Farm Pond Management
Observation of farm pond is the key to keeping your water sources in top health.
A well-managed farm pond provides an excellent opportunity for fishing, livestock water and plenty of recreation.
As a boy growing up on a remote 160-acre farm in southeast Kansas, my interaction with wildlife and livestock provided countless opportunities to learn life lessons. I learned to value others’ property while getting scolded for running cattle on horseback; the harm of wastefulness while cleaning quail; and, with my two older brothers, I learned the value of feeding myself by fishing our farm pond and bringing a mess of fish home to Mom and Dad.
Really, most of my interactions with nature and animals occurred in two locations: the “motherland,” a secluded area where we rode horses; and the family farm pond located about a quarter mile east of our house. It was our playground, our escape and our canvas for testing our aptitude in the outdoors.
That pond remains a special place to me, and I still hold on to mental images of fishing with my big brothers, roughhousing on the banks, and the sun falling in a big Kansas sky.
The Department of Agriculture estimates that around 50,000 ponds are constructed annually in the United States, an average of 1,000 ponds in each state. That’s a strikingly large number of ponds, many of which were created to replace ponds that failed due to mismanagement.
Farm ponds can be many things to different people. In this part of the country, the majority are used to water livestock. Other uses include agricultural irrigation, nutrient cycling for the ecosystem, wildlife and fish production, recreational and educational opportunities, and simple aesthetic beauty, which adds value to property.
And, in a time when the economy is weak and farm finances can be tough, optimizing what we already have is as important as it’s ever been in my lifetime. How to use what we already have seems way more important than seeking new investments. When it comes to the farm pond, you can optimize its uses in different ways depending on your needs, and a few overarching tactics will serve all uses.
The first step in understanding how to manage any pond is to understand the pond’s physical structure.
Most farm ponds were built using one of two techniques: excavation and embankment. Excavation is the process of digging a depression in an otherwise relatively flat landscape. Embankment, on the other hand, involves creating a dam on an already existing slope.
Knowing how your pond was constructed is important for management because it affects all kinds of management strategies such as fencing livestock away from the pond and the size and type of buffer strip you need to create.
More than water
General water quality and depth aside, the fundamental food-chain basis of the pond’s ecosystem is phytoplankton. Phytoplankton is a group of photosynthetic organisms that include true algae, blue-green algae and some protozoa that convert sunlight and nutrients into energy for other organisms. Relying on the phytoplankton for nutrition are invertebrate members of the animal kingdom, known as zooplankton, suspended in the water column. Some common examples are rotifers, water fleas (cladocerans) and copepods. These organisms in turn feed others, and so on.
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