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Drainage ditches and deer, moose, etc. safety

 
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Hello to all.  I live in northern Maine on fifty-three acres that is mostly hay field.  I want to dig a drainage ditch along one side of the property and I am wondering whether it will pose a hazard to the numerous deer and moose that roam this area.  The ditch is too long for filling with stones or gravel or a fence- just too expensive.  What do people do in such a situation?  My ditch would be about two feet deepl and about two feet wide and run somewhat parallel to a windbreak where animals naturally come and go.  Is there some dimension or style for a long drainage ditch that is considered better for roaming wildlife?
 
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I assume this drainage ditch would be for dealing with an over abundance of water sometimes and not to HOLD water all the time.

Personally, I would not be concerned as the critters you are mentioning are great at traversing many different types of ground.

Do you have any pictures of the site where you want to dig so we can better visualize what you might be concerned with?
 
Alden Banniettis
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In the attached photo, I am looking to dig a ditch along the south property border, beginning from the east and ending at the road.  It is the lower right quadrant of the property.  Yes, to drain rain water and snow melt.  The area gets very wet and the water sits on our clay soil.
BANNIETTIS-LOCATION-MAP.jpg
[Thumbnail for BANNIETTIS-LOCATION-MAP.jpg]
 
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Is there a reason you only want to do it 2 ft wide? How do you plan to maintain it? Is space limited?

On my farm we have a "Winter Creek" - sort of Mother Nature's homemade version of what you're suggesting, although I'm highly suspicious that man has intervened over the last 30 years.  
Issues with it:
1. Things grow in it, some of them very tall. If this happens to you, the ditch in the summer may become a tripping hazard. Ours is wider than 2 feet in most areas, but I even had a Poodle friend stumble in it, because the tall grass disguised it so well.
2. So much can grow that it slows the water down too much in the winter. Therefore it needs mowing. We use a very sad 19" wide gasoline mower and even with it wider and with some of the banks better sloped than others, it's a heck of a job. (Sad because at 30 years of age, the deck is getting holes in it, but we can't buy a replacement here in Canada - too rare a bird. Mowers that size are all electric and plastic - wouldn't last a season on our farm!)
3. If things *don't* grow, we would get erosion of the banks and base. My goal is to put a settling pond at the downstream end where it leaves our property, and plant cattails etc there to capture the sediments. Yes, that will then require some maintenance, but I can make use of the nutrients it represents.

Are you using any "fertilizer" on your hayfield?  Runoff from farmers' fields tends to be high in nutrients which could be damaging to whatever is downstream of your ditch, because if it does what you want it to, the water will run off faster and plants will get less time to soak up the nutrients. That would make a managed "artificial wetland" even more important. Material from the wetland can be harvested, composted and applied as fertilizer.

Are you using any toxic ick on your hayfield? We're an "organic or better site" so I'm really hoping not... some ick is very persistent and travels unchanged through herbivores' guts, only to be spread far and wide.


 
Alden Banniettis
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Jay, there isn't much farming going on around here these days.  We live in a region cut from the forest.  What may have been crop fields fifty years ago are nowadays mostly hay fields.  My fields are clean of such chemicals as you mention.  The only fertilizer has been from livestock, e.g., sheep, pigs, and horses.  The small 'field' that I want to dry up is slated for a guesthouse.  My estimate is that the ditch would have water in it during the spring and summer months.  The water would not be going anywhere really- snowmelt and heavy rains would eventually go down into the ground.  The eastern half of the field has good perk and the forest is encroaching its way back.  The western half of that lot has terrible perk and the water sits for days or weeks after snowmelt and the ground is soft after heavy rains.  I want to build a cabin on the dry half, but I do not want the wet half if I can be rid of it.  I am not worried about grass, etc. growing in the ditch.  I can deal with it.  Of course, I can make the ditch wider and run through with the mower.  But I think a weedwacker should be enough.  I just don't want to be picking up dead deer or moose from the ditch.  
 
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"What do people do in such a situation?"
Personally, I'd strongly consider a pond, instead of a ditch. A pond can add beauty, wildlife habitat, a happy drinking place for the wildlife you're concerned about, and bring many beneficial insects for the rest of your land. No tripping hazards, mowing issues, etc, either.
 
