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Farm, 1900-1930

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Barns and Silos

Early Agriculture Gallery in Michigan Historical Museum One of the most outstanding inventions was the silo. These great towerlike structures sprang up like mushrooms throughout the farming areas of the dairy states. So mother had two wooden silos erected at the back of the Big Barn [in 1912]. Architecturally they set the barn off, seeming to complete it. —Sarah Van Hoosen Jones

Ottawa County Farm, 1901, Archives of Michigan PhotoBarns and silos changed the appearance and practices of Michigan farms during the early 20th century. The barn itself changed as farmers built additions, new outbuildings or entirely new barns. Pre-cut lumber shipped by rail, mail-order building plans and professional carpentry made it easier for farmers to make these changes.

The style of dairy barn in the exhibit (see color photo) became popular during the latter part of the 19th century. Its gambrel roof gave it more space for hay storage than a barn with a straight-slope roof like that in the historic photo. Farmers kept livestock and tools on the lower level of the barn. Round and polygon-shaped barns, built mostly between 1905 and 1924 in Michigan, were efficient, economical and wind resistant. Farmers began to use metal pole barns by the late 1930s.

Farmers stored silage—finely chopped crops for feeding livestock—in silos. With silage stored for the long winter, they were able to enlarge their dairy herds. The Michigan Agricultural Experiment Station gave farmers advice about storing crops, including corn, oats, peas, sunflowers and sugar beet tops. Farmers grew about 50% of Michigan's corn for silage. In northern counties as much as 90% of the corn was chopped—stalks, leaves and all—for silage.

In 1921, the Michigan Agricultural College's Experiment Station Quarterly Bulletin reported, "In Michigan alone, 49,000 silos were erected during the last two years." Silos of the 1920s were built of masonry, brick, steel, cement or wood stave, solid concrete, concrete block or glazed tile. Some early silos were built square, but farmers discovered that air seeped into the corners, causing the silage to spoil. Round silos eliminated air pockets, and the next improvement—concrete liners—prevented air leakage.


See Michigan's historic barns. Use the Search Wizard at Michigan's Historic Sites Online.

Visit the online version of the Michigan Historical Museum System's Walker Tavern barn exhibits.

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