Barns and their many uses

Listening to the scripture of the birth of Jesus during this Christmas season, I felt again what a beautiful story it is. It seems to me that if you’ve ever given birth, it is all the more awesome that baby Jesus was born in a manger.

The barn on the farm where I grew up had a manger, so I understand what that means, except that manger was part of the lower level of the barn, not free-standing like the one at Bethlehem. Our manger was much longer and was next to a pen inside the barn so we could put hay–thrown down from the hay mow just above–in the manger for the animals in the pen.

My favorite feature of the manger, though, was the litters of kittens generally found there, often more than one, depending on the season of the year. While the mother cats were easy enough to find in the manger, it was their kittens that we hoped to discover without disturbing them too much.

That barn was nothing spectacular, as barns go, and it’s gone now, but its design was functional and efficient. It was where we bottle-fed stubborn Holstein calves and my dad milked Holstein cows while the cats waited patiently in the milk house for their share of the fresh milk. Later the milking parlor was converted to farrowing pigs.

I saw plenty of barns as I crossed several Midwestern states on Interstate 80 during the recent holiday run. Not on every farm, of course. Although we’re losing barns that aren’t being replaced, they aren’t extinct as far as I can tell. Tracking them on the farms along the interstate is certainly a much better way to ease the boredom of a long drive than counting the semi-trucks and billboards along the way.

There are many styles of traditional barns, built for what was needed on the farm at the time. I found that the first round barn was built in Iowa in 1867, and there are still several polyganol barns in Iowa. (In case you don’t know, that’s a barn with 16 sides.) It’s interesting that the owner would put up such an intricately designed building more than a century ago, without the modern tools and technology we have today.

It seems like Iowa is doing pretty well in keeping our barns, as I noticed on my last trip. It wasn’t unusual to see a barn dressed up with a barn quilt, either. Just like people, some barns are built for work and others more for show, like the ones that have been renovated to host dances and wedding receptions and even weddings.

I wonder what the builders of those barns would think about that if they knew how their barns may be used now.