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Is it worth putting swales in pasture?

 
Andrew Bartelt
Posts: 20
Location: Central Wisconsin
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OK folks here is my situation. I live in central WI, we get 34 inches of rain a year and my hay field/future pasture, stays green throughout the growing season. I will be putting in fencing for paddock shift grazing and wonder if benefits of putting swales on contour will be worth it? I have sandy loam soil that sucks up rain pretty fast. For example, after huge rain falls or spring melt off, my road side ditches do not hold water, the land just drinks it up. So it it worth the time and effort to rent a dozer?
Thanks in advance for the advice.
 
Jay C. White Cloud
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Hi Andrew,

If the soil is that well drained and you do not have any current issues with erosion, nor a problems with poor grow of feed grass and plants than the answer is no. Don't bother fixing something that is not broken. I would also note, that without bringing in a clay soil base of some fashion your swales probably would not function anyway because of their granular (well draining) nature. Hope that helps and good luck.

j
 
Andrew Bartelt
Posts: 20
Location: Central Wisconsin
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Thanks for the quick response Jay. That is what I am inclined to think too. I guess I am just listening to too many podcasts (Paul's and Jack's) in which they have a need to swale and I am trying to transfer there solution to a problem I don't have. If any one disagrees let me know, otherwise I will let Jay's answer be my guide.
 
R Scott
Posts: 3305
Location: Kansas Zone 6a
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Swales are TREE GROWING SYSTEMS. If you want silvopasture, they can be very helpful. If you want broadacre pasture, keyline would be enough to even out the rain.
 
Jay C. White Cloud
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Hi Scott,

I would agree 100% with what you wrote, except in highly percolating soils, then berming, swales and the related hydraulic mitigation modalities must be looked at in different ways, or even if they are going to be effective at all. In these types of soils, these techniques can still be done (if really necessary) but adjustments must be made accordingly to achieve results, often of which are not warranted for this soil type, unless there is of course erosion or other denigration of the growing sight.

Regards,

j
 
Andrew Bartelt
Posts: 20
Location: Central Wisconsin
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Thanks for input R Scott.
Wiki definition of swale" The swale concept has also been popularized as a rainwater harvesting and soil conservation strategy by Bill Mollison, geoff lawton and other advocates of permaculture. In this context it usually refers to a water harvesting ditch on contour."
While a swale will probably not be worth investing in for me in this instance, I believe it could definately be used in Pasture to great affect in a more arid place, or one more prone to erosion, such as in valleys between hills or on scrub land.
 
Johnny Niamert
Posts: 268
Location: Colo
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Jay C. White Cloud wrote:Hi Scott,

I would agree 100% with what you wrote, except in highly percolating soils, then berming, swales and the related hydraulic mitigation modalities must be looked at in different ways, or even if they are going to be effective at all. In these types of soils, these techniques can still be done (if really necessary) but adjustments must be made accordingly to achieve results, often of which are not warranted for this soil type, unless there is of course erosion or other denigration of the growing sight.

Regards,

j


Not to thread jack, but...

Jay, may ask a question?

My pasture is about 12" clay/clay-loam top-soil. Beneath this is very quick draining, loose, sandy gravel alluvium. I've decided to not do swales, or even contours, because once water reaches this sub-soil it disappears into the water-table and is lost to me. I've decided, as of now, to make the top-soil as much of a 'sponge' as is possible. My area is dry with 14" of rain per year, evenly distributed throughout the year. I do have some water rights, but they will be minimal during the heat of the summer. I'm planning on making this pasture into perennial permaculture area, with all zones but wild/zone 5.

Does my geology sound like one where swales and contour plowing would be best forgone? Any hole which is down to the sub-soil does not hold water at all. I'm planning on big hugel-beds, built ontop of the current top-soil, at the low end of the pasture to retain as much water as possible during rain events and to catch any irrigation run-off.
 
Jay C. White Cloud
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Hi Jonny,

In my opinion, and from your description of precipitation, arid climate, and soil type you are a prime candidate for any "soil moisture retention" modality possible. This would include the proper formation of berms, swales, huglebeds, and the related. You need to keep that water in a "close and active cycle" for the plants and environment type you are facilitating. If you have the topography and ability "water sequestration" in the ground both naturally and artificially is also to your benefit, both in cisterns, natural springs and related. Using wind power water pumps to move subterranean water back to these sequestration locations is part of this system.

Hope that was helpful with out being to long a read.

Regards,

j
 
R Scott
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Jay C. White Cloud wrote:Hi Scott,

I would agree 100% with what you wrote, except in highly percolating soils, then berming, swales and the related hydraulic mitigation modalities must be looked at in different ways, or even if they are going to be effective at all. In these types of soils, these techniques can still be done (if really necessary) but adjustments must be made accordingly to achieve results, often of which are not warranted for this soil type, unless there is of course erosion or other denigration of the growing sight.

Regards,

j


I missed the whole sandy loam thing. I have NEVER had soil that drained too well.

Back to the OP, after thinking about it again:

Do you want to collect water for livestock? Small swales feeding ponds for livestock and frog habitat (really helpful in reducing bugs). If you can seal it.

 
Jay C. White Cloud
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Hi Scott,

That is the challenge with some soil types, the retardation of water loss just is not plausible or easily achievable. Your ideas I agree with completely, just not applicable in some biomes with out very invasive ($$$) work to the topography and soil matrix.

Regards,

j
 
Andrew Bartelt
Posts: 20
Location: Central Wisconsin
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Thanks for all the input folks. Much appreciated.
 
Kathleen Sanderson
Posts: 985
Location: Near Klamath Falls, Oregon
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Probably not applicable to the OP's situation, but in case someone else reads this....A couple of years ago I was at a Christian camp over in the Rogue River Valley (near Rogue River, the town, in fact). I've been there several times, but this last time I noticed that they had in effect made swales across an area of grass -- it's a play area, somewhat sloped. I imagine the soil is somewhat clayey; the area is heavily wooded, primarily with conifers, and steeply hilly. It was fall when I was there, and much of the grass was going brown. But, the areas in and just downhill from the 'swales' still had green grass growing! I'm pretty sure the 'swales' were actually dug for an underground irrigation system, but the depressions in the ground worked just like purpose-built swales. So I think swales would be useful in pastures -- as long as they are shallow, so as not to be an obstacle to equipment, livestock, or possibly even someone on horseback.

Kathleen
 
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