New Upper Pond

Will kayaking out to place a measuring stick.

We have a new pond.

We have a new pond because the big Caterpillar 320C excavator was here digging out the ledge around the new barn site.

We were digging ledge because we needed the excavator over at the Sugar Shack to loosen up the gravel and figured we might as well do the ledge too since we’d already paid the $200 delivery and pickup costs.

We needed the gravel loosened up so we could truck gravel over for the new road going up to the upper field.

We had to make a new road for the truck which delivers the organic goats milk whey from Vermont Butter and Cheeses.

We get the whey for our pastured pigs which makes them grow ever so well and the meat taste deliciously sweet.

For want of some whey we have a new pond. Wow – Things can sure happen in convoluted paths!

The pond is to store water for the livestock incase we get a very dry year. The reason for putting it at the top of the fields is so that we can gravity feed water to all of our pastures thus avoiding electrical power and mechanical failure issues. In some parts of the country this is a drought year. We are fortunate here in Vermont – This year we have had unusually heavy rains this year. On the other hand it has been so much rain it drowned our corn almost to the last plant. Life’s a mixed bag. In 2000 and 2001 we had dry years such that in July and maybe August we would not have had enough water for the number of livestock we now have. As our herd has expanded I’ve worried how we would handle a dry spot like that since our springs normally only produce about 1.6 gallons a minute each during the summer. The reservoir of the pond solves the problem – Each vertical foot above the lower output pipe gives us about 1.4 to 2.0 months of water storage without any additional inflow.

I had not anticipated digging the upper pond this year as I had so many other higher priority projects. Until now I have been doing all the digging, terracing, ditching and other earth work with our tractor. That means I’m a bit slow at moving dirt – nothing like the big excavator that came this past week. Man, he was fast!

Excavator digging deeply.

The fact that the excavator was here for other work and meant I was able to have him quickly dig out the pond whereas it would have taken me a week with my tractor and I would not have dug so deeply. Richard, the excavator operator from Blue Ridge Construction, was able to quickly move out chunks of rock that weighed more than my tractor! It was amazing to watch how quickly and expertly he did the job.

For the past five years I have been studying the ground up above our fields looking for springs and clay for the right spot for this pond. For the past year we have had a puddle about 20′ in diameter just below one of the springs and been using that to water the animals when they were in the upper paddocks. It was a little proof of concept that I dug out last fall in an hour. Then it rained and the snows came so I never got to work on it further. Turns out the spot I picked was even better than I thought:

First of all it is much deeper than I expected. That is a big plus as it gives us a much larger storage volume of water for the animals. We now have potentially eight months of water storage. This allowed me to keep the surface area under the level that would require state permits, always a blessing.

Secondly, originally I thought there was only one spring leading into that spot. Actually there are six. In fact the water came in so fast that the pond was filled in 36 hours to a level as high as I want for this first year. For now we are keeping the level a little low so that the dirt can settle and compact. In a year or so I’ll raise it another foot and perhaps by the fall of 2007 we’ll have it up to it’s full height.

Thirdly, about four feed down Richard uncovered a large deposit of gorgeous blue clay which he spread over the entire inner surface of the pond. I would estimate it at about 10 or more very big dump truck loads of clay. Later I used a jar and shake-settle test to estimate the clay at 20%. It was below the level I would have likely dug with our tractor and that right there probably paid for the cost of the excavator. I had been planning to have the pigs pack the soil – that takes about a year and results in a lot of nutrients in the soil so no swimming. This is an old fashioned technique that I have used successfully in the past but the pond has sealed so well that I don’t think it will be necessary. Yea!

Using thumb to place overflow rock for start of spillway.

Another advantage of the big excavator doing the work instead of my tractor was he dug deeper so there was a lot more dirt available for the dam and other uses. I’ve dug some impressive holes and made some long terraces across our hills but not like this big machine does. To move 1 cubic yard of dirt with the tractor requires driving forward and back. The excavator just swings. When I run into large boulders it may slow me down for days or a week as I split them with fire, hammer drill & wedges and other techniques. With only the tractor I have to get the blocks of stone down to sizes I can roll or slide across the ground which typically means less than about 10,000 lbs.

Tossing big rocks out of pond.

Big rocks are no problem for the excavator – it just picks up blocks two to three times the size I can move and literally throws them. The earth moves under my feet as I watch them land and shock waves ripple across the terrain. Richard made rock piles that make my cairn look like child’s play. For reference, he averages about 22 seconds to grab a bucket load of dirt or rock, spin, throw, continue spinning all the way around and start grabbing the next load of dirt. Each load is about 1.5 to 2 cubic yards. The excavator looks like some wild carnival ride as it spins around and around! If things are going smoothly, no ledge, then he may move 100 cubic yards per hour. That’s a eight hours work for me on the tractor.

So now we have our upper pond – the pigs, sheep and chickens are all assured of plenty of fresh, clean drinking water even in a drought year. Life is good. Now I just have to resist the temptation to let the pond fill all the way up!

81째F/70째F Sunny, 2″ Rain in morning

About Walter Jeffries

Tinker, Tailor...
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14 Responses to New Upper Pond

  1. Lynn Bartlett says:

    I have to show my boys your post — they will love it!

  2. pablo says:

    Boy, do I have lake envy! And that blue clay. Send me down 10 big truck loads.

  3. ranch101 says:

    I second what Pablo said…

  4. Pablo, I had meant to mention your pond and lake posts in the article. I have enjoyed reading your travails. Shall I mail out some clay? When I saw the excavator start to dig into that layer of blue clay I thought of you and your stories of sealing your lake.

  5. Leslie says:

    WOW that thing is huge. We have a tractor for the first time ever in our lives, and no way to move it if it should break down and require servicing somewhere. I can’t imagine trying to move that excavator! Great article – I kept thinking of questions at the beginning and by the end they had all been answered. I, too, thought of Pablo as I read.

  6. karl says:

    how fun, and what a great reason to have a pond. six springs wow! what a wonderful place you have and you always seem to be stewarding it remarkably well.



  7. PV says:

    I have pond envy!!!!!! Aktually I have envy of all you dO! I dream……………………….

  8. Perhaps some fish farming now – Walter?


  9. Deb says:

    We have a pond for somewhat similar reasons. We needed gravel to build up our driveway, we have an old gravel pit on our land near the driveway, the water table is high there…and as long as the guy was there with his dozer we had him clear out the area of alder brush where our new house site is and where my gardens are. One thing leads to another!

  10. Anonymous says:

    I would be very careful about going over the bills from Blue Ridge. They over billed me every single day. Just keep careful records of times and go over the final bill.

  11. Attila says:

    Are you using the Yeomans (keyline) system for water storage?

  12. Interesting. I had never heard of Yeomans Keyline System but yes, that is very much like what we are doing in many respects.

    My reasoning and objectives are very much like those discussed in the linked article above.

    It is easier to work with the terrain and nature than to fight it. Better to guide than to resist.

  13. Cara says:

    I have heard "pasturing" pigs on new ponds is a gret way to seal them, especially around the waterline. Perhaps with your blue clay, you don't need the extra help. We have 3 ponds in TN – lots of red clay, but they are still sealing 1 year later (no pigs to help – YET).

  14. Andy says:

    You have a great blog. We’re just getting into pigs and chickens. Thanks for all the tips.

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