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cow shed or cow house [barn, cowshed, byre] AE vs BE

Discussion in 'English Only' started by stephenlearner, Dec 6, 2012.

  1. stephenlearner Senior Member

    Chinese
    Hi everyone,

    The structure is a house intended for cows. Cows are kept and shelter here.

    What do you call it? a cow shed or cow house?

    I vote for cow shed.
     
  2. Copyright

    Copyright Senior Member

    Penang
    American English
    I vote for barn, with cow shed second (for a much smaller structure). The house is for the cow owners.
     
  3. perpend Senior Member

    American English
    How many cows are kept there?
     
  4. stephenlearner Senior Member

    Chinese
    Thank you very much.

    When I asked this question, I did not think of the number of the cows kept there.

    Maybe one cow is kept.
     
  5. Keith Bradford

    Keith Bradford Senior Member

    Brittany, NW France
    English (Midlands UK)
    You shouldn't keep your cows in a barn, they'll eat all the hay or grain that you store there! Keep them in a cow shed, that's the appropriate housing for them. If their cow shed is beneath the barn, it's called an underhousing.

    (British usage, Cumbria.)
     
  6. Thomas Tompion Senior Member

    Southwest France
    English - England
    I'm also shocked to hear that Copyright is keeping his cows in a barn.

    While cow shed is probably the common name now, particularly perhaps for city people, cow house is used by some. Here are the two examples from the British Corpus:

    Nearly every farmer had a barrel of the stuff in his cow house in those days and I had only to go into the corner and turn the tap. Vets might fly. James Herriot.
    His death certificate shows that he was found on the floor of his cow house on Christmas Eve 1887, a day before his 71st birthday, having died from a heart attack. Family history and local history in England. David Hey.

    The ngrams are interesting, suggesting that cow house was more commonly used until about 1890. This supports my view that cow house is common in the country, and that its relative decline coincides with the shift in population from the country to the town, and the corresponding decline in importance of the rural economy.

    People who are writing in Google books, like people posting in Word Reference, are mostly city folk, I imagine.

    ps. Tweaking the ngrams gives interesting results. If you tweak them for English Fiction, you find that cow shed becomes much more dominant: further support for my view that city people say cow shed and farmers often say cow house?
     
    Last edited: Dec 6, 2012
  7. Copyright

    Copyright Senior Member

    Penang
    American English
    In Kansas and Missouri where I grew up, cows were kept in a barn, even if there was only one of them. They don't eat all the hay because we have haylofts, a second level where the hay is stored. -- when it's needed to feed the cow(s), it is pitchforked through a hole in the floor to the feeding area below.

    I was just being open-minded in suggesting cow shed ... I've never heard the term. And cow house is simply laughable for the AE I'm familiar with. :)
     
  8. natkretep

    natkretep Moderato con anima

    Singapore
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
  9. Thomas Tompion Senior Member

    Southwest France
    English - England
    Yet the AE ngrams suggest that it's still used.

    The COCA, the American corpus, has 28 entries for cowshed and none for cow house (or cowhouse).
     
  10. Thomas Tompion Senior Member

    Southwest France
    English - England
    James Herriot sometimes says cow house, Natkretep. Look at the example in #6.
     
  11. Keith Bradford

    Keith Bradford Senior Member

    Brittany, NW France
    English (Midlands UK)
    I've just dome an Ngram on the three (cow shed, cow house, byre) for British books and am amazed to find that byre far outranks the other two! Not quite sure what to make of this. My inlaws and their neighbours in the Lake District talked about byres, but they didn't write books...
     
  12. L'irlandais

    L'irlandais Senior Member

    Dreyeckland/Alsace region
    Ireland: English-speaking ♂
    Hello,
    The term Cow house is fairly commonly used in Ireland.
    The barn is often called the "hay shed" where I come from. (No cows kept in this large structure.)

    In damp climates, Ireland for example, the hay and straw are stored away from the livestock, because of a real risk/possibility of Spontaneous combustion
     
  13. perpend Senior Member

    American English
    stephenlearner, You could probably just use "cow pen" if it's just one cow.
     
  14. entangledbank

    entangledbank Senior Member

    London
    English - South-East England
    This was one of the words on the English Dialect Survey in the 1950s. As well as byre, less familiar words encountered across the country were shippon and mistall, and compounds like neat-house and cow-stable.
     
