How The Amish Have A Barn Raising

How The Amish Have A Barn Raising

By Josh Brown

June 22, 2022

Amish construction, Amish Way of Life, Livestock

One of the first things travelers notice when they visit Amish country for the first time is the enormous size of the barns, houses, and shops the Amish builders construct. So, if you're like me and have a mind that finds curiosity in the Amish way of life and how the Amish do things in the old fashion way, then this post will be right down your alley. So sit back for a good read on Amish Barn raising guaranteed to square up your ideas on Amish construction.

So What Is An Amish Barn Raising?

Amish Build Barn And Home

The Amish's Building  A New Home & Barn

So, if you have ever heard the phrase "barn raising," you might ask yourself, what does that mean, and where did that term originate? The term barn raising is an old saying that originated in the United Kingdom around the early 1900s. Then the term made its way to the United States. Farming became more industrialized, and farms became more prominent in size, producing more livestock and crops. So, it was only natural that the size of the barn should increase to handle a larger capacity of animals, farming equipment, and crop storage. However, the Amish used the original way of raising a barn. To do this, they gathered members from their community to help one another with construction tasks, building costs, and getting the materials needed to build a barn. Now you might be wondering why the Amish farmers want to be so helpful to one another? The Amish culture says to help your fellow Amish man. The amount of physical work that goes into barn raising is very labor intensive. Remember that the Amish, due to their cultural teachings, do NOT use electric tools in the way we English folks do. However, the Amish will sometimes use a few power tools powered by a gas-powered generator. This is usually very rare, especially in the "Old Order" Amish community in Ethridge, Tennessee. 

The above picture shows an electric table saw powered by a generator. Still, everything else in the building process is being done by hand, in an old style of construction!!! Of course, the above picture is an Amish home being built, and it is hard physically to build, but it does not compare to the amount of hard work that goes into an Amish barn. Amish farmers understand it is critical to own and operate a large farm. That point is to help your fellow farmer, neighbor, and friends in your community because you might need help on a large project. Seeing as how some Amish barns can be as large as 5000 square feet or larger and many of the barns will be three stories tall!! When you have a barn of that magnitude built by hand, it's common to have a large group of young Amish men on the project, each helping out. Many times even a barn with a large square footage layout, the Amish builders can construct it quickly! Here is a link with some fantastic vintage barn-raising pictures that describe in more detail the entire barn-raising process.

Amish Barn Raising Construction Styles And Their Functions

When it comes to raising any barn, many different techniques and styles are used. Amish build and use Dutch Barns, English A-Frame Barns, Tobacco Barns, Prairie Barns, Gambrel Roof Barns, Bank Barns, and English Gable Roof Barns. Bank Barns are frequently used in Ethridge, Tennessee. There are many different styles of barns, all with their own purpose and function for use. The Ethridge Amish are primarily row crop farmers. They have side businesses such as sawmills, tack shops, and woodworking shops to supplement their income. But don't let row crop farming fool you. Also, you will see lots of dairy and beef cattle, pigs, sheep, goats, and chickens on Amish farms in the Ethridge community. Many of the barns mentioned are built or "raised" on Amish farms for animals. For readers in the extreme northern hemisphere wondering what types of barns the Amish build in Tennessee, the amount of snow on the roofs we get is different from the amount you get. So, step A-frame roofs on the barn are usually not seen here in Tennessee, like in Amish communities in Ohio, Nebraska, and Pennsylvania.

Bank Barns are the most prevalent type of barn built and used by Amish in Tennessee. The Bank Barn is just that, a barn built on a slope or the side of a bank to give access to animals such as beef cattle or pigs at the rear lower section of the barn. Frequently when the Amish raise a Bank Barn, they do so by building the lower walls out of concrete blocks a week or so before the second and third floors of the barns are built to allow for the joints in the block walls to dry. The use of concrete in the foundation's lower back and side walls in Bank Barns the Amish build supports the weight of the timber above. Listed below are reasons why Amish farmers use concrete blocks on the lower foundation of some Bank Barns, Prairie Barns, and some of the Gable Roof Barns in Tennessee.

Why The Amish Use Concrete Blocks In The Lower Walls When Raising A Barn

  1. To keep the barn from falling or shifting due to bad weather such as rain, winds (tornados), and snow.
  2. To protect the lower walls from livestock that likes to kick or chew on wood boards.
  3. To help prevent erosion from the base of the barn due to rainwater runoff and livestock traffic. 
  4. To keep the barn clean and sanitary, it's easier to clean block walls than wood walls with water.
  5. Repel such things as termites, wood beetles, mice, and rats. 
  6. Longer lasting, the concrete block can last much longer in harsh elements compared to even the strongest Oak Boards.

