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Old barn put to good use

1916 old barn has served as a headquarters of animal agriculture
OLD BARN: Built in 1916, this old barn has served as a headquarters of animal agriculture on our farm, housing horses, milk cows, hogs and now rabbits.
Our old milk barn has held many different animal agriculture enterprises.

Our old barn on the family farm along Bow Creek was built by my grandfather in 1916. When Grandpa and Grandma were married in January that year, my grandfather asked his new wife if they should build a house or a barn on their farmstead.

They already had a house, but it was very old. But they didn’t have a decent barn. So, Grandma said, “You can’t have a farm without a barn.” Grandpa built a barn.

He hand-cut gigantic cottonwood trees that lined a path to the farmstead, set up a sawmill and cut his own lumber to build the barn. After it was built, complete with a high cupola and a wind vein on the roof, neighbors and friends joined the family for a barn dance in the huge hayloft.

That became a tradition, with everyone gathering for a dance in the spring before the hayloft was filled with forages for the horses and cattle. Grandma didn’t get a “new” house until they bought an old house that was built around 1900 in Crofton, Neb., and moved it out to the farm in 1942.

Barn legacy

The barn that my grandfather built stands today. In the back of the barn, there were horse stalls in those early days. Grandpa maintained a large stable of horses for farming, pulling a lot of two-row equipment back in the day.

Later, when my dad started milking a bunch of cows, the back barn and lean-to served as housing for the milk cows. When we got out of dairying in the early 1970s, those spaces were converted to feeding areas for finishing hogs.

When I was in high school, that was our largest enterprise. I spent most of my Saturdays scooping hog pens by hand, before we purchased a skid loader. When we got out of hogs in the early 1990s, we started using the barn for feeding bottle calves. As our children got to 4-H and FFA age, that enterprise grew as well, and it still remains today.

But the back of the barn — which has housed horses, dairy cows and hogs over the years — is now converted to a rabbit barn, housing purebred and show rabbits being raised by our daughter, Taylor, first for 4-H and FFA, and now for American Rabbit Breeders Association shows and for sale to other breeders and young rabbit exhibitors.

Different critters

While the rabbit business is a little different than raising calves, hogs or milk cows, my daughter keeps reminding me as I’m helping her with rabbit chores that it is still animal agriculture, just a different species.

Biosecurity measures that you might use in keeping disease out of hog barns are also employed in the rabbit barn. Keeping fresh water and feed in front of the critters is important, as with all farm animals. And just like when I was young and helping raise baby pigs, we use heat lamps to keep baby rabbits warm and comfortable when they are young.

I’m not sure what Grandpa or my dad would say about raising rabbits in our old milk barn, but if they were alive today, they would probably smile and enjoy helping with chores, just as I do. And they would be glad the old barn is still being put to good use.

With comments or questions, email curtis.arens@farmprogress.com.

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