  15. Thomas Tompion Senior Member

    Southwest France
    English - England
  16. perpend Senior Member

    American English
    Have you ever lived on a farm, entangledbank? Pure curiosity.
     
  17. Keith Bradford

    Keith Bradford Senior Member

    Brittany, NW France
    English (Midlands UK)
    But my point, Entangledbank, is that in British printed books, byre is the standard word. Not (as I might have thought) dialect. It's twice as common as cowshed (single word) and leaves all the other options far behind.

    http://books.google.com/ngrams/grap...800&year_end=2000&corpus=18&smoothing=3&share=

    In American books, byre still outranks cowshed and cow shed combined, though only just.

    Us townies need to re-think...
     
    Last edited: Dec 6, 2012
  18. Copyright

    Copyright Senior Member

    Penang
    American English
    China generally uses AE – which brand of English are you looking for, stephen?
     
  19. Keith Bradford

    Keith Bradford Senior Member

    Brittany, NW France
    English (Midlands UK)
    Irrelevant, as I said in #17; if Stephen wants the word most used in the literature of either country, he should use byre.

    Now, I have to say that the above sentence makes me worried; it seems quite counter-intuitive (and I have lived on a cattle farm with a byre). Is this a case of me, a non-farmer, imposing a simplified vocabulary on an area I don't fully understand? If so, we all seemed to do it automatically up to post #8. Or do we all really know all about byres, but chose only to discuss the words in the original post?
     
  20. Copyright

    Copyright Senior Member

    Penang
    American English
    Not at all irrelevant, especially since you have narrowed the use to literature and we have been given no indication of its intended use. Merriam-Webster defines byre as "chiefly British, a cow barn" (my original suggestion).

    Perhaps part of the contention comes from the fact that American cowboys may still be asleep at this hour.
    Until this post I have never seen byre written or heard it said in my life. I doubt if I'm the only educated American for whom that is true.
     
  21. Thomas Tompion Senior Member

    Southwest France
    English - England
    Your original suggestion, Copyright, was barn. You've slipped that cow in surreptitiously. It's mooing at me.
     
  22. PaulQ

    PaulQ Senior Member

    UK
    English - England
    If a non-native is to make themselves understood, I would suggest, in BE, 'cow shed'; even if that is not the local name for it (and names are myriad throughout the UK) it would be clearly understood.

    I asked my wife (not a country-girl) "What is a byre - b-y-r-e?" The reply was "I've no idea." She is from the northern part of the East Midlands.
     
  23. Copyright

    Copyright Senior Member

    Penang
    American English
    I should have been specific (especially in this thread) to say I was referring to the word "barn." No one in my experience has ever called it a "cow barn" and I suspect M-W is doing that just to clarify the definition of byre for AE speakers, i.e. that it means specifically a barn for cows to BE speakers.
     
  24. Myridon

    Myridon Senior Member

    Texas
    English - US
    This is because you're ignoring the real American English word as mentioned at the start of the thread - barn!
    http://books.google.com/ngrams/grap...00&year_end=2000&corpus=17&smoothing=3&share=
    I've never seen nor heard the word "byre" before in my life. Every dictionary I've checked marks it as "British."
    Look at the actual results for "Byre." In a lot of the hits, it's a last name, not a building for animals.
     
    Last edited: Dec 6, 2012
  25. JustKate

    JustKate Moderate Mod

    I have been writing about agriculture for more than 25 years now, and Myridon is absolutely right that in AmE it's almost invariably barn - and not cow barn, either, just barn.

    On farms that have more than one species and that need to differentiate the different barns, barn is simply modified by the species name - that is, if they also have a hog barn (although hog building is more common these days), they'll refer to the one for cows as cattle barn when it's for for beef cattle or dairy barn when it's for dairy cattle. I have certainly seen cow shed but not in anything written in the past, say, 80-100 years.

    Byre is never used these days (I have run across it only in books, and old books at that), but back when it was last used, which was quite a long time ago, I believe the meaning in AmE was "storage building for livestock feed." They might have fed the cattle in there but they weren't housed there, at least not as far as I know.
     
    Last edited: Dec 6, 2012
  26. Keith Bradford

    Keith Bradford Senior Member

    Brittany, NW France
    English (Midlands UK)
    I was hoping that the ngrams avoided that. Perhaps not.

