As April takes its time to arrive on the farm, outdoor projects become delayed. As a reference point, our vast Mille Lacs Lake was declared “ice free” last year on April 10. Today – April 5 – the lake is still 100% covered in ice, and in many locations, very thick.
While sitting in front of a computer screen and a large roll of butcher paper (as sketch paper) isn’t ideal this time of year, there is always planning to be done: Laying out water systems. Designing fence lines to separate soil types or solar aspects. There are always details to work out.
A helpful resource we use often is our local Mille Lacs GIS website. I would assume many counties across the country have them, and as a tool – the useful possibilities are nearly endless.
(For those in our area, here is a link to the service):
With this website we can overlay satellite photos with contour lines and soil surveys. Features include measuring tools, acreage calculators and so much more. You can even check to see if there are suspected gravel deposits on the property.
While a GIS website is not a substitute for “boots on the ground,” it is a great way to leverage the “indoor months” to your advantage.
It allows us to sketch ideas, and then walk back in to the pasture with a measuring wheel and GPS and see what the actual fence lines or water lines would look like on the landscape.
For the most part, it works well. Once in a while you find that an area is perennially wet (not good for setting fence posts) even though the GIS website didn’t indicate it on the contour map. Sometimes a giant outcropping of rocks bursts your bubble for a potential fence line.
So, as a tool for making the most out of the winter months, GIS is absolutely wonderful. But, as Joel Salatin often says, “You can’t Google experience.” And I guess that’s what is so great about life. Experience, experience, experience. Boots on the ground.

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