Gaining ground with an innovative asphalt cattle lot in Bayfield County

Bayfield County NRCS Staff
An asphalt barn lot on the farm of Larry Ekholm is one of the first of its kind in Bayfield County.

Lawrence (Larry) Ekholm runs a small beef farm south of Washburn, in Bayfield County. Larry has been grazing beef cattle on heavy clay soils for many years and dealing with the associated problems.

Larry Ekholm worked with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to complete a redesign of his beef operation to benefit his farm’s efficiency and the environment.

Ekholm’s property lies along Bono Creek, which empties directly into Lake Superior. If not managed properly, runoff from farms can cause harmful algal blooms and ecosystem disruptions in the watershed. The NRCS reached out to Ekholm to propose a transformative project to improve his cattle operation. The completed project helps to preserve stream health along with the cultural, recreational and environmental value associated with it.

Larry Ekholm has been grazing beef cattle on heavy clay soils for many years in Bayfield County and dealing with the associated problems.

The project was not a one-man job; through the partnership and cooperation of NRCS, private contractors, the Bayfield County Land and Water Conservation Department (LWCD) and Ekholm himself, the partners converted the area into an environmentally mindful establishment.

The plan consisted of the remodeling of two barn lots and the creation of vegetative filtration areas. The NRCS covered 50 percent of the project cost, while the LWCD funded 75 percent of the remaining 50 percent. The minimal costs that remained were accounted for by Ekholm’s time and work he invested in the project.

After the completion of a concrete base lot, Ekholm had a suggestion of his own. He proposed the use of asphalt to top the second lot. This piqued the interest of both NRCS and LWCD. After further research, Ekholm’s asphalt barn lot became one of the first of its kind in the area. 

The lot consisted of a layering of geotextile material, covered by another layer of geogrid and topped with gravel and asphalt. Amidst these layers, a 70-foot-long drain pipe runs into the filtration lot below. The vegetated treatment area below the lot helps to filter agriculture wastewater and improve water quality before the water flows into other water bodies.

The benefits associated with asphalt are significant. The ease of application and mere hours required for the asphalt to harden, proved to be a great time and labor cost reduction.

In addition, cost of asphalt per square foot is almost half that of concrete. The benefits didn’t stop with initial monetary savings. The use of asphalt excels in the winter. The dark material warms easily and snow and ice melt off, reducing the risk of livestock slipping. This flooring maintains a warmer, stable area to keep cattle off of grazing pasture during muddy transition seasons. The lots also allow the pastures to be better utilized, gaining an extra three to four days of grazing.

The newly paved lots have allowed Ekholm to improve various aspects of the farm’s efficiency. The flat surfaces allow for easy scraping, gathering and utilization of manure, thus minimizing fertilizer costs.