My front yard cow pond - part 1.
I pondered for some time about how to begin this story, and I couldn't come up with any better place to begin other
than in the beginning, at least the beginning as far as my life and experiences with this pond have gone, so here it is...
In 1961 my folks were recently married, and purchased 40 acres of Boone County dirt a few miles east of Columbia, Missouri
the following year. There were a few overgrown pastures, a wet weather creek, some rusty old wire fences in need of help, a
dilapidated old wood frame house that hadn't been occupied in a good long while, a few acres of woods along the creek, and
a cow pond. Actually, it wasn't a cow pond, not back then anyway. It was a pig pond, or at least it had been not too long
before they bought the place. The farm had long been used for running pigs on dirt, something that's not much done in this
day and age of CAFO efficiency. Even now, 60 years after the pigs left, the ground smells like a hog lot when you dig.
1956 Assessor's office image. The pastures look fairly well beat down and the dam appears rather bare. Good chance there
were some pigs around when this photo was taken.
My folks dozed the old house, and built a new one on the same site in order to make use of the existing water cistern. The
cistern was in good condition, and public water didn't exist outside the corporate limits of Columbia at that time, at least
not on the road where my folks' property was located, so it made sense to them to put their house where the cistern could be
used, and save a few $$$ on construction costs.
1962 Assessor's office image. The farm had changed owners ~'58. The pigs were gone and part of the land was planted with crops.
I came along in May of '63, and the house was ready to occupy by December of that year, so we moved in. I say we, but it
was my folks that moved in. I was just along for the ride. When I got big enough to sit still for a few minutes at a time
Pops started taking me fishing at the pond. The area around the pond was reasonably clear of brush, thanks to the pigs, so
it wasn't difficult to find a good spot to drop in a worm or grasshopper.
The only fish in the pond were bluegill. More bluegill than you could count. If you pulled one out that was 5" long it was
considered a lunker. Pops called them potato chip fish. Scale em, gut em, chop the head off, roll em in crumbs, and then
toss em in the grease. They came out crispy like a potato chip, and about the same size. One bite on each side. But they
tasted great, they were easy to catch, and they were free. My folks didn't have a lot of money in those days, and free was
a good thing.
As I got a bit older, maybe around six or seven years old, my brother and I would spend a lot of time at the pond. Living a
few miles out of town we didn't have much else to do in the summer time when school was out, so we occupied our time as best
we could, and the pond was our favorite place to be when the weather was nice outside. Eventually when we got big enough to
work a real fishing pole we upgraded from cane poles to real fiberglass fishing poles with Zebco 33 reels. My folks owned
some sort of ancient riding lawnmower, and a two-wheel cart to pull behind it. We mowed a trail across the hay field from the
house to the pond so we wouldn't get ate up so bad by the chigger bugs on the way. Life was much simpler in those days.
1968 Assessor's office image. Looks like it must have been a dry year as the water level in the pond appears to be quite low.
As the years went by, Pops was making upgrades around the farm. New fences went up, and with fences came cattle. By the time
the cattle arrived the public water district had run a main line along the road we lived on, which allowed my folks to tie in
to water that never ran out, but it did cost money, and my folks were tight. Pops couldn't stand giving district water to the
cows when there was free water in the pond, and with that our little potato chip bluegill pond began to change, and not for the
better. The formerly clear water was now constantly muddy due to the cattle using it for a swimming hole in hot weather. We
once could catch all the fish we wanted in a couple hours. After a few years of cattle running in the pond we were lucky if we
could catch a dozen. There was cow poop everywhere. In the field, on the pond banks, and in the water. Our paradise was lost.
We stopped going to the pond. There was nothing left there for us.
But the sun comes up every day, and things change. Little kids get bigger. Interests change. Life changes. And so it was with
me. Somewhere along the line when I wasn't paying attention, my Grampa Wilkie tossed some leftover bait in the pond, and some
small channel cats, and some other stuff. Nobody really knows what all he tossed in there. If he was still around I'd ask him,
but he's not, so I can't. He had a commercial fishing license, and decided the pond would make a good place to store live bait,
so he just started tossing stuff in so it would be there later when he wanted to seine out some bait for his trotlines on the river.
Sometime during the early 70's, I'm not exactly sure what year, and it really doesn't matter when it happened, only that it did
happen, my folks sold three acres to some friends who wanted a house in the country. They wanted at least 200' of road frontage.
