Farm Horizons, May 2001

Horstmann brothers carry on family farm tradition

By Patrice Waldron

Three of the Horstmann sons are carrying on a family tradition and running the original family dairy farm between Winsted and Howard Lake.

Cecil, Chuck, Mark, and their families have been running the farm since they purchased it from their parents, Leon and Agatha Horstmann, when Leon was ready to retire.

Milking 82 cows twice a day and farming over 1,000 acres of land to support four families isn't the easiest way to make a living, but it is what these three brothers grew up doing, and continue to do today.

"I do it because of my family," said Cecil.

"It's the only job I know of where I can be there for my kids and my wife," he continued.

Cecil told a little of the family history, of having relatives all over the Winsted and Howard Lake area, and the trials of living in a 100-year-old farmhouse with only one bathroom.

With three separate families splitting up the work, there is more flexibility than if only one or two were trying to do all the chores.

The Horstmanns have a schedule, where they trade off milking times. One milks in the morning, one in the evening, and one is off. That way, every three weeks, one is relieved of milking duty.

The schedule allows for some time off, and keeps them from tripping over each other in the barn.

Farming with your brothers isn't always the easiest task, and these three have found that sometimes it works best just to give each other enough space.

Taking care of the herd is definitely full-time work.

Producing milk is a stressful activity on the cows. The cows are fed rations of moist hay, roasted soybeans, corn, and silage. There is plenty of food available, along with fresh water, to ensure that the cows are getting all the nutrients they need.

The knowledge that was gained from their father is also being passed down to their children. Cecil and his wife, Laura, have three children, Chuck and Ann have five, and Mark has two.

"Mason likes the cows, he likes to come along, and he's a hard worker," said Chuck of his eight-year-old son, Mason.

The children have been encouraged to help with the chores and learn about farm life, but none of them have been pushed. If they're in the barn, it's generally because that's where they want to be.

Mason enjoyed having a reporter in the barn while he did his chores. He mixed the milk for the calves, keeping a watchful eye that each calf drank from its own pail.

The Horstmanns have a machine which unrolls a bale of hay in front of the cows, and then, the hay is spread out by hand. It is clear that Mason has spent plenty of time in the barn.

"See that cow, she always stands that way when she's being milked," said Mason.

When it comes time to milk the cows, the Horstmanns have eight portable automatic take-off milkers, which allow one person to milk the herd in about one and one-half hours.

There are four nipples placed over the udders, which automatically disconnect, and are pulled up out of the way, when the cow is done milking. The system is connected to a stainless steel system of pipe, and the milk is brought to the bulk milk tank.

Before the milk is put into the tank, it passes through a condenser, chilling it slightly, which saves the tank's cooling system from excess work. The farm also employs a back-up generator, in case there would be a long-term power failure.

Producing feed for the cows is a high-tech operation. The farm has a 12-row planter, which, through the use of computer technology, precisely plants the seed.

When the seed passes through the bins, one can see, via a computer screen in the cab, where each kernel is being placed, explained Mark. The seed placement can also be adjusted, dropping it heavier or lighter, into the soil.

The cows go through about one and one-half large bales of hay a day, leading the Horstmanns to plant about 100 acres to last a season.

The hay is preserved using a shrink-wrap system, so the hay stays fresh until the next season.

"I like the animals and spending time in the barn," said Mark.

Mark spends a fair amount of time in the fields, too, as he explained about planting, and how silage is made. The Horstmanns have a machine which cuts the corn off at a certain height, and grinds it into the appropriate consistency.

There is a silo in the cow yard, which, after the cows are done being milked, they can go outside and eat all the silage they want.

According to Cecil, the traditional silos are becoming a thing of the past, and aren't being built anymore. Some farms are employing new methods, such as covered ground storage, for keeping the cow feed.

Another tradition on the Horstmann farm is keeping a bull for continued propagation of the herd. Many dairy farms have gone to artificial insemination of the cow herd, but the Horstmanns prefer to keep a bull.

On occasion, they have artificially inseminated the cows, when they found the cows weren't getting pregnant as they should. The bull, which has been described as "mean at best," is always purchased from stock outside of the herd, and for traits that are desirable to breed into the existing herd.

There is a lot that goes into dairy farming. There is a lot of hard work and sweat involved in keeping the family farm going. The Horstmanns are keeping the tradition alive.

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