How to build a farm pond

Considerations to build a Farm Pond

How to build a farm pond

Building a farm pond often requires a significant investment and can become a real nightmare if the pond isn’t properly planned, designed and executed.

Today we explain how to build a farm pond in 7 steps, from how much it costs to what kind of fish are better. Keep in mind there is so much to know about farm ponds we are unable to cover it in a single blog post (there are whole books written about the topic), but we’ll do our best to illustrate the basics about building a farm pond.

Farm ponds: A must have

While the dream of a clear watered pond with a beautiful tree at the edge, where you can peacefully rest or read a great book is idyllic, most farm owners have more practical reasons to build a pond in their farms.

Rather than fulfilling an image of rural perfection, farm ponds usually fulfill a practical role in the daily aspects of farm life. As stated by Ben Falk in the article Farm Ponds: Strategies for Multiple Functions “Ponds have been a part of the working landscape since agriculture emerged.  Since water is the basis of productive biological systems, retaining and distributing this storehouse of fertility and life within a landscape is key to the success of any operation.” Water is essential for life and farms are always full of it.

In some cases they are used for fire protection, the production of fish (fish ponds) and/ or aquatic plants. When correctly built they are also safe for swimming, proving a source of recreation for the people in the farm, especially in hot summer time.

retention pond construction

Pond building: More than a job

Pond building is more than a job. It’s a science. It requires extensive knowledge of farms, stock breeding, engineering and construction, physics of water behavior, biology of plants and fish, geography of the land area, animal control and protection (depending on each particular case), pond lining, digging, fish stocking, fishing and some basic chemistry to understand the characteristics required in the soil and the water. There’s so much to consider, that you actually need a solid designing and planning stage BEFORE you even start digging the pond.

It is recommended to reach out to your local Natural Resources Conservation Services office for guidance on the requirements to obtain the permits for a new pond construction.

There are many books written on pond design and construction and practical guides that are updated year after year. While sometimes it seems that digging and filling a hole with water shouldn’t be complicated, in reality there are 3 main considerations most farmers tend to overlook:

land preparation for pond lining
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Understand water is a shared resource: The water you’re going to collect and use in your farm pond is a resource that belongs to the nation. That means that water belongs to no one and to everyone. If you think about it, it is a resource that flows from the ocean to the sky, comes down as rain and flows through the land until it gets back to the ocean. Anything you add to the water can affect the neighbors, the surrounding wildlife, livestock, fish, crops, etc.

Pond Sealed with bentonite pond liner
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Determine your water budget: A farm usually has a minimum “water budget” required for operation depending on what the farm will be focused on.  The volume of water that a producer requires for agricultural or livestock production on a farm or ranch operation will depend on the amount of animals or the size of the cultivated area. To approximate your water budget you may use as a reference the Appendix B of the Farm Pond Guide from the US Army Corps of Engineers.

Calcium Bentonite

Photo courtesy of Wirestock

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Know the area of the pond: Most of the time, the spot of land selected isn’t naturally designed to hold water. It takes millions of years for natural water bodies to form and there are reasons for it. Luckily, there are some natural solutions therefore, it is very important to understand how to adapt the particular patch of land you have selected to hold your pond for it to be able to hold water correctly.

farm pond with bentonite pond liner
pond with plants

Farm Pond Design

Now that you know how much water is required, have the area where you want the pond located and what will be the sources of water for your pond, it’s time to figure out the specific dimensions of the pond, if a pond liner is required or not,  if a dam is required and what dimensions will it have, what kind of equipment should be available for functionality and maintenance, if you want to add aquatic plants or fish and what kind, how will it be drained.

Consulting a team of experts is a must if you haven’t built a pond before or if you’re new to the area where the pond will be built. While building a pond is not an especially cheap feat and investing in a team of experts may seem like too much money, believe me when I tell you it will cost you 10 times more in the long run to fix everything that will go wrong in and with the pond if you do not invest in consultation.  The consultation services don’t tend to be very expensive and can, at least, give you a good idea of how to go about designing and building the pond.

pond with plants

7 Steps for building a farm pond or lake

1. The first step is to select the location of the pond on your land. In order to select the best place for the pond, think first about how you will feed the pond. Is it spring fed, if there is a stream nearby? Underground water? Rain storage?

2. Secondly, consider also the type of soil around the property. The ideal type of soil contains between 20 and 40% of clay. However, pond liners can help you solve this issue if the ideal spot for your point doesn’t contain the proper amount of clay, so, consider the water source first, then the type of soil. The third factor to consider is how and where the pond will drain any excess water.

3. Once the location has been selected, draft a rough design of what you want the pond to look like. At this point you want to know the basics, like the size, the depth, the water source, the drain system, if it needs a dam and if so, what should be its size. There are yet many variables to be considered.

4. Now is where we will file with your local resources office for the permit to build the pond. Because any additions and usage of water will affect not only your farm but the neighbors and the community, it is important to be conscious and be sure the pond construction won’t have a damaging effect on any nearby farms, towns or wildlife sanctuaries. An inspector will come and look at your land, the location you have selected for the pond and the plans you have for it. More often than not they will request changes to your design, based on their experience. USDA inspectors will be local to your area and will be able to provide you with critical information for the development and construction of your pond. It is important to understand all permits must be approved BEFORE starting the construction of the pond.

5. OK. So now that all permits have been approved, you have a rough design of your pond. Now it’s time to get into all the details. Start with a desired due date for the pond and collect quotes for the different services you will need. Don’t forget to start collecting quotes for maintenance services, which are often overlooked by many farmers.