Pops wasn't around when the surveyor showed up to measure out the lot. He staked off 200' of road frontage, and went from there.
Doing that put the new property line, and a fence, across a shallow neck of the pond. Not a big deal at the time, but many years
later it would turn out to be a major nuisance for me.
1977 Assessor's office image. New outbuildings all over the place. Signs of livestock damage on the pond dam. And that fence...
1980 Assessor's office image. There's plenty of water in the pond, but the cattle have absolutely wrecked the dam.
1981 was a drought year in this corner of the world, and the pond by then was a disaster from years of cattle running in it.
Shallow, stinky and full of muck. When it would get very low the cows had trouble wading out to get a drink due to the depth of
the muck, so Pops called dirt guy out to fix it up a bit. There was no consideration given to anything other than making it a
better place for a cow to get a drink of water. Pops still didn't like paying for cow water, so preserving the little bit that was
in there was important at that time. Dirt guy dug out the muck around the edges with a high-lift crawler, and left what Pops
called a "volcano" in the middle. Basically a mountain of semi-solid mud/muck, that held what little water remained in the pond.
The cows would walk down into the basin of the pond and stick their necks over the edge of the crater to get a drink. Somehow
through all of this some fish managed to survive. Eventually the drought ended and the pond refilled with water, but all of that
mud and muck and poop and nastiness that formed the volcano was still in there.
Fast-forward 15 years or so and I've got a wife and kids of my own. Pops had discovered that the pond still held a good number of
channel cats and had started feeding them. When my boys got big enough to start hanging out with their PawPaw, he would take them
to the pond and they would throw a few jugs in, and most times they would manage to catch a catfish or two. It's not likely any of
the cats that my Grampa tossed in 20-odd years before were still living, so they must have been reproducing on their own. Most of
them were a pound or three, but every now and then they would pull out a whopper. Mother Nature finds a way, I guess.
1994 Assessor's office image. The dam is getting really worn down by the cattle. The overflow had always been on the northeast
(upper right in the photo) side of the pond. Now the low spot is on the southwest next to the corner of the lot that was sold many
years prior, and trees have begun to grow on the dam.
2002 Assessor's office image. With no leaves on the trees it's easy to see that the wear to the dam caused by the cattle is becoming
Fast-forward another ten years or so and my daughter decided that she was a horsey girl. There was no room for horses on the little
country lot my family and I lived on, so we kept the horses at my Gramma Easley's farm a few miles away. The girls wanted to get a
place where they could keep the horses at home, so we started looking for property. We looked and looked and looked, but nothing we
looked at ever felt like home. One day, out of the blue, Mom says "Why don't you buy ten acres from us and build a new house out here?"
So we did, and that's how I got my pond back.
2007 Assessor's office image. We're a few months away from starting construction and the poor old pond is looking rough.
We designed our new house, hired a contractor, and broke ground in July of 2007. By this time, the wonderful neighbors that built on
the three acres my folks sold back in the 70's had gotten old and moved to town, and been replaced by a couple who came here from
Chicago. They had it in their heads that if my folks ever sold any land, they would be the ones who it would be offered to. To say
the least, they were not happy when the dozers showed up to start cutting in the lane to our building site. (Note - I thought long
and hard about what/how much to tell about my dealings with neighbor guy. It's not my intention to come across angry or bitter, or
PO'd or anything else in telling this part. I seriously considered not telling it at all, but it's an important part of the story so
I decided to leave it in.)
I was out here doing groundwork one day, I think we were running the water line from the main out at the road, when neighbor guy
waved me over to the fence. He'd already thrown a couple big fits at me, and to be honest I had no use for the guy from the day I
met him, so I'm wondering what it is that he wants this time. He says to me, "I wanted to talk to you about the pond." I say to
him, "What about it?" I've got a house to build, and when you're building a house time is literally money. I haven't yet gotten
to the point that he's a non-person to me, but it won't take much to get me there. So then he says, "I'd like to do something about
the pond. Clean it out and make it bigger." I respond by telling him that I have a house to build, and the pond is the least of my
concerns at this point in time, but if he wants to talk to dirt guy to have at it, and let me know what he finds out, and I go back
to whatever it was that I was doing.
