Farm Horizons, February 1998

From trenches to silos to trenches

By MYRON HEUER

It used to be that if you saw a farm, you'd see a silo. The tall round tower of concrete and steel, and even some wooden ones, are found on all farms, especially if it's a dairy farm.

Inside the silo was chopped up corn, stalks and all, which was then called silage.

The introduction of silos and silage allowed farmers to keep larger herds in the wintertime at a lower cost because silage was less expensive than dry feed grain. But there were arguments against silage. Cows would lose their teeth, silage would burn out their stomachs, calving would be difficult, and silage would affect the quality of milk. Some even thought it would make the cows drunk.

The first silo was built in 1880 near Oconomowoc, Wisc., just down the road apiece from Watertown. Previously, corn was stored in pits. The first silos were made of wood staves, but eventually masonry replaced the staves. They were developed around 1910, and some are still standing beside barns.

The familiar blue Harveststor silos, made of fiberglass bonded to sheets of metal, made their appearance in the '40s. Harveststor, which cost more than concrete silos were a mark of a farmer's wealth and size of his operation. The company also may have had some very good salesmen.

Many farms have several silos, masonry and Harveststor. I saw a farm here in southeastern Wisconsin that had five or six silos. Most were Harveststor. I didn't go by this farm, as it was in the distance. But I'd bet it was a huge dairy.

You see silos everywhere here in this part of Wisconsin, for after all, this is "America's dairyland" as the auto license plates state.

So what's new in silos? They're going back to the pit. And they're storing it above ground. Trench silos have been appearing on many farms. The trench is covered with usually black plastic, held down with old tires.

An even simpler way to store silage is to blow it into a plastic tube, usually white, that lies on the ground.

Front end loaders transport the silage from the pit to the feeding area. So its back to the basics.

But whether it's used or not, the silo will be part of the landscape for a long time.

I just heard the other day that a Wisconsin farmer and his sons haul a lighted Christmas tree to the top of their Harveststor. It'd be neat, if all silos were decorated at Christmas time.

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