Most Amish Milking Barns in Ethridge have Milking Rooms concrete floors and Milk Barns with concrete walls. These keep the area extremely clean and dairy cattle healthy. But, in the Bank Barns, the most exciting part comes when the Amish farmers build the top two or three floors. The top or second floor is reserved for hay, straw, and some grain storage in the Bank Barns. During the construction of the Bank Barns, Amish builders will install pitch-down doors on the floor of the hayloft. The doors open for hay and straw to drop directly below to feed the animals or be used as livestock bedding. In different styles of barn constructions, the loft will be on the third floor or on the second floor of a barn with attic space above. Three main styles of lofts are found in a barn; they are known as the full loft, partial loft, or center loft. It depends on the building style and the inside construction to know which term to use. How do the Amish get their hay to the loft? This is where on some Bank Barns and other styles of barns, the Amish farmers use the Hay Door to access the "mow," or loft as some people call it. The Hay Door is a small door found on the top floor of the barn, opened to give access to the top of the barn from outside. The hay door is used to transfer the hay, straw, or grain from outside into the loft using a conveyer belt or pitched by hand as either square bails or loose hay. Also, an essential function of the Hay Door is to give ventilation to the hay, straw, and grain. In Tennessee, the temperature can reach 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Things such as hay and straw will generate heat while drying and can become a fire hazard when stacked together, so the air circulation in and around the hay, straw, or grain is a must!!! Below is a picture with an excellent example of the Amish getting airflow through the top of a barn. In the picture below is a building where the hay door in the front is fully open to give ventilation at all times. The rear top back wall of the barn has light shining through and spaces between the boards to give some cover from the elements but allows for some air flow and light even in cooler weather.

An Amish Old Barn

An Old Style Amish Barn With Ventilation At Top

Amish Barn With Over Hang

The Over Hang On Amish Barn Roof Used To Raise Hay To The Loft

So What Other Features Are Found Inside An Amish Barn?

Before the Amish builders raise a new barn, they plan ahead of construction time for its square footage, how and when the barn will be constructed, and what the barn will be used for once it is completed. The barn's usage dictates the barn's interior features. Below is a list of terms readers need to know to understand barn interiors.

A Few Things To Know Before Continuing

  • Bay: The distance between the columns and posts in a barn
  • Stall: Usually where animals such as horses, cows, sheep, or goats are kept inside a barn
  • Knee Wall: Usually a tiny wall found under the roof rafters to give support
  • Wind bracing: A board between the rafters to give support
  • Hay feeder: An area or section inside a barn built to feed the livestock hay
  • Hallway or Runway: The center section of the barn that spans from end to end
  • Cupola: The square structure found on top of a barn roof used for light and ventilation
  • Double Dutch Door: A door divided in the middle (*usually used in stall doors)
  • Cross Buck: The X design found in the middle of barn doors to prevent the sagging of heavy wood doors
  • Track Pass or Sliding Door: A large door usually at the front of a barn with steel wheels at the top that slides on a rail, which allows the door to slide from side to side
  • Ramp: A structure usually outside the barn at the entrance gives trailers, wagons, and livestock access to the barn's second floor for also used to load trailers and wagons from above (*ramp may be made from earth, wood, or stone)
  • Tack or Storage Room: A room inside the barn used to store things such as horse saddles, horse bridles, and equipment
  • Farrowing Crate: Usually found in barns for pigs, it is used to keep the sow from crushing the piglets during feeding 
  • Hay prow: The overhang of the roof above the hay door that is an extension used to load hay and heavy objects into the loft (*usually has a pully system to help raise heavy loads)
  • Hay Trolley: The sliding system in the top of a barn to move loose (*NOT Bailed) hay through the hay door to the loft floor
  • Hay Sling: The rope webbing found at the bottom of the hay pile on a wagon; the hay trolley line attaches to the sling to bundle up the loose hay to lift hay to the loft
  • Hay Fork: A metal fork attached to the trolley line, dropped on top of the loose hay to grab and pick up the hay to be transported to the loft 
  • Granary Room: The room found in the main barn that houses grain for the livestock such as wheat, oats, and rye
  • Lean-To: The room or structure on the side of a barn that leans against the main barn structure (*usually a cover for equipment or sometimes to access grain chutes or chutes to remove animal droppings)

One great thing about an Amish-built barn is the amount of versatility that someone can find. On most modern commercial farms, you will usually notice that the farms primarily focus on one or two particular types of livestock. However, on most Amish farms, there is usually a variety of livestock. When the Amish have a barn raising, the barn they build usually accommodates many different types of livestock.  

