All you ever wanted to know about Wisconsin Dairy Barns

The Sisters at St. Mary's developed St. Patrick's Farm from a small typical mid-19th century farm into an impressive operation to sustain their ministries located at St. Mary's Convent and School in St. Joseph County.  They bought the farm in 1883 and began making several changes with the addition of new buildings.  The largest of these were the hog barn and dairy barn.  The hog barn was converted into offices for St. Joseph County Parks when the county bought the farm in 1977.  The dairy barn has been carefully preserved over the years by the parks.  It has to be one of the most impressive examples of a dairy barn in northern Indiana.  Along with its two wood stave silos, it is a must-see for barn enthusiasts.  The barns were built  in c. 1920.

Both the hog barn and dairy barn are modeled after the Wisconsin dairy barn which was developed for housing large herds of dairy cows. Both buildings are nearly double the length of typical 19th century barns and were internally organized for large-scale livestock production; they measured about 185’ and 120’ long.  Less than ten percent of barns constructed in this region of Indiana were Wisconsin dairy-style barns.  The Wisconsin dairy barns were the product of a departure from the post and beam tradition of timber framing to the use of truss construction.  Because of a depletion of large timbers in the United States by the second half of the 19th century, barn builders were unable to continue the practice of framing with hewn timbers in mortise and tenon construction.  Heavy timber construction provided the necessary structural capacity to create large spans with single timbers.  The roof shape of these earlier barns was typically gabled.  As dimensioned lumber replaced hewn timbers in wall and roof construction, the development of roof trusses composed of dimensional lumber allowed builders to reclaim and expand on volumes once permitted with large timbers.  Trusses eliminated the need for cross bracing and provided large open spaces in the barns’ loft areas.  The most prolific roof form to develop during the late 19th and early 20th centuries from the use of trusses in barn construction was the gambrel roof.

During the late part of the 19th century the Agricultural Experiment Station at the University of Wisconsin also was attempting to improve barn designs.  The gambrel roof form and lumber-truss construction were advantages in the development of the new model that was promoted for Wisconsin’s growing dairy industry.  The barns were narrow and lined with rows of small windows to provide interior light which was important to a dairy operation.  The interior of the Wisconsin dairy barn is arranged with a central aisle and two rows of cattle stanchions.  The first story ceilings were also low to conserve heat generated by the animals.  The Wisconsin dairy barn also incorporates ventilation chutes to assist in cooling the building during the summer; these are built into the building’s walls and extend up the roof.  Roof ventilators are also important features of the barns.  The superior system of lighting and ventilation caused the Wisconsin dairy barn to be touted as the most sanitary and suitable for healthy livestock.


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