Barn Designs Allow Flexible, Efficient Work

Use flexible barn designs and barn plans to create an efficient bank barn that allows you to drive into the upper level.

  • The large doors on the ground level of this bank barn in Maryland provides access to stalls and work areas, while the upper levels are accessed through doors up the hill on the other side.
    Photo by Francis
  • An interior view of a bank barn shows the spacious upper level and loft that can be filled with feed and fodder.
    Photo by Andrew Weidman
  • Many older bank barns are still in use.
    Photo by Fotolia/fallesen
  • A newly constructed bank barn in Newville, Pennsylvania, was built with stone and wood by B&D Builders based in Ronks, Pennsylvania.
    Photo courtesy B&D Builders;

The bank barn

Farming is hard work, without a doubt. Another job always needs to be done, with too few hours left in the day and too few days in the week. This is especially true if you also hold down a full-time job, as so many small-scale farmers do. Efficiency, labor and timesaving devices can make or break your operation, and the right barn will go a long way toward helping you get it all done.

Part of the solution could be a Pennsylvania bank barn, especially in locations where winters tend to be harsh. German immigrants began building these barns more than three centuries ago when they arrived in Pennsylvania, and many of the earliest barns are still in use today. Bank barns were designed to maximize production while minimizing effort, and they’re just as efficient today as they were 300 years ago. With lofty upper-story haymows and granaries, they can hold enough feed and fodder to last through even the harshest winters, while keeping livestock warm and secure in the lower floor.

Efficient construction

A bank barn’s signature feature is in its construction, built into the side of a bank or low hill. If no bank is available, an earthen man-made hill can take its place, with ground floor access to both levels. More to the point, it allows drive-in access to the upper level.

The beauty of this arrangement first becomes apparent at harvest time. Loaded hay wagons can be driven inside the central bay in the hill-sided back entrance of the barn, then unloaded into the mows without the need for a hay elevator or hay hook. With a little determination and a couple of farm hands, you can fill an entire mow to the roof completely by hand. That is, assuming you use small, easily manhandled square bales. If an unexpected thunderstorm should roll in, as they often do in the heat of July and August, you can continue working while keeping your hay prime, yourself dry, and your barn protected from spontaneous combustion: A barn load of wet hay can create a dangerous situation, heating up quickly, catching fire, and causing disaster.

A bank barn’s upper level extends out over the front of the lower level by 8 to 10 feet, forming a sheltering forebay over the livestock entries. The front wall can feature main doors opening over the forebay, which allows you to use gravity to load hay into a waiting truck or wagon positioned below. Inside the barn, trap doors in the mow floors enable hay bales to be dropped into the lower level for convenient feeding. The oversized double bay doors on the back wall are typically 10 feet wide by 12 feet tall, easily large enough to admit loaded wagons into the central bay. A smaller man-door set into one of the bay doors allows you to slip inside quickly in bad weather conditions.

Lower level

The energy-saving beauty of a bank barn shows itself in another way when livestock are brought into the lower level for the winter. The insulating properties of the earth surrounding the back and sidewalls, combined with mows filled with hay and straw, helps contain the animals’ body heat and maintain a comfortable 50- to 60-degree atmosphere in the stables.

2/6/2015 12:24:59 PM

Hello! I enjoyed this article very much. The question I have is about fire... I have read that modern barn design has moved away from the hayloft idea and that hay and fodder should be stored in a separate structure. The other option would be always leaving the livestock area of the barn open so the livestock can come and go. I would appreciate hearing your thoughts on this issue. Thanks so much.

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