During a trip to Amish country, an Amish farmer was asked what he could do with his barn and what animals the barn could accommodate. Here is what he said.

"I usually keep horses in the barn and chickens on the side in their coop. But I have had pigs in there. So I built the stalls wide enough for horses on one side and wider for cows on the other. But, if it will fit a horse or a cow, sheep would have enough room in the stalls too."

So, one of the primary purposes for the Amish barns being so prominent is due to the space requirements needed for various farm animals.

Amish Home And Barn

Lean-To On The Side Of Amish Barn Covering A Buggy

Other Types Of Barns and Coops Built On Amish Farms

Another type of barn seen in Tennessee on Amish farms is the Tobacco barn. In different varieties of tobacco crops, getting tobacco cured and ready for sale was only possible with the correct barn type. A few of the different types of tobacco are Nicotiana tabacum (common name Virginia Tobacco), Perique (common name Saint James, Louisiana Tobacco), and Burley (commonly seen in Tennessee). The tobacco barn is essential in different drying processes of different tobacco varieties. For example, there are air-cured, fire-cured, flu-cured, sun-cured, and fermentation-cured tobaccos. Some tobacco drying processes commonly seen in Tennessee are air-cured and fire-cured tobacco. During the barn-building process, Amish farmers that grow air-cured tobacco will construct a barn with many different rafters overhead to hang the tobacco leaves to dry after cutting.  

Tobacco Barn

Air Cured Tobacco Hanging To Dry

Another type of tobacco barn built by some Amish communities in Western Tennessee is the fire-cured tobacco barn. This type of barn is constructed much like an air-cured tobacco barn. However, fire-cured tobacco barns are constructed so that during the drying process, tobacco leaves are dried by being hung above wooden planks that are set on fire below the tobacco. This drying process helps give the tobacco its "dark fire" smoke flavor and look and removes any excess moisture from the tobacco leaves.

A Pole Barn is another barn the Amish often construct to cover crops, equipment, saws for sawmills, crop sales stands, or sorghum molasses boilers. The Pole Barn is usually just a roof with large poles at each corner of the building instead of using the typical studded walls. Often in a more prominent pole barn, there will be cross bracing or wind bracing on the tops of the Pole Barn roofs or connecting the bays of the walls to ensure that the structure is more resilient to high winds.

Pole Barn

Amish Pole Barn Used To Sale Crops

Many times on an Amish farm, you will see a flock of chickens running wild around the Amish barnyard. But rest assured, the Amish farmers have a special place for their chickens. The Amish chicken coops are usually separate buildings. However, the Amish farmers often have a chicken coop connected to their main barn. Usually, when you see a chicken coop on an Amish farm connected to the main barn, the construction of the coop is outstanding in every way. For example, the Amish chicken coop is usually built on a knee-high block wall to help ensure that no predator can break into the coop and hurt the chickens. In addition, an Amish chicken coop with chicken wire that spans from the ground to the roof will have installed predator cloth around the outside wire coop walls to keep out animals such as coyotes, foxes, and raccoons like digging under the chicken coop walls.

The greenhouse is another structure the Amish farmers raise. On most Amish farms in Tennessee, you will see greenhouses the Amish have built to start their seedlings out and dry clothing, often in cooler weather. The Amish greenhouse is usually a wooden frame or light metal structure covered with plastic and has a wood-burning stove for heating the air in the early spring so the Amish farmers can get a head start on early crops. Usually, the floor of the Amish greenhouse is limestone rock, concrete, or some form of sawdust to allow the sun to heat the floor through the plastic walls to help generate warmer air inside the greenhouse for plant protection in cold weather.

Amish Greenhouse

Outside Of An Amish Greenhouse

On your next trip to an Amish community, you will better understand how the Amish raise a barn and other structures. Sign up for our newsletter if you want more information on everything going on here at Amish of Ethridge. Make sure to look for Amish Of Ethridge on Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram. Thank you for reading, and have a great day and an even better tomorrow. 


Can you visit an Amish barn?

Many times if the Amish farmers are not busy with work they would be happy to show you their barns.

What do I need to know before going into a barn?

Always wear good shoes there are many times animal droppings on the ground. Make sure to watch out for spiders and snakes. Always view an Amish barn in the winter months, many times in warmer weather a barn will smell really bad. 

Will the Amish build a barn for me?

Sometimes if you live by an Amish community that does work for the general public, yes some Amish builders will build barns for us English folks. 

Why are some Amish barns constructed from wood and some barns are metal?

Wood is a great insulator for animals in the winter months, while metal is usually used to house things like equipment and machinery. 

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