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My suggestion would be to make the sides slope so that baby animals will not get trapped if they happen to fall in.

Also tree branches might help some to climb out.
 
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I am not sure about Moose, but my experience is that deer (even day old fawns) will have no problem with a 2 ft x 2 ft ditch, regardless of length. Hope this helps.
 
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John Hughes Cooper wrote:I am not sure about Moose, but my experience is that deer (even day old fawns) will have no problem with a 2 ft x 2 ft ditch, regardless of length. Hope this helps.




I agree 2ft is nothing. Smaller than most small creeks and most natural ditches.

If you wanted to make a crossing , just put in a piece of culvert pipe and cover it back over. The pipes come in all sorts of sizes, metal
Or plastic
 
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I would recommend only as deep as necessary and proportionally wider as it gets deeper. So at 2' deep 4' wide. Animals falling in it  in my experience is not the problem but people and vehicles.  My ditch as described is no problem with mowing and strangers do not get stuck in it.  The narrow ditch in the next pours water fast enough to flood the road ditch onto the road and several vehicles have been stuck in it at considerable expense.  
 
Mark Beard
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Another idea… you could widen your wind break with some Willow Trees. Black Willow is native to Maine and soaks up A LOT of water…

Obviously growing trees is more long term and digging a ditch will move water instantly.

But a they can soak up 100s of gallons per day… the issue really becomes when a dry spell comes along and kills them all and you have a bunch of dead trees 🤷🏼‍♂️
 
Jay Angler
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Mark Beard wrote:… the issue really becomes when a dry spell comes along and kills them all and you have a bunch of dead trees 🤷🏼‍♂️

This is a permaculture site. The problem is the solution. That's not a dead tree - that's firewood! Or if you get to it soon enough - that's lumber! Or if you get to it *really* late - that's hugelkulture material!
 
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Timothy Norton wrote:Personally, I would not be concerned as the critters you are mentioning are great at traversing many different types of ground.


I second the motion. Not a problem.
 
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I'm in TX, so can't speak for meece, but most critters are surprisingly adept at, and may appreciate, negotiating undulating ground.   If the ditch has vertical sides, then it may trap some smaller animals but that is the hazard I see.  Suggest an exit ramp of stones every 20 feet or so, which is also a path to water.
One of the sadder episodes at my place was to find an adult deer that had just underestimated the top wire of a barbed wire fence, and as they jump with hind legs tucked under the torso, the hind legs caught the top wire, became untucked and caught the lower wire, trapping the animal hanging by hind legs from the top of the fence.  I may have chased off the coyotes but not sure I got there in time.  Poor thing.  I mentioned it to a few neighbors and apparenly it happens on occasion.  Things not to do.
 
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Built in ladders? Cover it except just enough for the water? Fencing?
 
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Hi Alden,
Its not a problem. If they were injured, maybe they would have a problem, but then they would have have problems with the 4-5ft ditches on the sides of roads that they hop over constantly too. I wouldn't worry about it. You see the deer jumping around 15 seconds in.

 
Alden Banniettis
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Carla Burke wrote:"What do people do in such a situation?"
Personally, I'd strongly consider a pond, instead of a ditch. A pond can add beauty, wildlife habitat, a happy drinking place for the wildlife you're concerned about, and bring many beneficial insects for the rest of your land. No tripping hazards, mowing issues, etc, either.

 Carla, a pond seems to me to be somewhat costly.  I have seen those liners costing upwards of $1500.  Each truck of sand for prep will be about $200.  Renting a dozer will be $400 a day and I would need a few days.  A ditch will cost me $300 to rent an excavator for the one day it will take me to do a ditch.  In sum, I can diy a ditch.  I am not so sure I can diy a pond.
 
Alden Banniettis
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Holy jumpin' jacks, Matt!  I have never seen such a jump by a deer.

Matt McSpadden wrote:Hi Alden,
Its not a problem. If they were injured, maybe they would have a problem, but then they would have have problems with the 4-5ft ditches on the sides of roads that they hop over constantly too. I wouldn't worry about it. You see the deer jumping around 15 seconds in.

