“We wanted to keep our product nice and clean and dry, and so far it's worked really well,” says Gary Freeburg.
Last summer, this Gayville, SD, hay grower had asphalt laid on the floors of his hay barns and on heavy-traffic areas outside them. While his main goal was to prevent bottom tiers of bales from deteriorating in storage, Freeburg says the outdoor asphalt helps keep his trucks and farm shop cleaner, too.
Freeburg grows 2,000-3,000 acres of alfalfa and alfalfa-grass mixtures, and also buys hay from other growers, handling up to 40,000 tons of big square bales per year. Some of his hay barns are filled two or three times a year, so truck traffic is heavy at times.
His hay barns, including three new ones built three years ago, previously had gravel, reground asphalt or reground concrete on the floors. In spring, moisture moved up through those materials into the bales, contaminating from 1” to 6” of hay, depending on the year. Small pieces of floor material stuck to the bottom bales, too.
“We finally decided that we didn't want wicking and gravel or reground concrete or reground asphalt on the bottom of the bales, which amounted to one-sixth of the hay in our barns,” he recalls. “The barns have the capacity of around 16,000 tons.”
After visiting with several National Hay Association colleagues, including E.J. Croll of Oak Harbor, OH, Freeburg chose to put down asphalt instead of concrete. Croll laid asphalt on the floors of two hay barns almost 30 years ago, and used it again in a third barn built last year. He says moisture doesn't move up through asphalt like it does with concrete.
“We don't have any problem with the bottom bales; they come up just like they went down,” says Croll. “The other big thing is, asphalt is still a lot cheaper than concrete.”
He says the decades-old asphalt inside his barns is still “like the day it was put down,” and he hasn't had problems with outdoor asphalt pads, either. To hold up under heavy trucks, he figures it should be at least 4" thick.
“The secret is to have a solid base under it so it can't settle, or it'll break up,” says Croll.
“A lot of guys in our area have asphalt now,” he adds. “Anybody who sees it can see that it makes a lot of sense.”
Last spring, Freeburg regraded a portion of his hay yard to ensure proper drainage, then put down 6-8" of asphalt on about 8.5 acres. Inside the barns, he's found that it preserves hay quality as Croll said it would, even in hot, humid weather.
“It's nice to have clean bottom bales,” says Freeburg.
Outside, trucks no longer kick up the dust that used to settle on vehicles and inside buildings. He can leave the doors of his 210 × 70' shop open and it stays clean inside; in wet weather, mud doesn't fall off the tires of trucks parked inside overnight.
In winter, packed snow and ice melt faster than before because of the asphalt's black color, he says.