Silo on an Iowa farm. Credit: Courtesy Library of Congress

“Five years ago I was one of a half dozen farmers in this neighborhood who built silos. Now there are as many put up each year, which I consider good evidence that the silo is practical and has come to stay,” an Iowa farmer remarked in 1908.

Some considered silos indispensable to profitable livestock raising and dairying. Not only were they practical, the structures were considered an ornament to any farm. The conical silo roof, with its curved walls was said to add a very pleasing enhancement to any farmstead.


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Typically a team of five men worked to fill a silo. Two men were in the field cutting corn and piling it in bunches. Two others loaded the corn and fodder into horse-drawn wagons. One man kept the silage level as it was loaded into the silo.

A survey was conducted of farmers to get an idea of how many and what type of silos were around the state. There were 161 accounted for, 135 located outside barns and 26 inside. Most farmers thought it was a waste of indoor space to build a silo inside. Plus they were unhandy to fill, and they released objectionable odors.

The value of silos was becoming widely appreciated in 1908. “For the dairy heard it is difficult to find its equal,” a farmer said about silage. He said he had needed to transfer his cows to a barn away from a silo when he was having some work done on the barn where he usually housed his cows. He claimed that during the time when his cows received no silage, their milk production was decreased by a third. And they were being used more generally as steer feed.

Experts at the Iowa Agricultural College in Ames offered guidelines for feeding silage to livestock:

beef cattle: wintering calves, 8 mon old, 15-25 pounds per day
sheep: fattening lambs, 2-3 pounds per day
dairy cattle: 30-50 pounds per day

The college at Ames had been experimenting with what they called the “Iowa Silo.” Thirteen were being used in various parts of the state. The average cost of a 16 by 35-foot silo with a concrete roof was between $300 and $350.

The foundations extended three to four feet below the frost line. Hard clay or a layer of cement were used for the floor. Reinforced concrete roofs were popular, but wooden ones were cheaper and effective in keeping the silage from freezing. Door frames were concrete, and doors were wood.

The walls of the Iowa Silo were specially designed “hollow, hard-burned” tiles, furnished by several Iowa manufacturers. The blocks were laid horizontally around the silo, and the joints were laid in cement mortar. Steel wire was laid between the courses of tiles for reinforcement.

Developers of the Iowa Silo claimed it would last for generations with few repairs. They said it was “indestructible.”


• “Cement Silo Men Confident,” Des Moines Register, Feb. 16, 1919.
• “Deep Silos Are Strongly Recommended,” Marble Rock Journal, Apr. 27, 1911.
• “Farmers Who Have Made a Test of Silo,” Humeston New Era, June 17, 1908.
• Iowa Engineer, Vol. 12-13, p 184, 1911.
• “The Iowa Silo,” Evening Times Republican, July 21, 1910.
• “Some Pointers on Stave Silo Buiding, Denison Review, May 31, 1911.
• “Some Silo Facts,” Humeston New Era, Nov., 18, 1908.
• “Stock Raising in the South, Humeston New Era, May 7, 1902.

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