My friend Becky grew up on a beautiful 300-acre farm in Owen County, Indiana, not too far from my childhood home. She married into my Aunt Penny’s family, and as a teenager I sometimes babysat for Becky and Jerry’s three young boys. We lost touch after that, until a few years back she and I were sitting across from each other at Aunt Penny and Uncle Max’s 50th wedding anniversary party. Our conversation revealed that we have a lot of country living interests in common: gardens, bees, animals and crafts, to name a few. We have kept in touch sporadically since then, through emails and occasional visits.
Becky is a talented quilter, and I joined her a couple of years ago at a large quilt show in the town where she lives. When she can, she heads out of town to spend time at her cabin on her family’s home place. She invited me there for a visit one day, and after lunch we walked over to the farmhouse where Becky grew up. Becky’s sister and her husband live there now, and at the time they had several goats, chickens, guineas and ducks.
What I remember most about her homeplace is the gigantic barn that sits slightly downhill from the house. I’m not the best observer, but as I recall it has a foundation of massive stone blocks that were laid into the side of the hill. This is known as a “bank barn,” and it was a popular way to build a barn back in the day. The portion that nestles into the earth maintains a more constant temperature year round, which is one advantage for the animals and people that live and work there.
On the day I saw the barn, baby Boer goats were coming and going as they pleased under the large gates that opened from the lower floor onto a sloping pasture. Their mamas were out in the open, and were too big to go under the gates, but the babies could join their moms for a quick meal and then go back into the barn’s shelter as they pleased. (Boer goat kids look like cocker spaniel puppies, I think. Add all those twisty jumps and flourishes, and you have superlative cuteness on four legs.)
I have thought about that barn many times since that day. I didn’t take a tour of it, but I know there must be a hay mow at the top. With a bank barn, the tractor or baler can drive up and unload right into the hay loft. When needed, the farmer can toss hay from the top to the animal stalls below, using gravity instead of brute strength to get the feed to the critters. I think about that every time I’m lugging a hay bale from the back of our pole barn to the place where the goats can get to it!
An old bank barn. Photo: Fotolia/fallesen
We had a bank barn on our little hobby farm when I was growing up. It was old and somewhat run down by the time I was old enough to notice much about it, but it was home to my dad’s pigs and cows. There were several stalls on the ground floor, and a hayloft above with places in the floor to pitch hay down when needed.
I also remember a silo on one end, although I can’t remember if Dad actually stored any feed in there. I can remember sitting on top of the gates that separated the pens and watching sows nurse their hungry babies. One time a cow came charging at me as I left the barn, stopping just short of my face and bawling loudly at me, over and over again. I was terrified! Somehow she had been separated from her calf, and I guess she thought I was the reason why. I don’t remember how that got sorted out, but I made it back to the house safely.
I’m very thankful for the pole barn on our property. We’ve made some minor changes to it to better house our goats, and it shelters our animals very well. I have to admit, though, after seeing Becky’s old homeplace, I had a few days of intense barn envy to work through! What kind of barn do you have? Have you modified it to better suit you and your animals?
Tracy's pole barn
Sit in on dozens of practical workshops from the leading authorities on modern homesteading, animal husbandry, gardening, real food and more!LEARN MORE