Barn changes over the generations
By Patricia Grotenhuis, Lifelong farmer and agricultural advocate
Sometimes I sit and think about all of the changes that have happened from the time my great-grandfather bought his farm until now, when my parents run it with the help of my siblings.
Back in 1934, Canada was in the middle of the Great Depression. That seems to be a strange time to buy a farm, but Great Grandpa did it. Some of the original buildings are still on that farm, with new buildings and additions over the past 77 years. These changes, in some ways, show the timeline of how agriculture has been evolving.
Take the original bank barn for example. It is still large and impressive, but there have been noticeable changes made to it. Different areas of the barn reflect different times. There are the old stanchions which used to be used for the cows. They’re rather small, and most have been removed. In one corner, they are still intact, but are rarely used as stanchions anymore. The rest of the barn has tie stalls now, which were used for the cows when I was young, before the milking parlour was put in. Now, the tie stalls are used for calves before they are big enough to be in group pens.
In another corner of the barn, there is a track hanging from the ceiling. At one time, that track was used to remove manure from the barn. Eventually, it was replaced by a more modern gutter cleaner system. The gutter cleaner was recessed into the floor and brought manure to a pump. The pump would send the manure through a pipe into the manure storage pit outside of the barn.
Underneath the barn hill was once the milk house. It was where all of the milk was stored before the milk truck picked it up. This area was added on to, and later became a series of three loose housing pens. When I was young, the pens were used for maternity pens and, in some cases, as sick pens. Those pens changed and became housing for a wide variety of animals over the years. In my lifetime, they have been used for veal calves, horses, sheep and goats. If a pen was empty, it also housed rabbits when we were younger.
The freestall structure which my grandpa added to the barn, has been used for beef cattle, veal, heifers, and is now strictly used for milking cows. Part of it was converted into the milking parlour. During the summer, one end of the freestall is blocked off, and the dry cows (cows that are not being milked because they are close to calving) use it for shelter and for water access. Both the dry cows and milking cows have pasture access from spring to fall.
The mow in the barn has always been partially used for hay and straw storage. One area of it was also used for livestock housing a long time ago. I remember being told there were chickens in one part of the mow when my grandparents were farming and my dad was young. The floor was pulled up from one section of the mow, and used to make a wall so that one half has two storeys, although only half of a floor between them. That section is used for cut straw in the main part of the barn.
The other part of the barn mow is wide open. It was used for bale storage for years. Right now, it is mainly storage of small tools and equipment, as rolling the large round bales into the mow is very hard to do with a limited number of people and we do not have small square bales any more. In the mow, it is obvious that the barn is old. Wooden pegs hold the beams in place, rather than nails. In several places, you can see evidence of how the hay and straw used to be unloaded, although the equipment itself was removed long ago.
That barn has seen changes from no electricity to electricity. It went from being a mixed farm (with several kinds of animals being raised on the property) to being a more specialized dairy farm. The farm has also gone from raising animals mainly to feed the family and some neighbours to producing enough for larger numbers of people
The treasured farm photographs that we have, dating back to the 1940s, tell a story when they are lined up…a story about Canada. They show how farms used to be small, subsistence-style farms supporting low numbers of people. In those days, there was a much larger percentage of the population who farmed, and almost everything eaten was local food.
Now, the farm is modern and is larger. The average Canadian farm produces enough food for 120 people, and only two per cent of Canadians are farmers. Technology is needed to make the farm more efficient, allowing farmers to feed so many people.
The improvements made have led to a more safe food supply for Canada, and have made it possible for so many people to work in other jobs now. I am sure if my great grandpa were here today and could walk around the farm today, and see how it has changed, he would be proud to see what it has become.