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History of Round Barns

Round barns are beautiful and interesting, but there's a reason for their shape.

Most round barns were built on dairy farms between 1890-1920. As cities expanded and connected to railroads, shipping fresh milk from the rural areas became much easier, opening up new opportunities for dairymen.

Charles Leik is president of the National Barn Alliance. He says producers back then wanted to enlarge their cow herds and looked for efficiencies.

"And the idea was, look at a cow from up above. It's a wedge-shaped animal, so you could array this cow around a central feeding trough," says Leik. "And often within that feeding trough, or that round area, was a silo. Silos were just coming into vogue at that time. So, you had your cows with the heads toward the silo, and the business end was in the larger circumference of the round barn."

Often less material was required for a round barn as opposed to rectangular. People also thought that wind would go around the barn, sparing it from a storm's destructive forces.

A round barn certainly had its positives, but not everyone was crazy about it.

"Well, you had to be a little tough because your neighbors would probably give you a hard time," says Leik. "They might mock you for building something so unusual and novel. And your local carpenter was not very excited because he was dealing with an awful lot of geometry that he was unfamiliar with. So you'd probably get discouraged for several of those reasons."

The round barn was built for dairying, and not as useful for other types of agriculture. The popularity of round barns ended by the 1920s. Their demise was accelerated by an agricultural depression after the end of WWI and the onset of prefabricated barns.

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