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Circular Thinking: Round Barns on US Farms

Most barns in America are rectangular, but round ones have a long history. Transcript of radio broadcast:

This is the VOA Special English Agriculture Report.

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American farmers traditionally keep their animals and equipment in barns that are rectangular. But there are hundreds of barns in the Midwest and other parts of the country that are different. They are not longer than they are wide. Or wider than they are long. These buildings are round.

Round barns have a long history in America. George Washington, the nation's first president, had a round barn in the seventeen hundreds. The Shaker religious community at Hancock, Massachusetts, built one in the eighteen twenties.

But the idea did not become popular until years later. Then, in the early nineteen hundreds, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign built three round barns that many farmers copied.

A farmer could save on wood or stone with a round design that needed less material than traditional barns. Experts also believed that farmers could save footsteps, and time, in feeding their animals in a round barn. And round barns stood a better chance against strong winds.

Some round barns are not truly circular. They just look that way, but really are many flat pieces put together side by side.

Early versions were mainly designed with two levels. Cows were kept on the first floor and the one above was used to store hay. Later designs brought a large area in the middle for the hay and feeding stations all around for the cows.

By the nineteen thirties, however, fewer American farmers were building round barns. Some people said it took more time and skill. Others disagreed. In any case, it was not a good time to argue -- it was the Great Depression, and times were difficult.

Also, as electric power came to rural America, there was a school of thought that rectangular barns were easier to wire for electricity. Agricultural experts also reconsidered their ideas about a round barn saving time in feeding animals.

Kathy and Bob Frydenlund own the Round Barn Llama Farm in New Richmond, Wisconsin. The Frydenlunds have a library of architectural plans and drawings and have published books on the subject. Money from their book sales helps them take care of their own barn -- a big one nearly a century old, made of concrete and wood. Bob Frydenlund says having a round barn means keeping alive part of the history of American farming.

And that's the VOA Special English Agriculture Report, written by Jerilyn Watson. Transcripts and podcasts are at, and captioned videos are on YouTube at VOA Learning English. I'm Steve Ember.