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A barn is an agricultural building used for storage and as a covered workplace. It may sometimes be used to house livestock or to store farming vehicles and equipment. Barns are most commonly found on a farm or former farm.

A barn meant for keeping cattle may be known as a byre.


The skeleton of a post and beam horse barn just after raising
Older barns were usually built from lumber sawn from timber on the farm, although stone barns were sometimes built in areas where stone was a cheaper building material.

Modern barns are more typically steel buildings. Prior to the 1900s, most barns were timber framed (also known as post and beam) forming very strong structures to withstand storms and heavy loads of animal feed. From about 1900 to 1940, many large dairy barns were built in northern USA. These commonly have gambrel or hip roofs to maximize the size of the hayloft above the dairy roof, and have become associated in the popular image of a dairy farm. The barns that were common to the wheatbelt held large numbers of pulling horses such as Clydesdales or Percherons. These large wooden barns, especially when filled with hay, could make spectacular fires that were usually total losses for the farmers. With the advent of balers it became possible to store hay and straw outdoors in stacks surrounded by a plowed fireguard. Many barns in the northern United Statesmarker are painted red with a white trim. One possible reason for this is that ferric oxide, which is used to create red paint, was the cheapest and most readily available chemical for farmers in New Englandmarker and nearby areas. Another possible reason is that ferric oxide acts a preservative and so painting a barn with it would help to protect the structure.

With the popularity of tractors following World War II many barns were taken down or replaced with modern Quonset huts made of plywood or galvanized steel. Beef ranches and dairies began building smaller loftless barns often of Quonset huts or of steel walls on a treated wood frame (old telephone or power poles). By the 1960s it was found that cattle receive sufficient shelter from trees or wind fences (usually wooden slabs 20% open).


In older style barns, the upper area was used to store hay and sometimes grain. This is called the mow (rhymes with cow) or the hayloft. A large door at the top of the ends of the barn could be opened up so that hay could be put in the loft. The hay was hoisted into the barn by a system containing pulleys and a trolley that ran along a track attached to the top ridge of the barn. Trap doors in the floor allowed animal feed to be dropped into the mangers for the animals.

In New Englandmarker it is common to find barns attached to the main farmhouse (connected farm architecture), allowing for chores to be done while sheltering the worker from the weather.

In the middle of the twentieth century the large broad roof of barns were sometimes painted with slogans in the United States. Most common of these were the 900 barns painted with ads for Rock Citymarker.

Barn Features

A farm often has pens of varying shapes and sizes used to shelter large and small animals. The pens used to shelter large animals are called stalls and are usually located on the lower floor. Other common areas, or features, of a typical barn include:
  • a tack room (where bridles, saddles, etc. are kept), often set up as a breakroom
  • a feed room, where animal feed is stored - not typically part of a modern barn where feed bales are piled in a stackyard
  • a drive bay, a wide corridor for animals or machinery
  • a silo where fermented grain or hay (called ensilage or haylage) is stored.
  • a milkhouse for dairy barns; an attached structure where the milk is collected and stored prior to shipment
  • a grain (soy, corn, etc) bin for dairy barns, found in the mow and usually made of wood with a chute to the ground floor providing access to the grain, making it easier to feed the cows.
  • modern barns often contain an indoor corral with a squeeze chute for providing veterinary treatment to sick animals.


The physics unit "barn", which is a unit of exceedingly small area, was named for the "barn", given the surprisingly large size of this property for a particular element.

Barn idioms

  • "He couldn't hit the broad side of a barn" is a popular expression for a person having poor aim when throwing an object or when shooting at something.
  • To "lock the barn door after the horse has bolted" implies that one has solved a problem too late to prevent it.
  • "Were you raised in a barn?" is an accusation used differently in various parts of the English-speaking world, but most common as a reprimand when someone exhibits poor manners by either using ill-mannered language (particularly if related to manure), or leaving doors open.
  • "Your barn door is open" is used as a euphemism to remind someone to zip the fly of their trousers.

