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What’s the Difference Between Silos and Grain Bins?

When creating or redesigning your feed mill, it’s essential to choose the right structures and materials for your property. The constructions you implement will depend on numerous factors — namely, the kind of work you do, the amount of space you have and what your budget looks like. Silos and grain bins are agricultural staples, present on thousands of farms, but they serve different purposes for every business.

Which of these storage solutions should you select for your farming facilities — silos vs. grain bins? Read on to learn the difference between these two structures and how they each influence your operations.

What Are Silos?

Silos are notably distinctive from grain bins in that they are taller, slimmer and made from different materials. Most grain bins you’ll encounter consist of metal, but silos can also be concrete, wood or brick. These storage solutions come in various forms, and there are three primary types of silos you can find on farmland.

  • Bunker: Bunker silos are essentially trenches, with human-made walls and a floor made of natural earth. They typically consist of concrete, and airtight tarps cover them to protect their contents. Farmers use loaders and tractors to load and unload materials in these silos because of their structure.
  • Bag: Bag silos are precisely what the term implies — plastic bags used to store goods. These are a type of hermetic storage — as are most silos — meaning they are airtight and protected from external factors. They can be more efficient to use than the standard vertical silo due to their flexibility. They store substantial amounts of silage in a relatively compact space, though not as much as a tower or bunker.
  • Tower: Tower silos are familiar to many farms, appearing as tall cylindrical buildings. Farmers tend to load and unload them from the top, though bottom unloaders do exist. Their vertical configuration makes them convenient, as you can fit multiple tower silos onto a single plot of land.

Origin of Silos

Before silos existed, farmers stored hay in covered, open-air structures like barracks. Many others placed their grain in pits lined with stones or straw. Although these methods provided some protection, they still left materials exposed to the elements and vulnerable to harsh weather conditions. As the dairy industry grew, more farmers began raising cattle, and they soon realized they needed better solutions for feeding their livestock.

The modern silo grew out of this need. Fred Hatch gets credit for building the first vertical silo in Illinois in 1873, with subsequent adaptations quickly appearing across the United States. Early experiments of grain storage methods began appearing in Europe in the 1860s before spreading to the U.S. By the end of the 19th century, over 50,000 silos existed in the U.S. Round silos surpassed the early square versions in terms of widespread usage due to their improved stability.

The U.S. military has even used silos to store nuclear warheads, which they did from 1963 until the 1990s.

Applications of Silos

What do silos store? Silos store silage — fermented grasses that become feed for livestock. Some also store grain, wood chips or cement. Encouraging the grasses to acidify — otherwise known as silaging — requires a carefully maintained environment that facilitates fermentation without creating spoilage. Cattle survive off this feed in the winter months when foraging is scarce, which is why the silage must remain in perfect condition until then.

Agriculturists start the fermentation process by packing the grasses tightly together, which deprives the interior environment of oxygen. They may also introduce microorganisms to speed up fermentation. The silage undergoes multiple stages before achieving its final state.

What Are Grain Bins?

Many grain bins are wide, short buildings, consisting of corrugated or smooth metal. They have a more uniform shape than silos do, with a cylindrical body and a peaked roof. You’ll often see ladders and doors on their sides. They include more ventilating elements — like roof vents and temperature systems — than silos because they require adequate airflow. Though small farming operations use them, they’re also common to larger grain storage facilities.

Features of Grain Bins

Grain bins include numerous features that all work together to help them accomplish their job of protecting and storing agricultural goods. Here are a few standard components you’ll find within a grain handling system.

  • Cushion boxes: Cushion boxes protect the grain from sustaining damage during free fall by softening its landing. Sometimes kernels can crack or break after traveling through the spouting, which lowers the product’s market value. LCDM offers a patented DBAR adjustable cushion box, which can reduce grain damage by 50% — or even entirely in some cases. Grain quality is crucial to achieving an excellent return of investment, which is why effective cushion boxes are a necessity for grain storage facilities.
  • Flow valves: Flow valves control how quickly or slowly grain moves through the grain handling system. They also enable you to manage the amount of grain that travels through, stemming or facilitating grain flow as necessary. LCDM’s full-flow valves give you unrestricted movement, preventing time-consuming and costly errors like cross-contamination and grain leakage.
  • Slide gates: When you need a handling solution for bulk materials, slide gates are the go-to option. They control grain flow at discharge points such as emergency shut-off sites and hoppers. Installing a high-quality set of slide gates prevents seize-ups and grain leakage — you can guard your grain and your profit. LCDM offers custom slide gates for your grain storage needs, ensuring a secure seal for your products.

Applications of Grain Bins

In comparison to silos, what do grain bins store? Grain bins store grain products like barley, soybeans, oats and much more. The difference between grain bins and silos is that these containers must keep these goods dry until shipping time — as well as uncontaminated and pest-free. Moisture retention can cause the products to spoil, but applying too much heat can facilitate shrinkage, which can decrease your profit. Ventilation and temperature systems keep the environment at the ideal equilibrium.

Farmers use these grains for human food products, animal feed and fuel. If it’s a matter of grain bins vs. silos, grain bins are the option to choose when you need to protect your goods against moisture. Smooth or corrugated walls may also play a role in grain storage in terms of pest control, grain amount and grain quality.

Custom-Designed Grain Bins for Modern Agriculture

LCDM can help you design high-quality grain bins to store your products and gain the most from your agricultural business. Effective grain handling systems are a deciding factor in the success of any grain storage facility. Where there are grain bins, there are reliable components making everything possible. Your feed mill can benefit from custom-designed bins, which we create with our Solidworks design software for the best results every time.

Advanced technology has made manufacturing the perfect grain bin easier than ever. From deadstops to flow retarders, we can create the products you need to take your grain handling to the next level. In a world of standard solutions, unique and innovative features can enhance your ROI.

Contact our team today for more information on starting your custom grain bins.

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