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Signature barn is a winner

The barn on Brad Thykeson's farm in eastern North Dakota is more than just another farm building. "I think of it as the signature of the farmstead," Thykeson says.

The barn's gable roofed outline and distinctive paired cupolas break the horizon above the flat prairie landscape.

The 96-year-old barn is also a symbol of the Thykeson's family history, helping to maintain tangible connections between generations. Feeling the warmth of the morning sun alongside the barn, Thykeson thinks of how his grandfather walked the same path each day on the way to milk his cows. Thykeson's children have strong memories of the old barn as well, as they "explored caves among the hay bales and got chased by ghosts during birthday parties," he says.

Brad Thykeson doesn't milk cows anymore, but he does keep livestock. He manages a small cattle herd "because raising livestock keeps me grounded," he says. He also wants his children to grow up on a farm with animals. The Thykesons produce 3,600 acres of corn, soybeans, and wheat.

The barn serves Thykeson's livestock operation well. It provides space for equipment and feed, and houses a maternity ward for spring calving and a hospital-like area where sick animals can recover.

The barn's wood floor stays warm in the winter, creating "a much better environment than the humidity and dampness of a pole barn," says Thykeson. The old milk separator room is used to store veterinary supplies.

Thykeson keeps the hayloft filled to supply his sister's horses, which are stabled nearby.

The Thykeson family, like many others across the country, have integrated their older farm building into a modern operation. The Thykeson family's stewardship and restoration work on their barn have earned this year's BARN AGAIN!® Farm Heritage Award. Since 1987, Successful Farming magazine and the National Trust for Historic Preservation have presented BARN AGAIN! awards to farm and ranch families who have preserved their historic agricultural buildings and use them in their daily operations.

In addition, four families received Recognition Awards for their stewardship of older barns. This year's award's program was sponsored by Toy Farmer Publications.

Preservation of older farm buildings continues to be a major issue for U.S. farmers. Two thirds of farmers own a barn that's more than 50 years old, according to recent Successful Farming research. And, nearly half of those barns either need work or are severely deteriorated. So like the Thykesons, many famers face big decisions with their older barns.

Brad Thykeson says that his family's barn was built by a crew who constructed similar structures in the area during the early 20th century. Thykeson's grandfather came to the farm in 1938. After taking over the farm from his grandfather in 1983, Brad began thinking about what to do with the barn. Over the years, strong west winds off the prairie had caused the structure to start leaning noticeably to the east.

"But it was still pretty solid," he remembers. "With the livestock operation, it made sense to do a little work on it." Thykeson hired Lloyd Halverson, a "barn straightener" from nearby Detroit Lakes, Minnesota, to pull the barn back into shape.

Halverson cabled and tightened interior trusses and nailed new braces to strengthen the connections between posts and beams. A crew was hired to reshingle the barn and its cupolas and to reroof the lean-to shed on the west side.

Thykeson says he paints the barn every 10 years or so. Most recently, he convinced his daughter and a friend to take on the job. "They needed work. The painting made memories for them," he says, smiling.

In all, Thykeson estimates he spent about $13,000 to paint, reroof, and bring his barn into plumb.

"Would a $40,000 metal building serve us?" asks Thykeson. "Yes, but we wouldn't enjoy it nearly as much."


The barn on Brad Thykeson's farm in eastern North Dakota is more than just another farm building. "I think of it as the signature of the farmstead," Thykeson says.

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