Which Barn Style is Right for You?

Reader Contribution by Kacey Bradley
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Do you own a homestead? If so, it might be time to upgrade or replace your barn. There are several styles to choose from, each with unique qualities. Before you choose, it’s essential to determine your needs. Do you plan to raise chickens with an indoor coop? Maybe you want to fill the stalls with horses and pens with pigs?

Once you have a plan for your homestead, you can determine which barn style is right for you.

Gable Barns

A gable roof barn is a popular choice due to its reasonable cost, ideal for budget-conscious homesteaders. The roof includes two panels, both slanting down from a common edge, called a ridge. These panels are supported by rafters attached to a beam. Then, depending on your budget and design preferences, the roof is covered in materials like metal, shingles, tile or wood. A gable roof uses fewer materials compared to its fancy cousin, the gambrel roof, making it more affordable.

Gambrel Barns

A gambrel barn is defined by its roof, a design with a historical origin. It was originally developed in the 1600s, when taxes were assessed against Parisians based on the number of stories facing the street. A two-story home, for example, would be costlier than one story. To combat this tax, Francois Mansart created a new type of roof that used shingles to hide a home’s second story.

In the United States, gambrel roofs came into fashion in the late 1800s because they increased the internal volume of the barn. The wider slopes allowed farmers more room to stack hay, increasing handling efficiency. If your barn has a gambrel roof, it might be hundreds of years old — built during or possibly before the 1800s.

Bank Barns

If you want to cover the basics, a bank barn will offer everything you need. This design is simple and understated, a rectangle with two stories. It gets its name from barns built in the 1800s, many of which were situated against a hill, or bank. The second story of the structure extends over the first, allowing protection for livestock during cold temperatures or harsh storms. In some areas of the country, bank barn walls are constructed with quarried rock, field stones and wood.

Round Barns

If you’ve ever run into a round barn, the unique architecture has probably caught your eye. This design was popularized in the 1880s when farmers were learning progressive methods to improve efficiency, and round barns certainly do the trick. The shape has a greater volume-to-surface area than a traditional rectangular barn, and fewer materials to build means reduced start-up costs. Plus, the roof is self-supporting, meaning farmers can work without obstructions like poles and beams.

Tobacco Barns

Tobacco is an essential crop for many farmers, and tobacco barns provide an ideal spot to hang and dry these plants — among others. Ventilation is a must with this style. Tobacco barns often require cladding boards that open and close and ventilators that run the length of the roof. Some also include stripping and damping rooms, spaces to prep tobacco before hung to dry. A tobacco-style barn is a great option if you plan to harvest crops that need to be dried, including herbs and sunflowers.

Crib Barns

Crib barns, initially built with unchinked logs, are commonly found in the South and Mid-West, including states like Kansas, Kentucky, North Carolina and Virginia. The crib design is typically split in two, separated down the middle with a covered aisle or driveway. It can serve as pens for pigs and storage for feed, for example. Most crib barns do not have a hayloft up top. A crib barn can be a great shed/barn combination for a homestead, ideal for small livestock like pigs, chickens, goats and sheep.

Prairie Barns

A prairie barn, also called a Western barn, is most recognized by its peaked roof rising above the hayloft. In areas where these barns are common — like Arizona, Kansas, Nebraska, etc. — farmers are known to have vast swathes of livestock. In turn, they require a great deal of storage space for hay and feed. The extended roof provides even more room on the second story. If you’re a busy homesteading family with big plans, a prairie barn could be the right option for you.

Picking the right barn style for your homestead is all about understanding your needs. What do you hope to accomplish with your operation? What resources — including space — will you need? If you plan to raise cows and horses, for example, you’ll need more room than with a small herd of chickens, goats and pigs. A little research can help you design a barn that works for you.

Learn more in the History of the American Barn.

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