    LATER: Yes, the Ngrams are case-sensitive, so we can rule out proper names.

    Conclusion, according to Google ngrams 2000:
    Americans talk mainly about barns; if they want to be more specific, they say cowshed or byre (equal frequency).
    Brits also talk about barns, but (if they know the business) they put their hay in them and their cattle in the cowshed or byre (equal frequency).
     
    Last edited: Dec 6, 2012
  27. JustKate

    JustKate Moderate Mod

    My remarks above were about AmE, but I was actually pretty sure that barn is used a lot in BE, too - and I was nearly certain that byre isn't used much anywhere. So I went to FarmingUK.com, and did searches for barn, cowshed, cow shed and byre. Here are the results:
    Barn: 3,200
    Cow shed: 129
    Cowshed: 24
    Byre: This was interesting because there were more than 900 hits, but almost all of them appeared to be real estate listings and included references to "cottage" developments, lodges and so on, plus a few references to the quaint facilities available on historic properties for sale. I admit that I didn't look at all 900, but I clicked through several pages and I didn't see any that appeared be connected to an actual working farm.

    So I would strongly recommend using either barn or perhaps cow shed.

    (Cross-posted with Keith)
     
    Last edited: Dec 6, 2012
  28. Myridon

    Myridon Senior Member

    Texas
    English - US
    I still think you're letting Google lead you astray. Ignoring the last names, there's not a single hit on the first five pages clicking on the "1966-2000" link for "byre" that I would call "Americans just talking in modern English about modern times". There's a Faroese-English dictionary, some archeology, some "Lord of the Rings" type literature, ...
     
  29. JustKate

    JustKate Moderate Mod

    Keith...Americans do NOT say byre - or if they do is is very rarely and never in reference to anything in use in the modern world. Cow shed, maybe, but the term that is used with overwhelming frequency is barn.

    Go to Google News - this will filter out most of the literary references - and search for "byre." You get only 17 hits, and none of those reflect "Americans talking modern English." Not one. I don't think any of them reflect "Britons talking modern English" either, but you'd be a better judge of that than me. Then try "cow shed" - 26 results. Then try "cowshed" - 225 results. Then try "barn" - 169,000 results.

    Barn is the word to use - definitely in AmE and probably in BE, too - with cowshed/cow shed a distant second.

    Edit: I'm quite confused by what you meant when you said "Brits also talk about barns, but (if they know the business) they put their hay in them and their cattle in the cowshed or byre (equal frequency)." My search at UKFarming.com does not support this conclusion.
     
    Last edited: Dec 6, 2012
  30. Thomas Tompion Senior Member

    Southwest France
    English - England
    Hello JustKate,

    How familiar are you really with BE farming terminology?

    I was a bit surprised to see you strongly recommending a use in BE, in a way I would be more than hesitant to do about AE.
     
  31. cyberpedant

    cyberpedant Senior Member

    North Adams, MA
    English USA, Northeast, NYC
    Having worked on a few dairy farms in New England, I can assure you that our only word for "structure in which cows are housed" is "barn." If the word "byre" were mentioned, we'd have looked around for a customer. :) A cow "shed" is an open structure—roof and three walls—where cattle out to pasture can take shelter during unpleasant weather. This is entirely AE usage, perhaps even limited to the northeast.
     
  32. Wordsmyth

    Wordsmyth Senior Member

    Location: Mostly SW France
    Native language: English (BrE)
    Absolutely right, Paul, which makes it hard to generalise about BE (on this subject) — or indeed to determine an urban/rural difference. I spent part of my young life on a farm in a very rural part of Somerset (England). The word used was cowshed (or cow shed). I never once heard cow house, and byre wasn't at all common. I suspect that byre gets a high ranking in statistical searches because of its widespread use in literature, but I've rarely heard it in everyday speech (in any part of the UK).

    In fact, on the farm where I lived, the cowshed was also called the milking shed, because the cows lived in the fields, and were brought into the shed only for milking (and calving).
    Well, Kate, I wouldn't rely too much on that website search. As Keith and TT have already said, the term barn in the UK usually means a place to store hay or other feed, and often tractors and other farming equipment.

    So barn is the word to use in AE; but not in BE, where cowshed (or cow shed) seems favourite (and where barn would be misunderstood).

