Granny's Notes - the writing of Sue Gerard

A community benefits all, even in bad times

Tall, cylindrical towers called silos once dotted the countryside, and when you saw a silo you could bet that dairy cows were grazing nearby. Producing and selling milk was hard work but a way for ambitious farmers to make a living.

Silage, also called ensilage, was great feed for milk cows. It was made of chopped corn — stalk, ear, leaves and all — packed into airtight silos when the stalks were still partly green and the ear corn grains were matured but not dry.

There was enough moisture in the corn to have molded it if air had reached it. However, in an airtight silo it heated and fermented creating a feed which cows craved. It took the place of green pasture grazing. They bawled when it was gone in spring. Because cows liked it, they gave more milk than they would have on just dry feed.

Silos were expensive and they had to be erected by professionals. C.W. Furtney had loaned Dad and Mom money to buy the farm and for other things. Dad explained to Furtney that the best feed produced the most milk and that the silo would pay for itself in time. With faith in the young couple’s judgment the man approved another loan. They selected a 34-foot tall, hollow-tile silo made by The Dickey Tile Co. in St. Louis. The tiles were salt-glazed ceramic squares which locked together to make the airtight cylinder, impervious to moisture inside and out.

That fall marked the first of an annual event called silo-filling day. Mom worked days ahead, preparing a big feed for about 30 people. Neighbor women helped serve the workmen at noon. It was a "trade-work" arrangement where Dad helped neighbors thresh grain and Mom helped women feed the threshing crews. Kids had a great time at all of these gatherings, but I was just 3 years old and don’t remember these early events. That fall, Dad climbed the ladder several times, reached down deep into the packed silage and brought up a sample to show Mom, letting her smell its fragrance.

When it was ready to feed, he used a special wide pitchfork to toss the feed down the ladder chute to a big, rolling cart on barn floor level. He’d scatter it into the cows’ feeding places and add bran, cottonseed meal and a sprinkling of salt for each animal. When he turned the cows in, each one went to its own special stanchion to eat the mixture that Dad fed according to each cow’s diet needs. Dad was never too sick or too far from home to get there for the feeding.

The stanchion was made of wood with a wooden block that locked the cow in until released. It also kept the greedy ones from leaning far to one side and stealing a few bites with swipes of their long tongues.

The silo was at the south end of an old gray barn that was to be replaced. That plan changed when our house burned to the ground in 1922 and Furtney and the bank both helped with loans. Many people stood behind this hard-working young couple and their little children.

Besides the farm and cows, Furtney helped with the home, new barn, dairy trucks, milking machines and even a complete pasteurization and refrigerating system. Mom and Dad had one of Columbia’s leading dairies, serving Boone County Hospital from its beginning. They reached a long-time goal in the ’30s when Jim and I graduated from the University of Missouri in 1936 and had good jobs.

Is this a success story? No, I think it’s a love story. And I weep as I write the last line: Mom became ill and died the next year, before her 50th birthday. We buried her near Olivet Church where she was volunteer pianist for 20 years.

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