Silos stand tall

Two weeks ago at the Trumbull County Food and Agriculture Breakfast, I was visiting with friends Bud and Betty Ogilbee from Kinsman. They asked why I didn’t write an article about silos. In turn, I asked what there was about silos that interested them and would be of interest to others.

Their response was that there are 13 of them standing empty within four miles of their home. To them, this was significant and a sign of the times.

Some of you may be asking just what is a silo and why should you be interested in them. Others with a farm background or some rural experience know what they are.

Silos are mostly round, upright structures of varying height and diameter. They are usually attached to a barn, but not always, and are used to store green chopped corn, stalk and all, and wilted meadow crops.

When the feed comes out of the silo, it has gone through the fermentation process and is called silage. It has a pungent, fermented odor that can be pleasant when the crops are put in at the right stage.

And no, even though the feed has been fermented, it will not make the livestock intoxicated!

Silos were first used as far back as about 1880. Farmers recognized the value of corn as a feed and looked for a way to store the crop stalk and all.

Early silos were made from wood – Douglas fir, pine, hemlock, cedar and others depending on what was available where they lived. Many of them were square with slightly rounded corners, but they had too much spoilage in the corners. So they made them round.

The wood was sawed into long staves that had to fit tightly together to make them as airtight as possible to avoid spoilage. Moisture from the corn would usually swell the wood enough to fill any cracks.

Later, silos were made from different materials. Some were cement blocks, others concrete staves and later ones poured concrete. Many of these were well-built and are still standing straight and tall, if the foundation was put in right. Metal bands or hoops were put around the silos to strengthen them, especially at the bottom with the pressure from packed silage pushing down.

Many smaller upright silos are still used in the Amish country, where they still have small dairy herds. Amish farmers have the power equipment needed to fill them.

Empty silos that dot the countryside are a sign of times past and changes that have taken place in farming. As farms grew larger with more livestock, farmers soon recognized the need for storage easier to fill and to get the feed out in the winter. So many of them have gone to horizontal bunker silos, 30 or 40 or more feet wide and as long as necessary to provide enough winter storage for silage.

Bunker silos are filled with wagons or trucks that bring the crop in, dump it and another tractor stays on top to continually pack it. When the bunker is full, a large sheet of plastic is used to cover it and weighted down, often with many old tires.

Tractors with front end loaders are used to get the silage out of the bunker and load it into a self-unloading wagon. This wagon, pulled by a tractor, goes along the feed mangers and unloads the silage.

Traveling around the county you can also see some long white plastic bags stretched along the ground and sealed on both ends. These are also used to store silage, rather than bunkers, because they are airtight and keep good feed. It takes special equipment to fill them.

Many of the empty silos today are attached to an empty dairy barn, an indicator of farming 60, 70 or more years ago. So if you are like Bud and Betty Ogilbee, you may recognize these tall upright silos, monuments to a time many years ago.

Parker is an independent writer for the Tribune.