    Ws:)
     
  33. JustKate

    JustKate Moderate Mod

    Fairly familiar, actually. Ag terminology is a specialized field, and I expect I read more farming news from around the world than do most people here. But that's why I did that search on FarmingUK.com (my apologies for mistyping it "UKFarming.com" on first reference) - to see if my impressions would be validated by a search of a well-known British website/ag publishing house, and they were. And then I double-checked it on Google News.

    And then, since you're so doubtful about this, I just did a quickie search of a couple of other UK farming sites (Farmers Weekly and Farming Monthly National), and while I haven't taken the time to tabulate them, they were obviously very similar - many hits for barn, some for cowshed/cow shed, and a number for byre but consisting almost entirely of historical references or references to historic structures, not working farms.

    So my opinion is based on my knowledge of ag terminology, not my knowledge of BE in general. And I am quite confident that most BE speakers who farm say barn or possibly cow shed far more often than byre when talking about the building in which they house their cattle.
     
  34. JustKate

    JustKate Moderate Mod

    Cowshed/cow shed is a possibility. Byre is not. And I actually think barn would be understood as well, but that's really hard to discern from an internet search.
     
  35. Wordsmyth

    Wordsmyth Senior Member

    Location: Mostly SW France
    Native language: English (BrE)
    There would be a lot of hits for barn, Kate, because most British farms have a barn (as well as a cowshed if they farm cattle), but did you check whether all those barn hits referred to buildings housing cattle? I'd be very surprised (based on personal experience) if most BE speakers who farm said barn when talking about the building in which they house their cattle.

    Ws:)
     
    Last edited: Dec 6, 2012
  36. JustKate

    JustKate Moderate Mod

    No, I didn't check - didn't have time, to be honest. That's why I hedged with cow shed. ;)

    One thing we all have to be careful about is remembering that what regular folks call those buildings and what farmers call them is often quite different. That's definitely the case in AmE, where nonfarmers can't seem to tell the difference between a grain bin and a silo, and I'm pretty sure that's the case in BE, too - and I base this not on my knowledge of BE but on my knowledge of how casual those not involved in a profession are with the terminology that profession uses. I think that might be part of the confusion with byre (that and all those historical references), but that's just a guess.
     
  37. Wordsmyth

    Wordsmyth Senior Member

    Location: Mostly SW France
    Native language: English (BrE)
    Yes indeed, lay people often (mis)use different terms from those of professionals — and even professional terminology varies: I was present once when an equipment rep was discussing with a neighbouring farmer the re-equipping of his milking shed, and the rep used the term "milking parlour". The farmer replied "Parlour?! Ain't 'avin no cows in my parlour. Gurt mess that'd make, wunnit!" So yes, terminology varies, even amongst agricultural specialists.

    However in the case of cowshed and barn, two people (Keith and I) who have lived on farms bear witness to the usual meaning of barn as used by farming professionals in the UK. And I promise, it wasn't just our farm: the building for cows was called a cowshed by all the farmers I knew in our region.

    If stephenlearner is looking for a single word for universal application, perhaps it should be cowshed: at least it seems to be a possibility (even if 'a distant second') in AE, whereas barn would be misleading, or at the very least ambiguous, in BE (and IrE: post #12). Otherwise, I'd suggest sticking to barn in AE and cowshed in BE.

    Ws:)
     
  38. JustKate

    JustKate Moderate Mod

    May I ask when you lived on a farm? These things do sometimes change, and they can change pretty rapidly, too. And then, just to keep it interesting, other things remain exactly the same for generations. I can remember some...uncomfortable conversations with my father-in-law, who quit farming many years ago and yet seemed to be under the impression that nothing had changed in agriculture in the intervening 25 years. And as those of us who follow these things know, a whole lot has changed in agriculture in recent decades.

    But I do agree that cowshed would be a pretty safe term, if you have to use one for both AmE and BE (it would sound quite dated in AmE but it would be understandable). But for AmE, it should be barn, cattle barn or dairy barn.
     
  39. Wordsmyth

    Wordsmyth Senior Member

    Location: Mostly SW France
    Native language: English (BrE)
    Good point, Kate, my farm experience was a good few years ago, so I can't swear that terminology hasn't changed. I did just check with four Brit colleagues, ages 25-32, and all came up immediately with cowshed (and all described a barn as storage for hay, feed, equipment, etc), so I'm reasonably reassured.

