3 Materials You Can Salvage on Old Farms

When you buy a farm, you buy a lot more than the land. Here are three common farm items you can salvage during cleanup and renovations.

by J. Keeler Johnson
PHOTO: Daniel Johnson

When you buy an old farm, you buy a lot more than the land. Aside from the obvious examples of improved property—outbuildings, fences, wells and so on—you might get some old machinery, random piles of scrap metal, old tires and who knows what else. Some of these items are mere trash, but you can salvage others in creative ways. Here are three old items that can be put to new uses by clever hobby farmers.

1. Barnwood

If you renovate a barn—perhaps by replacing worn-out siding or rickety floorboards—save any wood you remove. The weathered patina of old barnwood takes a long time to develop, and even if it’s no longer good for structural use, it does have an aesthetic value. What’s more, there’s something to be said for salvaging the work of farmers long gone and keeping decades-old barnwood in circulation one way or another.

Even if the boards are too far gone to reuse for siding or flooring, you can salvage them and put them to many other creative uses. These ideas will help get you started.

2. Barbed Wire Fence Posts

Are you taking down some barbed wire fencing? I don’t blame you—there are lots of safer fencing alternatives on the market. Many barbed wire fence lines on old farms have collapsed because of factors including rotting posts and stress from encroaching vegetation.

While the barbed wire itself is of little practical use, you can salvage other parts of the fencing. If the fencing was installed using metal T-posts, you’re in luck. T-posts last a long time, and just recently I went through the woods on my farm pilfering T-posts from a long-forgotten barbed wire fence line. In less than half an hour, I had salvaged a dozen T-posts still straight and strong with their paint largely intact. Now they’re out in my orchard holding up welded wire fencing around apple and pear trees. They’re serving a new purpose after 30 years or more in use.

3. Old Farm Machinery

I’ve never known an old farm that didn’t come with a handful of ancient, derelict pieces of farm machinery. Maybe you’ll be lucky enough to obtain a tractor, but more likely you’ll be the proud owner of less valuable equipment—a horse-drawn wooden manure spreader, for example, or maybe a hay rake. I’ve been there on both accounts.

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Perhaps you can put these machines to use (my hay rake still does a fine job), but if not, they can make interesting lawn ornaments and conversation pieces if moved to an ideal location. And if lawn ornaments aren’t your style, you can always put the item up for sale and see whether you can find a buyer—someone else might appreciate the antique equipment, and you might get paid $50 or $100 to have someone else haul away a machine you don’t want and will never use. If you can’t find a buyer, metal implements might still fetch a small price as scrap metal.

Tell us your stories. What unusual items from your farm have you put to salvage use?

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