Types of Barn or Farm Building

  • Stable
  • Barn conversion
  • Bank barn
  • Barn raising
  • Barnyard
  • Carriage house/Cart Shed
  • Combination Barn - found throughout England, especially in areas of pastoral farming
  • Dairies
  • Dovecote - built to house pigeons, which provided variety to the diets of high-status households and a rich source of manure. Examples survive from the medieval period.
  • Dutch barn
  • Farmhouse
  • Functionally classified barn
  • Granary - to store grain
  • Linhay - to store hay on the first floor with either cattle on the ground floor (Cattle Linhay), or farm machinery (cart linhay). Characterised by an open front with regularly spaced posts or pillars.
  • Longhouse an ancient form of cattle building, with the same entrance for people as well
  • Oast houses - used for drying hops as part of the brewing process.
  • Round barn
  • Round House - an extension to a Threshing barn. It contained a horse driven engine, used to power a Threshing machine. Sometimes called a wheel house. Water power and wind power were also used to drive the machine, and by the 1850s portable steam engine machines were used. Horse-engines, original threshing or winnowing machines are exceptionally rare.
  • barn
  • Shelter sheds - open fronted structures for stock
  • Shippon - houses oxen and cattle. Has fodder storage above, regularly spaced doors on yard side, a pitching door or window on the first floor.
  • Stable -historical building had a hayloft on the first floor and a pitching door at the front. After the barn, this is typically historically the second oldest building on the farm.
  • Tobacco barn
  • Tithe barn - a type of barn used in much of northern Europe in the Middle Ages for storing the tithes - a tenth of the farm's produce which had to be given to the church
  • Threshing barn - for the processing and storage of cereals, to keep them in dry conditions. Characterised by large double doors in the centre one side, a smaller one on the other. Storage for cereal harvest or unprocessed on either side. In England the grain was beaten from the crop by flails and then separated from the husks by winnowing between these doors. The design of these typically remained unchanged between the 12th and 19th centuries. The large doors allow for a horse wagon to be driven through, the smaller ones allow for the sorting of sheep and other stock in the spring and summer.

Historic Farm Buildings

Old farm buildings of the Countryside contribute to the landscape, and help define the history of the location, i.e. how farming was carried out in the past, and how the area has been settled throughout the ages. They also can show the agricultural methods, building materials , and skills that were used. Most were built with materials reflecting the local geology of the area. Building methods include earth walling and thatching.

Buildings in stone and brick, roofed with tile or slate, increasingly replaced buildings in clay, timber and thatch from the later 18th century. Metal roofs started to be used from the 1850s. The arival of canals and railways brough about transportation of building materials over greater distances.

Clues determining their age and historical use can be found from old maps, sale documents, estate plans and visually inspecting the building itself, e.g. reused timbers, former floors, partitions, doors and windows.

The arrangement of the buildings within the 'Farmstead' can also yield valuable information on the historical farm usage and landscape value.Linear Farmsteads were typical of small farms, where there was an advantage to having cattle and fodder within one building, due to the colder climate. Dispersed clusters of unplanned groups were more widespread. Loose courtyard plans built around a yard were associated with bigger farms, whereas carefully designed courtyard plans were designed to minimise waste and labour - were built in the latter part of the 18th century.

The barns are typically the oldest and biggest buildings to be found on the farm. Many barns were converted into cow houses and fodder processing and storage buildings after the 1880s.

The stable is typically the second oldest building type on the farm. They were well built and placed near the house due to the value that the horses had as draught animals

Modern granaries were built from the 18th centuries. Complete granary interiors, with plastered walls and wooden partitioning to grain bins, are very rare.

Longhouses are an ancient building where people and animals used the same entrance. These are very rare.

Few interiors of the 19th century cow houses have survived unaltered due to dairy hygiene regulations in many countries.

Old farm buildings may show the following signs of deterioration: rotting in timber framed contructions due to damp, cracks in the masonary from movement of the walls, e.g. ground movement,roofing problems (e.g. outward thrust of it, deterioration of purlins and gable ends), Foundation problems, penetration of tree roots; lime mortar being washed away due to inadequate weather, Walls made of cob, earth mortars or walls with rubble cores are all highly vulnerable to water penetration, and replacement or covering of breathable materials with cement or damp proofing materials trap the moisture within the walls; ,

In Englandmarker and Walesmarker some of these historical buildings have been given Listed building status, which provides them some degree of archaeological protection.

Some grant schemes are available to restore Historic Farmland buildings, for example Natural Englands Environmental Stewardship, Countryside Stewardship and Environmentally Sensitive Areas Schemes


  2. The Barn Guide by South Hams District Council
  3. Historic Environment Local Management Website
  4. The Conversion of Traditional Farm Buildings: A guide to good practice, by English Heritage.
  5. First Aid Repair to Traditional Farm Buildings produced by the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings gives useful guidance
  6. How to deal with damp produced by the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings gives useful guidance

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