Visionary Dam Creates Cleaner Water for Cattle

Seth Watkins is a visionary. Where some farmers might see adversity, he sees opportunity. Where some farmers might throw up their hands in disgust, Watkins rolled up his sleeves, got his hands dirty, and made a dam. As a result, he converted an eroded canyon into a picturesque pond.

“This canyon was really nasty,” the New Market, Iowa, farmer says. “It’s about 33 feet deep in the middle, so that tells you how deeply eroded this soil had become.”

After the pond levels stabilized, Watkins fenced his herd out. Kept at bay, the cattle get drinking water from a pipeline that runs through the pond dam and fills a concrete stock tank buried on the backside of the dam. Thus, cattle are not allowed to wallow around the pond, which keeps its water clean and clear. Having cattle away from the shoreline also allows vegetation to flourish around the pond.

Clean water for cattle
Watkins found that besides stabilizing the soil on those few acres that were so decimated by erosion, “cattle with access to cleaner water just perform better,” he says. “If they’re not wading in that water adding their manure, they are always healthier. We get better weaning weights. Keeping them out of the pond also minimizes the risk of cattle falling through ice.”

Other animals have readily replaced cows on and around the pond including deer, raccoons, opossums, ducks, geese, and other wildlife.

Keeping the pond clean is greatly assisted by a silt pond located upstream. The purpose of this pond is to grab loose soil carried from fields by heavy rains.

A buffer area around the main pond, a silt pond, and the waterway feeding them is maintained by a fence that keeps the cattle about 120 feet away from the watershed.

Family use, as well
When creating the pond, Watkins gave thought to how it could be enjoyed by his family. He created a shallow area at one end of the pond where kids can play. A rustic diving board Watkins created out of an old grain elevator is a favorite draw. “Swimming here is good fun on hot, muggy days,” he says.

Watkins is farming the original family farm founded in 1846 by his great-grandfather. “I’m the fifth generation in my family to work this place. Now, we grow corn for silage, alfalfa hay, soybeans, and some cover crops.”

Watkins has diversified his operation with a hunting operation he runs in the fall months. This area of southwest Iowa is noted for some of the biggest whitetail bucks in North America. Watkins’ farm is no exception.

“We partnered with Whitetail Extreme out of Pennsylvania to help us manage the hunting aspect. They make the arrangements with the hunters, take care of the cooking and cleaning. What I do is make certain that the deer stands are up and in good working order, provide the land, and do some limited guiding,” he says.

Watkins has a rustic but modern bunkhouse to put up hunters near the hunting land and another building in a small town nearby to house more guests.

“There are about 80 members in the club, and only about 20 come to hunt each year because of the Iowa deer lottery,” he says. “Hunters have to draw a tag from out of state in order to hunt here, so that keeps our numbers manageable.”

Watkins enjoys the relationships he has fostered with hunters and says the venture offers additional income. The revenue has paid for fencing projects to restrict areas of his farmland from overgrazing by cattle in addition to supporting farm improvements.

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