What is a Silo?

Mary McMahon

A silo is a structure which is designed for the purpose of bulk materials storage. It may be temporary or permanent, depending on the setting. The classic image of a silo is the grain or silage silo used in farming communities to store bulk grain and silage. However, silos are used in many other settings, to hold a wide variety of things. Silos are used all over the world for storage of bulk materials in settings ranging from grain collection facilities to mines.

Corn is often stored in a silo.
Corn is often stored in a silo.

There are several different styles of silo. When many people think of silos, they often visualize a tower silo. Tower silos are cylindrical towers which can be made from concrete, brick, metal, wood, and other materials. The volume of the silo varies, depending on the diameter and the height, but the structure can usually accommodate a lot of material. Loading and unloading is done with automated systems which move goods in and out of the silo.

A grain silo is often used in farming communities for bulk storage.
A grain silo is often used in farming communities for bulk storage.

Bunker silos are built by digging a trench and lining it. The trench is topped with waterproofing materials. Such silos can be installed on a temporary basis or made more long term, depending on how they are being used. Automated systems for loading and unloading can also be used to manage a bunker silo. Such silos tend to be more low profile than tower silos, and they are also better insulated, because the earth acts as a natural insulator.

Grain farmers may pool their crops together in one silo to make it easier for grain buyers.
Grain farmers may pool their crops together in one silo to make it easier for grain buyers.

When temporary storage is needed, people can use bag silos, long tubes, usually made from plastic, which are filled with materials and then sealed. This technique may be used to manage everything from excess feedstock to animal waste. Such silos are commonly filled by being hooked up to a tractor attachment which blows or pushes materials inside. As long as the seals hold, they can last for an extended period of time.

In all cases, silos provide a dry, controlled, secure environment for goods. They can be used to store materials until they are needed, to keep a reserve or supplies on hand, or to aggregate materials from a group for easy pickup. For example, in a farming community, multiple farmers might pool grain into a single large silo at harvest so that buyers for the grain can simply go to the silo, rather than needing to travel from farm to farm to collect the grain. Farmers are compensated at a rate determined by how much grain they loaded into the silo.

Grain farms commonly use silos for storage.
Grain farms commonly use silos for storage.

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I have heard of people making a silo home using decommissioned missile silos or old grain silos. I remember seeing a program on PBS once all about it.

The houses were a lot nicer than you would expect and in a lot of cases they incorporated features of the old silo into the design of the home.

They were not perfect though. You have to put up with having almost no natural light and its kind of creepy to think of sleeping were nuclear missile used to be sitting. People interested can do some searching and probably find a silo for sale that they can renovate.


My parents used to run a business out of an old factory in the industrial part of Kansas City and on the property behind them there was an old grain silo.

When I was in high school I went in there a few times with my friends. It was one of the creepiest experiences of my life but that was the point.

The silo had 4 or five floors inside and a spiraling staircase that went around the whole thing. Whoever owned it was using it for storage but they had accumulated some pretty weird collections.

On one floor there was nothing but old wheel chairs and crutches. The big joke was to make one roll across the floor and then swear you hadn't pushed it. Even without the pranks it was really scary inside. They tore it down a few years ago and I don't think anyone is missing it.


Silos are absolutely one of the most picturesque things that I envision when I think about the heartland. I can picture one in my mind right now sitting quietly and serenely in the middle of a huge field of wheat. There’s nothing else; just the sky, the golden wheat and the slightly rusty silo just off to the left of the frame.

The thing is that this city girl has never before in my life seen an actually silo. I could actually be picturing a chicken coop that somebody somewhere told me was a silo, and I naturally believed it.

Where do we get these conceptions and ideas from? Isn’t it amazing the things that we tuck back in our mind from media and books and all kinds of other random resources.

Something tells me I might be remembering this silo from some old horror movie where the teenagers got cut short because they wandered into a demented farmer’s field or something.

It's amazing, though, how these sorts of things mold our thoughts of particular places and things.


I live in a farming community so silos are of no consequence to anyone around here anymore. We drive past them and might even see the corn being dumped into them, but we rarely actually see them anymore. It’s just a part of the everyday landscape.

Which is why no one really thought much of the silos when we had a child just suddenly disappear. The entire community was searching everywhere for this child. We were really about to be convinced that someone had abducted the little one, even though this seemed completely out of the question.

Imagine our horror at finding the child in an old, abandoned silo. Well, there was definite relief, too. But absolute horror knowing that if this child had been unlucky enough to get into one that was to be used, but currently empty, we would never have found him! He would have likely been covered and suffocated.

Now, all of our farmers take special care to keep their silos locked down from prying and curious little hands whether they are in use or not.

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