Once the most important aspects of the driveway were complete, the other major project that we needed our bulldozer contractor to focus on was building the farm pond. Clinton and Ed Cockriel from Ed Cockriel & Son Dozer and Backhoe Services have years of experience in pond building in the Western Kentucky area. We appreciate the expertise that they bring to help this farm pond construction project be a success.
Why Prioritize Building a Farm Pond?
Building a farm pond on the homestead may seem like an extravagant expense. Not only will the pond add a visual aesthetic to the homestead, but a farm pond is also a good idea for a variety of reasons when it comes to farm management.
One of the reasons that Philip wanted to prioritize building a farm pond was to provide sufficient water for fire suppression. The closest fire department to the homestead is 7 miles away and takes a minimum of 11 minutes to get to the homestead. Should the fire department already be dispatched to another job, the response time from another station would be much longer.
Philip already has a submersible water pump capable of pumping sufficient water if needed. He also has the needed fire hoses to dispense the water. The only thing we lacked was a water source that was capable of providing sufficient water if needed. While we have a creek on the property, the water level is not a dependable source of water. it also would likely not provide the volume of water needed in an emergency. The pond will hopefully provide the excess water we might need in an emergency.
Another benefit of building a farm pond is to have sufficient water for irrigation if needed. While we hope that we will not depend on the pond for irrigation, having a sufficient water source, if needed, could make a huge difference in a drought year. Our hope is to be as self-sufficient as possible. We plan to enlarge our garden and grow a significant amount of our food. Water is life on the farm, without an alternate water source, a drought year could be devastating.
One of the benefits of building a farm pond is to create a wildlife habitat. I have to say this is probably my favorite aspect of building a farm pond. Even in the small test pond that Philip dug with the bobcat, the area surrounding the pond is always covered with deer tracks. Especially if other sources of water are low, the deer will seek out other dependable water sources.
While we enjoy seeing the deer, a part of our self-sufficient lifestyle includes hunting. Creating a haven that supports the needs of the deer population will make Kowalski Mountain a place for does to live and raise their young. This in turn will draw in the bucks and larger deer.
Deer, of course, are not the only wildlife a pond will benefit. Pollinators of all kinds are also frequent guests of the pond, as well as all other local wildlife.
I think likely that Philip’s favorite aspect of building a farm pond is having his very own fish pond. Fishing is one of those past times that he enjoys but never gets enough time to do. Having a stocked pond on the homestead will allow him to relax after dinner while he tosses a line in the pond. He is also excited about having a place to enjoy fishing with the grandkids. What kid doesn’t enjoy skipping rocks, catching frogs, or catching their very first fish? All of those memories can be built right on the homestead.
Proposed Pond Site
When scheduling the contractors to build the farm pond, we did not go into this project without some due diligence. We have been working towards this goal for quite some time. In April of 2019, Philip tested his theory that the proposed pond site would hold water. The first step was to make a small excavated or dugout pond in the proposed site just to see what would happen. A dugout pond is simply a pit dug in the ground that collects surface runoff to create a pond. We were thrilled when the pond filled up and held water! He enlarged it slightly, which is not easy to do once the pond fills with water without special equipment. While the water level goes up and down with weather conditions, it has consistently held water since we first dug it in 2019.
Proper Construction of an Embankment Pond
The type of pond that we built at Kowalski Mountain is an embankment pond. When building an embankment pond there are some important considerations before beginning construction.
An embankment pond is a pond built by creating a raised embankment to hold water. In the case of our pond, the embankment needed to be significant. The pond construction site was chosen because it was an area where mountain runoff was coming off the mountain creating a gully. Philip wanted to capture the water coming off the mountain, rather than it be lost in the creek. Because of this, the water source was on the high side of the existing area. In order to create a pond in this area, the embankment would need to be built high enough to contain the water at the expected water level.
The side of the dam will be an area that will be impossible to mow. Our plan is to plant wildflowers on the outside of the dam. This will provide nectar and pollen sources for our bees and it will create a lovely backdrop for the pond.
When building a farm pond, the soil type of the pond basin is important. In order to hold water, the basin needs to contain at least a 20% clay mixture. Ed and Clifton removed the topsoil layer over the pond area and left that for us to use for other projects. The topsoil was not used in the construction of the pond dam, or the pond basin. Caneyville soil survey report states that the bedrock in our area is a silty clay loam and is moderately slow to slow permeability. In simple terms, this means that water slowly seeps through the clay basin. Under 0.6 inches of water passes through slow permeable soil per hour. This makes our soil a perfect choice for our farm pond.
