December 19: North Dakota Silos
Grain silos have been a staple of American agriculture since the 17th century. They were introduced by Dutch farmers who built round structures covered with fabric and topped with a thatched roof. The structure was called a hay barrack, designed to store dry hay. As farmers moved to areas with more severe winters – like North Dakota – they needed a better way to store fodder.
Farmers originally dug pits and lined them with wood. The silage, cut and stored while it was green, remained green while it was packed tightly. But when silage was removed to feed the animals, the silage in the corners began to rot. Since the silos were not well insulated, the silage also tended to freeze in the winter. Octagonal above-ground silos began to appear in the 1880s. In 1903 a round silo was developed. This type was better insulated. It could also be built much taller, which meant that farmers needed fewer silos to store the grain.
Professors at North Dakota Agricultural College endorsed the round silos. On this date in 1911, T.E. Hayes of Ellingson had the distinction of owning the first round silo in that section of North Dakota. Hayes built it himself. He said it could hold eight tons and it only cost nine dollars. Hayes filled it with corn fodder and Russian thistles in the fall. He said the fodder was so good that one of his cows was milking just as much in December as she was in June. Hayes was so pleased that he planned to build a bigger silo in the spring. Being able to store more fodder would allow him to add a few hogs in addition to his small herd of cows.
After World War Two, fiberglass became a popular material for silo construction. It was more expensive than wooden staves, but had a longer lifespan.
The storage of fodder continues to evolve. Today, white plastic bags are a common sight on farms. Up to eight feet in diameter, they provide maximum flexibility. They can store varying quantities of silage, the location can be changed from year to year, and they are economical. Agricultural methods will no doubt continue to evolve, but the towering silos that dot the landscape are reminders of North Dakota’s agricultural history.
Dakota Datebook by Carole Butcher
- Bismarck Tribune. “Well Pleased With His Silo.” Bismarck ND. 12/19/1911. Page 2
- Hutchinson Leader. “More to the Story: The silo: An end to an era.” https://www.crowrivermedia.com/hutchinsonleader/news/entertainment/more-to-the-story-the-silo-an-end-to-an-era/article_6adb6b7a-fef3-521b-8f36-66e9a67afe58.html Accessed 11/11/2023.
- Grit. “The Evolving History of the Agricultural Silo.” https://www.grit.com/farm-and-garden/the-evolving-history-of-the-agricultural-silo-ze0z1503zken/ Accessed 11/11/2023.