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Resilience Rodeo - Dominic Harmon - How He Increased His Plant Production & Native Species.

On this week’s “Resilience Rodeo”, Dominic Harmon shares how rotational grazing increased his plant production and variety of native species.

Originally from northern Minnesota, Dominic Harmon relocated to Wood, SD, in the northeast corner of Mellette County in 2004 and has transformed his ranch over those years by fine-tuning grazing rotations. “I found this piece of land, and I thought it was a beautiful area, but I thought it was real low-quality property because it was pretty sparse grass and it looked real rough. The local NRCS Conservationist talked to me about rotational grazing, and after I done that for about 18 years now, I found out that the land here really produces well. It was mainly just cheat grass back then and now it's a wide variety of native grasses.”

Dominic Harmon in a field with grass and cows, livestock
Dominic Harmon

1) 1) What is the one thing you have done that has been most important to the success of your operation?

Well, the most important thing to my operation I think is definitely the range management; because without good range, you really don't have anything. So just range improvement is probably my most important thing on the ranch.

2) Can you recall a moment of time when the light bulb went on for you? Where you decided to change the way you manage your ranch?

Well, I guess it seemed like the natural thing to do because animals always kind of just rotated across the Prairie. And just watching the change in the range, I guess was my big light bulb watching the increase in plants, production, and variety.

3) What surprised you the most when you changed the way you were grazing?

What surprised me most when I changed the way I was grazing, was the plant varieties that I didn't even know that were there, that all of a sudden started to show up. It was just really amazing that all these species were so overgrazed that they were non-existent, and then with a little break, they just began to flourish.

4) What would you say is the biggest misconception that people have, who are not managed in their grazing systems for resiliency and soil health?

I think the biggest misconception would probably be that it is a lot of work, because it's really not. Once your animals get used to rotating through the pastures, they really just come wait for you to let them, they'll really work with you easy. So, it's really not a lot of work.

5) What advice do you have for someone who is considering changing their grazing system to one that’s better for building soil health?

The advice I'd give someone starting out in a grazing system would be, be patient. The changes aren't overnight, but if you give it a few years, there will be a big change.

6) When you walk across your grasslands now, what are you looking at for indicators of grassland health and soil health?

When I walk across a grassland, the indicators of soil health and plant health, I like a lot of cover on the ground, and variety of species, and just a good amount of growth, a nice population of plants. I like to just do an overview on things, but then you need to really get in there and look down to actually see what's there. Because from a distance, a lot of stuff looks real good, but to see your plant populations and species, you really need to get up close.

7) Is there a change that you made at one stage that you thought would never work?

Well, I'm a pretty open-minded person, so I like to give about anything a shot. I can't think of anything that I really thought would fail.

8) What are the signs that your land is resilient, and what does that resiliency mean to you?

Well, I think this year was a perfect example of having resilient range, this year was a real severe drought. If you look around my pastures, I've still got a really good cover and good plant health. So, I think that's a sign of resilience, you can make it through drought years, and your plants can come through it healthy, you got a resilient range. It means getting to stay on the ranch instead of going to the sales barn.

9) We talked about rotate, rest, and recover, is there one of those that maybe sticks out a little bit more to you and why would that be?

I think "recover" really sticks out to me because when you have to graze it off, just watching your pasture recover is a really nice thing.

10) By the grazing management choices you’ve made, how has it helped your soil organisms?

Well, the grazing management choices I've made have helped the soil organisms by increased root depth, and a lot more cover on the soil for all the organisms to eat. Good water infiltration is always good for the organisms, so they don't smother or wash away.


Visit these “Growing Resilience Through Our Soils” information pages:

1. Podcast page for drought planning fact sheets, Q&As, news, podcasts and more.

2. Video page to watch videos of other ranchers’ journeys toward improved rangeland/pasture.

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