2015 05 02 11.25.02

Silence of the Silos

by Joan Corbett-Fujiki, Director/Secretary Ontario Barn Preservation

I am not a writer, but have a deep concern and interest in the preservation of barns and outbuildings. When I travel on the back roads of Grey Bruce, I often see these seemingly abandoned silos. Alone on an empty landscape. My interest was peaked. What are these creatures and why are they still here long after the barn and, alas, the house has disappeared?

The search was on.

There were many outbuildings on a farm. The barn being the masterpiece, other adjuncts made up the farm. Silos, piggeries, carriage houses, drive sheds, hen houses, smoke houses and the corn crib.

The farm where I spent many a long summer had a drive shed and hen house but no silo.

An old definition: “a pit or tight structure in which green crops are pressed and kept for fodder undergoing fermentation”. Green fodder (silage) became part of the Ontario Agriculture scene about 1880.

The first tower silos were built with vertical wooden tongue and groove staves wrapped in iron hops or wooden cribs. The first vertical silo in the Americas was built in 1873 by Fred Hatch in McHenry County: Illinois.

As we moved into the early 20th century, they were often built with clay tiles or concrete reinforced with steel rods.

In an article dated 1885 by Professor Wrighton in the Journal of the Royal Agriculture Society; he writes that in an ordinary farm of 100 acres, a silo 18 feet wide and 18 feet high would hold about 100 tons of corn silage and that 1 acre is capable of producing 12 tons. This was in 1885 so I suggest that the statistics could be quite different today.

In addition to steel and clay tiles (porcelain), some silos are made from masonry and wooden components. Silos contain a closed top and well as a sealed bottom. The base is typically sealed with organic matter such as dirt or soil but may also be closed with canvas, paper or plastic. Having an enclosed bottom prevents air from entering. Silage may be unloaded from the bottom with a power operated unloader and must be removed at a certain rate per day to prevent spoilage.

Concrete silos are very difficult to remove so they often stand as memorials to vanished farms.

They are silent.


Arthur, Eric; Witney, Dudley. 1972. The Barn. Pg. 231-232. M.F. Fehelye Arts Company Limited. Toronto, Ontario, McIIwraith, Thomas F. 1997. Looking for Old Ontario. Pg. 187-190. University of Toronto Press.

Grey Bruce photos by author, silo interior and Glen Huron photos by Jim Campbell.

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