Why Barns Are Red


Life on the farm. It’s a popular theme in Western cultures, the bucolic joy of a pastoral existence far away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Rolling fields of grass and grain, meandering streams and ponds full of dabbling ducks, cheerful barnyards spotted with clucking chickens pecking for juicy bugs, the distant low of cows coming home across the wide green acres. At the heart of this pleasant dream is the big red barn, home to the livestock, tractors, and tools of the farm, the capital of this idyllic rural kingdom.

The farm and its big red barn are still as popular today as ever, in fact even a city slicker can be the proud owner of an American barn shed house if they have the space for one. The current version is made of sturdy modern materials and is more likely to house a car than a cow, but they can inspire that same sense of a laid-back agrarian lifestyle an old wooden barn does, and yes, they still come in red.

Of course, not all barns are red, but red is still the first colour that pops into the head when one hears the word barn. So, why is red nearly synonymous with the term? One popular theory is that barns were traditionally the home of dairy cows, and in a world that’s mostly green, the cows would get lost in the fields. Seeing the big red barn standing out in all that grass was a signpost guiding them home! Unfortunately, scientists have determined that cows are colour-blind to both red and green, making this more of an old wives’ tale than a viable theory. Still, one must wonder how anyone could possibly know just what a cow sees without asking one.

A more mundane, but probably scientifically accurate explanation for red barns goes back to the old days when modern paints were not readily available. Farmers needed to protect the bare wood of their barns from pesky insects and damage from the elements, so they concocted a paint of their own from readily available ingredients. There were several mixtures, but most contained skimmed milk (thanks, cows!), lime, and red oxide. Farmers were able to extract the red oxide from the soil, it’s the same compound that makes natural clay pots a coppery red. Linseed oil made from flax plants helped defend the bare wood against rotting and added a nice coral hue to the mix.

Even after longer-lasting commercial paints became available, red remained the tradition, and so many barns are painted red to this very day. I have seen barns in blue, grey, and white, and they look all right, but red still reigns supreme.

The farm and barn can still be found around Australia, although these days they are more likely to be the home of a winery than an actual working farm. Even if the barn isn’t always red, at least one can enjoy a nice glass of red wine.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here