A few days later he waves me over to the fence again. "I talked to dirt guy. He told me that because of the way the land lays, for
me to get more water on my property and not have the banks too steep the dam will have to be raised up about ten feet." I ask him if
he got a cost estimate for that, and he says, "Yep, it will be close to (it was a big number and I really don't want to say what it
was, because he was probably lieing anyway), and I was wondering if maybe you'd go halves with me. I know you've got a big construction
loan, so spending another (big # many thousands $$$) won't hurt you." I say to him, "The time to make this pond bigger was before I
started building. You've lived here 15 years and not said one word to Pops about the pond. I've got a power line and a water line in
the ground below the dam. To make this thing bigger the dam will have to be completely dozed out, a core key dug, and then a new
dam built from scratch. None of that is going to happen. I'm not going to spend a dime on the pond right now. I've got a house to
build, and I'll worry about the pond when I'm done doing what I need to get done." Then he went absolutely ballistic, called me a few
choice names, and says, "Well fine! I'll just build a whole new pond and you won't have no pond at all!" In that moment he became a
non-person to me. I told him to do whatever it was that he felt like he needed to do, and went back to my own business.
Not long after that, dirt guy showed up and began to build a new pond on neighbor guy's side of the fence. I told them that my only
concern was that they make sure any water that comes out of the spillway from the new pond drains into the old pond and doesn't run
across my front yard. Well they didn't do that. There have been rare occasions when we got really heavy spring rains that some
water from his pond ran across my yard - twice, maybe three times in the eleven years we've lived here. I probably wouldn't ever have
noticed, except one of those times some of his trash fish came along for the ride and wound up stranded on my lawn. Sounds crazy,
but I've got pictures to prove it. In thinking back on that now, I should have told them to make sure none of the overflow from the
new pond made it into my pond, and to send all of it across my yard. That pond doesn't have enough watershed to stay full, but I
didn't know that at the time. I was talking to Pops about it recently and he told me that our good dirt guy came out and looked at
the site, and refused the job because he didn't think it would ever fill up, and was worried about getting paid if it didn't, so
neighbor guy found a hole digger to do the job.
Anyway, I don't want to spend any more time talking about neighbor guy. He did what he did on his side of the fence, and I'm really
happy that he did, because now I don't have to cooperate or deal with him in any way in terms of what happens to my pond going
forward. I'm already working out what I'm going to do to minimize the possibility that his trash fish get into my water. It's
unlikely that I'll be able to 100% prevent that from happening, but there's a lot I can do to keep it at a minimal level so that it
won't have much, if any, long term impact on the management plan that I've developed for my pond.
The south side of my pond dam was riddled with muskrat holes when we bought the property, and had been leaking a bit for several
years. I cut half a dozen middling-sized thorny locust trees (a couple of them better than 18" at the butt) and a bunch of smallish
tree sprouts off the dam, had the guy who dug the basement for our house dig the stumps out with his dozer, and use some of the clay
from the basement dig to fill the stump holes and smooth up the back side of the dam a bit. A couple years later I had him back to
add some topsoil where the basement over-dig had settled, and he did a bit more smoothing on the pond dam so I could get over it a
little better with the lawn mower. Definitely not what you'd call a fix, but at least now I could mow it, and keep it from growing
back up with brush. After finding the Assessor's office photos I remembered that one weekend I had a rented mini-excavator out here
for another project. I got done with whatever that was and had most of a day left with use of the machine, so I dipped the pond around
the edges as far out as I could reach with the boom. The water was so low at that time I was able to get out into the pond on the
upper end. Jamie asked me if I could make an island, so I did. Then after the weeds grew up on it she saw a big snake and wouldn't
go out there anymore.
2011 Assessor's office image.
So... I spent the next few years working on our new property, getting things set up to suit our needs. Built a riding arena for the
girls, cleaning up the fencerows, so on and so forth. Eventually I get things to the point I can start thinking about what I want
to do with my pond. One day Pops asked me if I'd been feeding the fish. "Well, no, it hadn't even occurred to me. Why?" Then he
reminded me that there used to be some whopper channel cats in there. So I went to the local farm-n-home store and bought a sack of
floating catfish food and started hand-feeding in the evenings. There wasn't much action at first, then there was a bit more, then a
bit more, and before long it was a genuine frenzy when I'd toss a handful of pellets into the pond. This little puddle is loaded
with fish! Now what to do?
We started fishing, that's what! How could it be possible that this shallow, nasty, neglected for years puddle could have so much
life in it? It was absolutely amazing. That's when I really started thinking about what I could do to make it better. I wasn't
too far into the thinking about it process when Mother Nature took charge, and set the stage for what was to come.
End part 1.