Farm parties are always enjoyable, and of course, the barn is the natural place to gather. It’s big, can usually accommodate a lot of people in the case of inclement weather, and plus, what tent or building could possibly have more character?
The challenge is turning a working barn, complete with the distinct sights and smells of animals and farm equipment, into a party-ready showpiece. Michelle Danreuther of Loma, Mont., is well versed in the process, as she and her family have cleaned out three different barns for each of her children’s weddings. Each barn had its own set of challenges, but the steps to make them picture perfect are very similar.
1. Make a Plan
“I lay out a master plan,” Danreuther says, though she jokingly notes that she doesn’t always adhere to it. Take a look at the entire area around the barn, including the exterior, and envision what you want people to see when they arrive.
Danreuther strongly recommends starting long before the party date, as there are always projects that can be done well in advance, theoretically saving stress later. Yet even by following a solid plan, she cautions there will be a lot of small details to finish in the last week or two.
2. Start Outside
A party in the future is an excellent excuse to spruce up the barn and surrounding area. Old barns might need painted, while newer ones could benefit from a good pressure washing. Replace broken panes of glass and barn doors that have a tendency to stick. If you’re like a lot of people, you might have a piece or two of equipment or farm implements that have seen better days sitting outside the barn. Take this time to haul it away or at least move it out of sight.
Trim the grass (or weeds, as the case may be) around the barn. In some situations, you might want to bring in additional topsoil to level out an area. If you plan well in advance, you can seed the area with grass or even wildflowers to achieve your desired look, but there’s nothing wrong with the more rustic, freshly mowed pasture grass leading right up to the building. If the area is primarily dirt, several loads of bark chips can do wonders to spruce up the landscape.
3. Relocate Hazards
Anything you don’t want at your party needs to be hauled out of the barn, Danreuther says. For her parties, they hauled multiple trailer loads of materials to the landfill.
If you can’t move it out, you have to be creative to cover it up. Bales of straw can be useful—just don’t stack them too high, as they have a tendency to tip. Drape sheets (especially flannel ones with a farm feel) over items you don’t want to be bothered. Keeping equipment out of sight is the best way to keep it safe.
When surveying the barn, begin to think like a 5-year-old looking for somewhere to play. Determine what needs to be removed or adequately hidden. For example, consider setting up plywood, and maybe even painting a decorative mural on it, at the base of ladders often found in old barns to prevent children from testing their climbing skills.
At one of Danreuther’s receptions, many of the children decked out in cute dressing and nice clothing thought the maze of the cow chutes—not intended to be a play area—was great fun. While this situation was safe and perfectly acceptable to the hosts, leave it to kids to find the trouble.
4. Clean Up After the Animals
One of the barns used for the Danreuthers’ party was home to more than 250 cows.
“We had a lot to clean out,” she says. Fortunately, the animals were out of the barn for the season, but the remnants of their stay required a lot of work, requiring a skid-steer loader to clear out the manure. “In some of those old barns you would need a wheelbarrow. You’ll want every cousin and neighbor to help clean out the barn if you can’t get equipment.”
After removing the bedding and animal evidence, pressure wash the interior of the barn, allowing adequate time to dry out before trying to move anything inside.
5. Level the Floor
Some buildings are graced with a beautifully even concrete floor, but that’s not always the case. If you have an earthen floor, it will most likely need a little leveling, either by hand or with a machine, to make it conducive to dancing and mingling without being a tripping hazard. You can bring in gravel or clay to shore up low spots.
Once the dirt floor is level, rake it out or top-dress it with a 3- to 4-inch layer of wood chips to create a cleaner look. The nice thing about using wood chips is they are recyclable, Danreuther says. They’re still using them in the chicken coop several years later. It’s best to put the chips down well in advance since they create some dust. You’ll probably want to vacuum afterwards to clean up the area before setting out the tables.
Also, if anyone attending has physical limitations, plan ahead by making a ramp or creating another entrance to accommodate a wheelchair, walker or crutches.
6. Arrange a Power Source
One consideration you must plan for early is your power source to the barn. This might not be an issue for a newer building that has a 220-volt line running to the building and is completely up to code. However, older barns often have insufficient electrical systems to handle a DJ, lights, heaters and the other electrical needs of a party.
“You might need to have an electrician do some work,” Danreuther says. Always err on the side of safety.
If you’d rather not rewire the barn for a single event, consider buying or renting a generator. Many newer models are exceptionally quiet. Be sure to set them up outside and well away from an area where exhaust might circulate back into the barn to prevent carbon-monoxide poisoning.
When running power cords, look at everything as a potential tripping hazard. Place them along the perimeter out of the flow of traffic and tape them to the floor, whenever possible. If there’s a line in the way, place a table or some other larger obstacle over it to prevent a fall.
7. Provide a Heat Source
Heating can be a challenge, particularly in an older barn. For a place with a concrete slab or earthen floor, you have greater options since it reduces the likelihood of a fire breaking out. For wood chips on the floor, you’ll need to ensure the heat source is a safe distance from any combustible substance. Talk to your local fire marshal to obtain sound advice on what materials to use as a base for your heating devices, and how to secure them to prevent them from being tipped over.
Electric milk-house heaters can take the edge off of a chilly evening, and radiant heaters are good for heating small spaces. (If it’s very cold, you might find people congregating around them.) Plus, different varieties of propane heaters are very effective, and newer ones typically have a safety shut-off built in for low oxygen levels or if they’re tipped over. The tall heaters often used on patios provide excellent overhead sources around tables or seating areas, though you must ensure the area is adequately ventilated.
8. Get Liability Insurance
While it’s the last thing you want to think about, make sure your liability insurance will cover any unfortunate accidents that might occur. Even though you take every precaution, sometimes bad things just happen.
Bringing the party to the barn is a memorable opportunity for everyone. It certainly takes a fair amount of elbow grease and planning to pull off the event, but it’s undoubtedly one that people will talk about for years down the road.
Get more party-planning help from HobbyFarms.com:
- How to Throw a Modern-Day Barn Raising
- Farm Event Planning Guide
- Printable Farmstead Party Themes
- 6 Host Tips for a Fall Harvest Party
- 8 Budget-Friendly Tips for a Farm Birthday
About the Author: Freelance writer Amy Grisak relies on her pressure canner to put up much of the food from her garden. You can follow her endeavors on www.thebackyardbounty.com.