Why do we paint barns red?

-- Aram Balian, 8, Chevy Chase

For starters, not all barns are red. West of Washington, for example, you will find many white barns, especially on dairy farms. In Southern Maryland, there are a quite a few barns that aren't painted at all. Still, there are a lot of red barns, and the reason is not exactly clear.

One of the most popular theories is that rust -- or iron oxide -- was once a major ingredient in homemade paint. When mixed with milk, lime and linseed oil, the rust made a paint that was red and very cheap. This appealed to the thrifty farmers of New England, where there are many red barns. As settlers from New England moved west, they brought with them the practice of painting barns red. Eventually, red became sort of a tradition for barns.

Another answer, which is not as popular (and much grosser), is that the blood of slaughtered farm animals was painted on barns to preserve the wood. Some say the idea of painting barns red came from Scandinavia to make them look like brick, which was a sign of wealth. Others say the red color absorbs sunlight, which keeps the barn warmer.

Then there's this twister: Farmers will say they use red paint because it is so cheap. Paint makers say red is cheap because so many farmers buy it.

So, the answer in short is that there is no definite answer. But most barn experts seem to agree that red barns originated with cheap paint colored by rust.

-- Michael FarquharSomething you don't know? Ask us. If we answer your question in print, you'll receive a KidsPost T-shirt. Write: Now You Know, KidsPost, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, DC 20071. Or e-mail (with "Now You Know" in the subject line): kidspost@washpost.com. Please include your name, age, address and phone number.

It's not black and white, but many barns are red all over.