If our pond does not hold water, as we expect it to, we can seal the pond basin with sodium bentonite. Bentonite is a natural sealant that swells when wet and creates a natural seal. This would be a preferred option if we need to take further action to seal the pond. As you can imagine, a pond this size is too large to consider using pond liners to hold water.
Depth of the Homestead Pond
When building an embankment pond, the depth of the pond is important. Most fish prefer a water depth of about 4 to 5 feet deep, as the oxygen concentrations are most appropriate to maintain life. We estimate that our pond will be about 6 feet deep. It is shallower than we wanted, however, Ed and Clifton were having problems getting enough dirt to raise the embankment high enough to raise the water level. They used a laser level to measure the dam level and determine that the water level was appropriate.
We really ran out of time. We only had two days for all of our bulldozer projects and at the end of day two, we had to relent to a lower water level, as it was the best they could do in the time we had.
Filling a Farm Pond: Water Source
Our pond will be filled using surface runoff from the mountain. The area we chose, has a gully coming out of the wood line. In periods of heavy rain, our creek will crest its banks, so with adequate rainfall that pond should fill with adequate water somewhat quickly. In our test pond that Philip dug, it filled rapidly, however, the pond is now considerably larger and will take time to fill.
I was very pleased with how Ed and Clifton sculpted the upper bank of the homestead pond. Rather than cut a specific entry point for mountain runoff, the entire south side of the pond was sculpted to allow the mountain runoff to enter the pond. I’m sure this was done primarily as any bank that they built would be subject to soil erosion from mountain runoff. A gentle slope into the pond will hold up better over time.
Emergency Spillway: Preventing Overflow
In order to prevent the pond from overflowing its banks and possibly destroying the dam in heavy rains, an emergency spillway will need to be installed. Prior to renovating the pond, we had a simple PVC pipe through the dam that would allow water to flow out of the pond when it reaches the spillway level.
Philip plans to use our post driver to drive a pipe through the dam. The dam was wide enough for the Case 850K bulldozer to drive on, so it is more than 8 feet wide! Likely it will take a series of emergency spillways to control excess water in our pond.
Aerating the Farm Pond
Even fish need oxygen to survive. Natural aeration of a pond is done by wind, rain, or waterfalls that break the surface area of the water exposing it to oxygen. Ponds that lack the movement of the water will need to have a mechanical means of aerating the pond.
Not only does proper aeration create an oxygen-rich environment for fish, aeration helps maintain the health of the pond in a variety of ways. Proper aeration reduces the probability of algae blooms, reduces odors, decreases mosquito activity, and reduces poor water quality. It helps reduce the accumulation of leaves and other organic material at the bottom of the pond.
Philip is still looking into the best way to aerate the pond. Currently, we are looking at a windmill system that will aerate the pond best on our off-grid homestead.
Stocking the Farm Pond
When building a farm pond with the intent of fish stocking, there are some things to consider. To create a natural balance, a pond should be stocked with both predator and prey fish. Largemouth Bass would be considered a type of predator fish. Some kinds of fish fulfill both roles. Bluegill are predator fish to smaller minnows but are prey fish for larger fish. The size of your pond will dictate the best fish populations that are appropriate. A proper balance of predator and prey fish will keep itself in check with little intervention.
The pond should also be built to provide an appropriate pond habitat. Small fish will need areas to hide in order for them to reproduce and thrive in the farm pond. To prevent fish hooks from being caught in the underwater fish habitat. Philip plans to use a series of damaged culverts at the bottom of the pond. Aquatic plants will also create a suitable habitat for fish as well as help with pond health.
Bulldozer at Work: Check it Out!
Building a Farm Pond: Worth the Effort
While fish ponds are quite a bit of hard work to create and maintain a healthy environment for our pond. Philip hopes that it will also be a place where we can practice aquaponics in the future. I think the best thing about having a farm pond is the environment it creates on our homestead. A place for gathering and enjoying the beauty of the homestead.
About the Author: Barbra-Sue Kowalski grew up on a small hobby farm. She was always drawn to farm life, however, she was stuck in an urban life far from her roots. Barbra-Sue was a single mom for 13 years, raising her 3 children on her own. She met Philip in 2018 and they married in 2021. Between the two of them, they have 5 grown children and 4 grandchildren. These empty nesters are following their dreams! As they both turn 50, they are building their off-grid homestead to live the life that they dream about. Learn more about Philip and Barbra-Sue here. Contact them here. To leave a comment on this post, please scroll down.