! That sounds really interesting. Do you still have things like the hay carrier or manure rail in it?

      1. I have the hay fork and carrier, the track is in the barn yet. There was a litter carrier in the back stall but is gone now. We do have the litter carrier track in the hog house yet and we have the carrier also. There is a device in the barn that was a local invention. The “hay mower”. Designed and built in local Luana Iowa. I do have some literature for it. You and the wife gotta come this way sometime and I will give you the grand A-C and farm tour.
        Heres some pictures.

  2. We have even older jamesway stanchions. Both up rights were all wood. Our barn had the manure carrier. The stanchions ran crossways to the barn, 9 cows on a side and the rail had switches at each ally

  3. In one of our old barns,took out an old stanchion JAMESWAY STAMPED AND 2328. Could you let me know the year mfg,thankyou Chippewa Falls WI

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