 
Alden Banniettis
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Ashley, fencing too expensive for me.  I will slope the sides a bit instead of a ladder and then pray for the best.  

Ashley Redding wrote:Built in ladders? Cover it except just enough for the water? Fencing?

 
Mark Beard
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You wouldn’t need a liner or sand or any of that if you have as much clay as you say .  Woukd still cost more in time and equipment to do a pond of any size. If the elevations are suitable to drain to the road like you said, then that’s a good plan…. BUT if you wanted, you could use the excavator to dig a small pond before at some point along the ditch if you wanted… just dig deeper and wider in that one spot, create a little frog pond 🤷🏼‍♂️
 
Alden Banniettis
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Hans, the town has their roadside ditch and they do not seem very concerned that anyone will drive into it.  My ditch is perpendicular to the road and goes a couple hundred feet back into my field and to the woods.  If someone be stuck in my ditch back there I think they would have some explaining to do!  Anyway, not much traffic around here- we are cut into the forest and off of a dead end farm road.  

Hans Quistorff wrote:I would recommend only as deep as necessary and proportionally wider as it gets deeper. So at 2' deep 4' wide. Animals falling in it  in my experience is not the problem but people and vehicles.  My ditch as described is no problem with mowing and strangers do not get stuck in it.  The narrow ditch in the next pours water fast enough to flood the road ditch onto the road and several vehicles have been stuck in it at considerable expense.  

 
Alden Banniettis
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The elevations are terrible, Mark.  It is pretty flat land.  Water never ends up on the road because the town's ditch is pretty deep.  Oddly, the western half of the lot does not drain into their ditch even though they are right next to each other.  

Mark Beard wrote:You wouldn’t need a liner or sand or any of that if you have as much clay as you say .  Woukd still cost more in time and equipment to do a pond of any size. If the elevations are suitable to drain to the road like you said, then that’s a good plan…. BUT if you wanted, you could use the excavator to dig a small pond before at some point along the ditch if you wanted… just dig deeper and wider in that one spot, create a little frog pond 🤷🏼‍♂️

 
Carla Burke
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Alden Banniettis wrote:

Carla Burke wrote:"What do people do in such a situation?"
Personally, I'd strongly consider a pond, instead of a ditch. A pond can add beauty, wildlife habitat, a happy drinking place for the wildlife you're concerned about, and bring many beneficial insects for the rest of your land. No tripping hazards, mowing issues, etc, either.

 Carla, a pond seems to me to be somewhat costly.  I have seen those liners costing upwards of $1500.  Each truck of sand for prep will be about $200.  Renting a dozer will be $400 a day and I would need a few days.  A ditch will cost me $300 to rent an excavator for the one day it will take me to do a ditch.  In sum, I can diy a ditch.  I am not so sure I can diy a pond.



A pond, especially if your land is heavy clay, doesn't have to cost that much. Sand and liners aren't necessary. Ours, for example was dug by a rented excavator (by the previous owners), and left at that. Adding some bentonite is not all that expensive, particularly for something as small as that one would need to be, to address this situation. But, at any rate, it was just a suggestion.
 
Hans Quistorff
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Jay Angler wrote:

Mark Beard wrote:… the issue really becomes when a dry spell comes along and kills them all and you have a bunch of dead trees 🤷🏼‍♂️

This is a permaculture site. The problem is the solution. That's not a dead tree - that's firewood! Or if you get to it soon enough - that's lumber! Or if you get to it *really* late - that's hugelkulture material!


Having lived there I would like to clarify that willows and alder do not become true trees like you may be familiar with.  The length of season that they can leaf out is too short.
 
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The hell with the deer, I myself have badly sprained an ankle in just the sort of ditch you propose. Put me out of action for weeks. I vote for the broad, "V" profile feature that some are talking about. And I don't know your average rainfall,  or soil type, or how this field fits in the whole farm plan, but instead of draining, wouldn't it be better to store water or move it to the dryer areas? Aquaculture is more productive, and a flood rain in a broad "v" profile channel causes much less erosion, whereas a vertical ditch will always have erosion because few plants colonize vertical banks, eh? By all means give the water a way out whatever you're doing, but merely slow the flow. I have done the broad "V"  or profile with a big rototiller or a small tractor with a scraper blade, sometimes after tilling, or a two or four bottom plow, directing the fall of the clods away from the channel. Have you noticed that a tiller can "fluff" the top while beating the bejeesus out of the bottom? This can be useful or not. Have y'all checked out P.A. Yeoman's books? Bill Mollison was quite the promoter of his ideas, and I've found them quite useful too.
 
