Farm Pond Management

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Raising fish in your farm pond

Some of the most frequent questions I get are in regard to farm ponds. Folks in west Texas call them “tanks” or “stock tanks”. And I have it on good order from my co-workers in northeast Texas that their chosen name for ponds is “pools”. Regardless of their name, ponds are used for watering livestock, aesthetics, or just plain fishing.

I suppose that most ponds in our area produce catfish, bass and other fish without too much effort. Indeed, there are lots of folks that really don’t do anything but throw out a fishing line from time to time.

Smaller ponds that are an acre or less are ideal for raising catfish. If you want to raise more than one species of fish, the experts recommend having a pond larger than an acre. Keeping a multiple-species pond running requires space for the fish to move around, spawn, and feed.

A good rule of thumb for the maximum carrying capacity of a pond is 1,000 lbs. of fish per surface acre. Focus on the word, “surface” because when estimating the number of fish you can keep alive, the depth of the pond is of no concern. True, a deep pond will still hold water in long dry spell, but for how many catfish to stock, you need to measure the surface area.

And for the curious, 1 acre is 43,560 square feet. If your acre was shaped in a square, it would be 209 feet wide and 209 feet long. But I’ve never seen a pond that was perfectly square, and many folks greatly over-estimate the size of their pond. If you’ve ever played around with Google Earth or similar program, you know you can measure the length of a road, property line and even measure the area of a pond.

I’ll bet you’d be surprised how small your pond is. Nearly everyone I ask will tell me they’ve got a pond “that’s about an acre”. If you insist on guesstimating the area, compare it to the area of a football field. A football field is roughly the size of an acre.

The upcoming fall months of October thru December is a great time to stock catfish. Catfish stocking rates range from 100 to 1,000 fingerlings per surface acre. (Remember, if you have a small pond that is a tenth an acre, your range will be from 10 to 100 fingerlings.) The range is dependent on the frequency of feeding. Supplemental feeding greatly increases the growth rate and short term carrying capacity as you are supplying the protein needed to grow them out to eating size.

When you feed your fish, use a floating feed that contains at least 28% protein. Feed at a rate that will be consumed in 10-15 minutes each time. Frequent feeding should occur from March to November and can be provided once a week during the winter months on warm, sunny days only.

If you are interested in stocking your pond, call your favorite local feed store to ask when their fish supplier is coming and what the prices will be.

For those who stocked fingerlings years ago, one of the most common mistakes I hear of is simply not harvesting your fish. Yes, folks will go fishing for the fun of it but then turn them back into the pond. Eventually, your fish will grow and reproduce. You’ll then reach a stocking rate that is too high and will be short in available oxygen during the summer months.

The solution? Catch ‘em and eat ‘em! You must harvest your catfish or they’ll naturally die off when pond water levels are low in oxygen.

Think of a cattleman that never sold his calf crop. Over time, the pasture that could support his initial herd of cattle would be so overpopulated that there simply wouldn’t be enough grass.

So it is with fish and oxygen levels. Interestingly, you’ll lose your bigger fish from oxygen depletion rather than your smaller ones during a die-off. I can’t exactly wrap my head around the science of it, but larger fish simply need more oxygen than smaller fish. Unlike thin cattle than anyone can see needs more to eat, you may not be easily able to tell when your fish will eventually die off.

IF you do have lots of eating size catfish and you know you have plenty of fish in your pond, your best management would be best to just go fishing this fall, catch all you can. Be sure to invite your family and the neighbors over for a fish fry. It could easily be an annual event.

Author

Cary Sims
Cary Sims
Cary Sims is the County Extension Agent for agriculture and natural resources for Angelina County. His email address is cw-sims@tamu.edu

Educational programs of the Texas AgriLife Extension Service are open to all people without regard to race, color, sex, disability, religion, age, or national origin.
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