When we first moved back to the farm twenty years ago, the cattle barn was still standing. The family always called it the “Big Red Barn” as opposed to the older “Horse Barn” that had less paint, I guess. The older barn had been taken down and the beams recycled into new metal sheds in the late 1950s, but the Big Red Barn stood more than forty years after that. It fell down shortly after we moved back.
This is a view of the Big Red Barn (sounds vaguely like the title of a kids book?) from the east in the early 1970s. It had a central area for storing hay surrounded by areas where the hay could be fed to livestock. It was just north of the main feedlot, so cattle had access when the weather got bad. Although we did salvage some beams after it collapsed in the early 2000s, that timber wasn’t recycled into a new building. Times change. The remnants of the Big Red Barn were burned and buried. Looking north today, the site looks like the picture on the right. That whole open area in the foreground is in the process of being redesigned into a new corral complex for the current cow-calf operation.
Cleaning up the bones of the barn took several years and multiple burning attempts. The first few stages were relatively simple because the dry wood burned easily. But, there was also old wet hay in that central area so it took much more planning and messing around to get that burned. These three photos show the before, during, and after shots of one of the later efforts. You can tell from all of the green plants that the burn events were far enough apart for vegetation (a.k.a., “weeds”) to move into the vacated ground.
The barn was originally designed to store loose hay and these two “treasures” are part of that apparatus. The iron track shown on the left, ran along the ridge of the inside of the barn. The “trolley” on the right, traveled along the track to carry the slings of hay back into the west end from the haymow door on the east side. When we were little kids, we were allowed to pull the trip rope to drop the load of hay at the right place inside the barn. However, my most enduring (not endearing!) memories are of stacking baled hay inside the hot barn on a summer day. We took turns working outside on the bale wagon where it was little cooler. That way, nobody put bales into the elevator too fast because they knew that there would be revenge when it was next their turn inside the stifling barn.
This scanned photo was taken of the feeding operation back in the 1950s. Wooden bunks stood beside the wagon of ground ear corn. The feed was spread into the bunks by carrying in five-bushel baskets and then the supplement was spread out over the feed and mixed in by hand. You can see the barn dominating the cattle yard on the north side. Things are a lot different a couple of generations later! Now, a scientifically-formulated ration is unloaded by driving a wagon along cement bunks. Even the cattle are different because you don’t see very many white-faced Herefords around the neighborhood anymore.
Everything changes. These days, it’s cheaper to burn and bury the Big Red Barn rather than take it down and recycle the lumber. Back in the 1950s, we pulled a lot of nails out of the wood salvaged from the old Horse Barn in order to reuse it to frame metal sheds. More than one hundred years ago, the homesteading family took down a house over on the Rock River about three miles west. They brought that salvaged lumber back home to build a part of the original farmhouse. That wasn’t being miserly; that was being frugal. And now today, there’s talk about an emerging “circular economy” that’s not extractive and wasteful, but makes money by reusing, repurposing, and recycling. Maybe the future will be back to the past? Everything changes and nothing changes.