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Roadside ditches are so common in the part of the UK I was brought up in that I struggled to understand the concern of the OP as it had never been an issue I was aware of.
Roadside ditch

source
The maintenance these days involves going along side with an excavator and scraping the ditch with a wide bucket from the side. Therefore the ditches end up in a V shape rather than a square shape if not to start with, then the first time they are cleared. More vertical sides are likely to collapse in too.
There might be the occasional car going in the ditch, being caught out in icy conditions, but I think the wildlife navigate them pretty safely.

 
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I actually am not worried about the deer. They are pretty tough. I once was driving on a letter highway, back home in the Wisconsin Northwoods and a young doe jumped the ditch and my truck hit her in the air and flipped her over the pickup. My first reaction was "O Sh*t!" because I had to clean it off the windshield. She'd been eating well, looked like. I had pulled over immediately, (couldn't see  anymore) but I also figured I'd do well to get some venison. As I walked to inspect the doe, she stood up, gave a brief shiver-shake, and trotted cheerfully off the road and into the field. We made sure the visibility was not crappy with a bucket of water from the ditch and resumed travel, relieved to have the butchering cancelled.  I build water features with sloping banks because they can be planted and stabilized=less erosion. The critters can deal or we can have a meal. Like the bumper sticker says: "Eat at the Roadkill Cafe- From Your Grill to Ours"
 
Douglas Alpenstock
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Haha, I remember a menu for the roadkill cafe somewhere. I'll try to find it
 
Douglas Alpenstock
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Okay, apparently there are a hundred "roadkill cafe" menus. People lap this stuff up, or maybe use straws. Here's one:
Road-Kill-Cafe-Menu.png
Aw c/mon, where's your sense of adventure?
Aw c/mon, where's your sense of adventure?
 
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Alden Banniettis wrote:The elevations are terrible, Mark.  It is pretty flat land.  Water never ends up on the road because the town's ditch is pretty deep.  Oddly, the western half of the lot does not drain into their ditch even though they are right next to each other.  

Mark Beard wrote:You wouldn’t need a liner or sand or any of that if you have as much clay as you say .  Woukd still cost more in time and equipment to do a pond of any size. If the elevations are suitable to drain to the road like you said, then that’s a good plan…. BUT if you wanted, you could use the excavator to dig a small pond before at some point along the ditch if you wanted… just dig deeper and wider in that one spot, create a little frog pond 🤷🏼‍♂️



I'm down the road a ways - howland / enfield area - and know of the clay you speak. It will definitely do without liners, etc. Dig a hole and you have a pond. Trick is to never, NEVER say "I'm digging a pond"...you're just getting clay for some other project

Topsoil goes to huglekultures - clay goes to an elevated "pad" for your guest house / cabin. If the pile got left behind somewhere for too long and grew trees in the forest, well...that happens. Best intentions and all that.

But really, dig a friggin pond man

Perpetually wet area shortly after buying my land:


DIY excavation in action - the material dug from this "pond", which went to the new cabin pad above it and the huglekultures across the driveway, took apx 1 week as I learned to use the machine:


And here's the hole in the ground, with no liner, with edibles galore, terracing on the north slope "kratergarten" style. Note that I have yet to line the grassy "beach" area with plastic and get a load of sand delivered - money is always tight.


We have so many frogs in there it's deafening for 3 months of the year now. And between frogs and other things like newts breeding in there all through the spring and summer (even saw tadpoles in the mid-fall this last year!), the mosquito population went DOWN, not up. Oh, and a painted turtle lady showed up on my driveway this year heading for that pond. The crayfish in there - well, I don't know how they showed up. Must have hitched a ride on a blue heron

 
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