I took over the lease on 130 acres of family owned land in central Missouri last year. The land was originally my Grandparents and my Mother and Uncle grew up there. They now own it, and will never sell it, but have put zero work/interest into the property over the past 30 years. It was leased for cattle/hay and essentially mined for resources. While the pastures are still open and soil is naturally wicked fertile, the place is in rough shape. I work away from the state but started selling a single cutting of hay to cover the lease and to keep the place mowed while I work towards getting back to the property more often and likely full-ish time in the next few years.
Several weeks ago I was seeding several of the pastures, seriously sloppy grazing over the past 25 years has reduced the current gramanoid species composition to sedge and spotty fescue on about 30 acres, when I came across some very bumpy spots on top of the highest point on the property. I have been told that my Grandfather had terraced that area for crops in the 40's though there were no really noticeable terraces to be seen. When I was cruising around cursing the bumps I finally noticed their linear nature and distinct ditch/swale like appearance. I have included an aerial screen shot to show what I came across.
My grandfather had built a pond on nearly the highest point on the property, it is mostly filled in and chronically low on water and I have often wondered why a pond would be built there since it has a watershed far to small to keep it filled. What I realized is that he had built about 800 feet of swale completely around the top of the hill that directed run off from all directions into his pond that was located on a different slope. He effectively made a 5 or 6 acre watershed for a pond that would naturally have less than a 1/4 acre shed. The swale is still functioning but I found a few spots where it is filled in which I assume is part of the reason why the pond is not filling completely, there are also some erosion issues at the overflow.
On the photo the big red star is the top of the hill and the red arrows show the location/direction of the swale. The little blue star is in the middle of the pond.
Sorry for the wordy/off topic thread but I was pretty excited when I realized what I had found and I am starting to look at the property with a new eye, wondering what else is out there that I have yet to find. You might notice a parallel swale to the south of the arrows, there are actually 2 more not shown. I have yet to cipher their purpose as they sort of dead end on a slope.
That is as good an idea as I can come up with. Whatever the original purpose, that is what I am going to use them for in the future. I am planning on doing 1 or 2 passes with my single bottom plow to loosen the dirt then using a loader to clear out the bottom. If that doesn't work I'll borrow a baby backhoe and do it the right way.
I would imagine that the soil that has filled-in that old pond is pretty fertile, so if you re-dredge that pond and swale out, you'll have some amazing soil to work with.
Even if the pond only holds water for a few months (not year round), you will still be capturing water and sinking it into the system --- particularly because it sits at a high point on the land. Every gallon that doesn't wash down a creek is a gallon that is working for you and hydrating your land. Ducks will populate it, even if it's only full of water in the spring. They need these pot holes to raise their ducklings. Their fertility will increase your land's fertility.
It certainly saves you a lot of time and energy to know that such a system once existed there, and now all you have to do is bring it back to life.
"The rule of no realm is mine. But all worthy things that are in peril as the world now stands, these are my care. And for my part, I shall not wholly fail in my task if anything that passes through this night can still grow fairer or bear fruit and flower again in days to come. For I too am a steward. Did you not know?" Gandolf
Swales and pond building was very popular back in the 50's and 60's and was often subsidized heavily by the USDA. My farm (9th generational) has swales and ponds dug from that era as well. In my case I was able to go back to the USDA-NRCS and the Soil and Water Conservation District and obtain the original conservation plan for my farm based in 1965! It was far different than it is today, they took arial photos and overlaid contours by drawing them over the map by hand, then making conservation plans from that, but I was able to see where the old swales originally were.
Today swales can be subsidized, but ponds are strictly not, at least in Maine. It is not because the USDA does not see merit in them so much, but because the logical place to build them is in wet ground which is protected under the Swamp Buster Protection Act. In other words they have kind of boxed themselves into a corner on regulations. Too bad. We did far more with our farm pond then terminate swales into it, and water our livestock; more than one game of pond hockey was played on that pond, and numerous ice skating parties happened. Now that pond is more of a liability and why I will not build another though I have an ideal spot for one, and a bulldozer to do the job. Again, because of regulations, I would not be able to spread manure on my field that is adjacent to it. With an "open water body", it limits what I can do with my land. Too bad...
But my suggestion for you is to go and check out your county's soil and water conservation district, and the USDA-NRCS (most of the situated in the same building) and see if they have the old conservation plan on file for your grandfather's farm. I am pretty sure they still do!
If you are still thinking of building a pond I think at one time the Missouri Department of Conservation had grant money available for this. I'm not sure if this is still the case. But, it might be worth looking into.
Also, if this is grazing land you might want to look up Greg Judy. He knows a thing or two about improving pastures and he's local.
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