6. Once you have a good idea of the required budget for the construction of the pond, it’s time to narrow down the possibilities. Select the services you want to use and schedule them according to your budget and their availability. Make sure they all know that you need to keep to a schedule, but, when possible, allow room for things that may not go as planned. Don’t forget to start planning the landscaping. It might be good to think about the species you want to add, both plants, fish and other animals.

7. Now that you have everything scheduled, it’s game time. Excavation, lining, filling, landscaping. Doesn’t sound so difficult, does it?

wild pond

How to build a farm pond using bentonite

The easiest way to build a farm pond that holds water is by hiring an expert like Lonestar. I’ve been told that they are the best 😉

Our team has been helping farmers build ponds for over 20 years. Working with us means you get not only the expertise of a team that has built many ponds, but has done it successfully for years. Lonestar Minerals provides turnkey service, including designing the pond according to your needs, aiding you in the permit requests, suggesting materials and equipment required, scheduling the construction work, assuring the equipment availability, lining the pond with bentonite, all the way up to filling the pond with water. We can manage everything for you, including purchasing, staffing, any required rentals and /or permits. 

While not always, most of the time we build a pond we suggest lining it with bentonite. Using sodium bentonite as a pond liner is the safest way to ensure it will hold water for years. Applying the bentonite before packing the pond’s soil will ensure there isn’t water seepage and will allow the aquatic plants and fish to develop normally.

As a company, we appreciate our staff and make sure they are proud of working as part of our company, assuring they will provide truthful consultations while keeping in mind the best interests of the farmers, ranchers and owners we work with.  We pride ourselves in selecting our staff so they are people, with integrity, very knowledgeable and fast learners. We invest in developing in-house knowledge and processes that can help us be more efficient in the field and we exchange field experiences to make sure we all learn from the jobs we do everyday.

While we work mainly in Texas and the surrounding states, we have been lucky enough to be given the opportunity to work in Florida and California building golf course lakes, in northern states like Wyoming, South Dakota and Idaho, as well as some venues in the Mississippi river area.

Bonus: Fish in farm ponds

fish size

Adding fish to a farm pond is a dream for many farmers. Besides creating a spot that can be enjoyed  it can also create a spot to spend a few hours in a small, quiet boat fishing out some gorgeous fish.

Fish stocking is an art in itself. It’s important to manage the quality of the water prior to adding any fish. The water alkalinity, hardness and PH need to be correct for plankton and other small animals to be able to live and feed the fish that will be added to the farm pond.

Throughout the United States, the most common combination of fish is bass and bluegills. However, catfish, sunfish, bullheads, trouts and carps are also widely bred. This will depend on the weather in your area,the amount of oxygen in the pond or lake (the surface area can be used to calculate the approximate amount of oxygen in the pond) and your own preferences.

Particularly in Texas, according to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department you can stock your pond with fish from public water as long as they are “legally harvested”. Per their own definition, “legally harvested” fish are caught by someone who holds the required fishing license, observing all applicable length limits, daily bag limits, and gear restrictions. For more information on licenses and regulations, see the Texas Outdoor Annual.

In Texas’ public waters you can find several species of bass, like the Spotted Bass, the Guadalupe Bass, the Largemouth, the Smallmouth, the Yellow, the White and the Striped Bass. You can also find catfish species like the Channel Catfish and Blue Catfish. As for the sunfish species, the bluegills take the lead, but you can also find Redear Sunfish, Green Sunfish, Warmouth and Redbreast Sunfish.

pond green

FAQs about how to build a farm pond

Do I need to hire a construction company to build a farm pond?

Even if you are a do it yourselfer, it is highly recommended to hire a company that has among their knowledge how to build a pond. Building a farm pond isn’t an easy feat. If you don’t want to hire a team to do everything for you, tell them upfront you are looking for consulting services and expertise to help you do it yourself. There are companies and people out there that are willing to share their knowledge to help you build your pond or lake.

What purposes can a farm pond fulfill?

Among the most common purposes are to provide water for livestock, fish production (either for food  or for recreational fishing), irrigation for nearby crops (required for the production of food), fire protection,

How do you make sure that ponds hold water?

In general terms, you need to make sure the soil that makes up the bottom surface of the pond doesn’t have holes, gaps or crevices that let the water seep through the cracks. There is more than one way to achieve this purpose and it will depend on the characteristics of the soil in the area where the pond is to be located. Bentonite is the one we prefer because it is 100% natural clay, it blends seamlessly with the pond’s ecology, there are no puncture risks and it can fill all the gaps, holes and crevices that are in the bottom surface of the pond, effectively sealing the soil and reducing or eliminating water seepage.

Read more about the different methods for Sealing Your Pond: A Quick Introduction for Pond Sealing.

Do all ponds need to be lined?

Using a pond liner is the best way to prevent water seepage in the medium term. When the pond is correctly lined, the seal can last for decades, allowing farmers and owners to enjoy full ponds for many years.

How much does it cost to build a 1 acre farm pond?

According to HomeAdvisor [] the cost of building a 1 acre pond ranges between 3 and 8 thousand dollars, with $5,600 as an average. The bigger the pond, the lower the cost per acre.  It will also depend on how deep it is required to be and the area where the pond is located.

How long does it take to build a 1 acre farm pond?

The usual timeframe is between 4 to 6 weeks to build a 1 acre pond. Of course, this timeframe can change depending on the particular design of your farm pond.

Should I add fish to a farm pond?

Absolutely! Adding fish to a farm pond will actually help you maintain the equilibrium of the pond’s ecology. The particular type of recommended fish will depend on where the land is located and the local weather. In general, throughout most of the United States you can breed bass, bluegills and catfish, but you may have some different options depending on where your land is located. Find here a Management of Recreational Fish Ponds in Texas guide by the Texas Agricultural Extension Service.