    By the way (not that I'm making any judgement on modern AE usage), the word barn derives from the Old English word for "barley house" — not a cow in sight!;)

    Ws:)
     
  40. JustKate

    JustKate Moderate Mod

    The original meaning of the OE cattle was "moveable property." It has the same root as chattel. So there's a cow in sight, but there are other things in sight as well. :)
     
  41. Wordsmyth

    Wordsmyth Senior Member

    Location: Mostly SW France
    Native language: English (BrE)
    Touché! ;) ... or maybe that explains why Brit farmers keep their chattels in the barn.:D

    Ws:)
     
  42. George French Senior Member

    English - UK
    The only comment I can make after reading this thread is that there seem to be different classes of terminology associated with different classes of observers, for want of a better word...

    GF..

    I grew up with the words cow/milking/cattle shed. Now I was never in the farming business so I can only going to give my personal interpretation. The cows were milked in the milking shed and the cattle were housed in the cow/cattle shed.

    A barn is where one has fun in the hay... My COD does not mention animals at all....
     
  43. Wordsmyth

    Wordsmyth Senior Member

    Location: Mostly SW France
    Native language: English (BrE)
    Good point, GF. I have fond memories of a number of barns, and if they'd been anything like a cowshed inside, we'd have gone somewhere else! ;)

    Ws:)
     
  44. JustKate

    JustKate Moderate Mod

    I only rarely hear either milking barn or milking shed for the place in which the cows are milked (dairy barn is used for the place where the cows are housed, not where they are milked). The usual term for the place where the milking occurs, at least here in the Midwest, is milking parlor. You can have all this high-tech equipment to get the milk out of the cow as quickly as possible without causing her distress, to instantly test for bacteria or residues, and to chill the milk to 40 degrees F or colder within seconds...and it's still called a parlor. How adorable is that?
     
  45. Wordsmyth

    Wordsmyth Senior Member

    Location: Mostly SW France
    Native language: English (BrE)
    Ah, so that's where the parlour came from (cf my #37)! Perhaps the sales guy was representing an American company. I suppose it's quite an approriate term if it's right next to (or part of) the dairy barn: the cows move out of the living room into the parlour (or what, in more down-to-earth UK English, is sometimes called the front room).;) Since all the cows in my area were outdoor types, they were milked in a simple shed. A parlour would've been far too grand for them.

    Ws:)
     
  46. L'irlandais

    L'irlandais Senior Member

    Dreyeckland/Alsace region
    Ireland: English-speaking ♂
    I think we should be wary of stats.
    The wonderful thing about the English language is that it's evolving all the time.
    Barn, like byre, comes from Old English ; it's origins are barley + house.
    That in North America, barns can now be used for storing anything from livestock to railroad trains, is cool.
    That the Old English word byre, is still in common usage is equally cool. Both statements are true, so what's the problem?

    "Parlour" is from Anglo-Norman (consequently also used in Ireland, since we had both the Anglos & the Normans.)
    I defo heard "Milking parlour" used in my childhood ; growing up, as I did, surrounded by farming communities.
     
    Last edited: Dec 7, 2012
  47. perpend Senior Member

    American English
    I think many are overlooking this from the OP.

    Again, maybe "cow pen". It may just be a lean-to. I don't think one cow needs a much larger structure. "shed" works for me, if need be.
     
  48. eidsvolling New Member

    English -- U.S.
    Someone needs to take the Google programmer responsible for "byre" showing up in AE results out to the barn and give him/her a good thrashing. Then take him/her out to the field to watch the CORN being threshed before it is dried and fed to the cattle – in the BARN! :)

    (And yes, FWIW, my grandfather was a farmer in Minnesota. Who kept his cows and horses in the BARN. And whose farm was way too small to include a cow shed out in the pastures.)
     
  49. RM1(SS)

    RM1(SS) Senior Member

    Connecticut
    English - US (Midwest)
    From reading books written by British authors, I was under the impression that byre was the only word used in Britain for this structure.

    But I'm with Copyright and cyberpedant - the main building for cows is a barn, with cow shed (two words) as an option for a much smaller, open building, such as this or this.
     
    Last edited: Jan 15, 2013

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