While a personal motive first led Doug and Emily Horst to attend a Young Cooperator (YC) meeting three years ago at Michigan State University (MSU) in Lansing, Mich., they never expected the experience to morph into something more.
“When we found out the meeting was at the university, we knew we couldn’t pass up the chance to attend,” Doug says. “The university had just installed robotic milkers, and we were eager to see them in action since we were researching them for our farm. We had a bit of a hidden agenda, but we couldn’t believe all the information on the Cooperative we walked away with and the friends we met along the way. It was a fantastic experience that left us eager to get involved.”
Since then, both Doug and Emily have taken on active roles with the Mideast Area’s YC program. Emily counted votes for DFA elections in 2010 and they both served as YC liaisons for the Mideast Area Council last year. Doug also was elected a delegate for the Area in 2012.
“Being a delegate has been a great learning experience,” Doug says. “It’s allowed me the opportunity to learn how things work within DFA and the processes things have to go through.” Doug and Emily, along with his parents, milk 110 Holsteins and farm 430 acres of corn, soybean, wheat and alfalfa on Legend Dairy in Sterling, Ohio. It was Doug and Emily’s initial YC visit to MSU that led the family to make substantial changes to their parlor.
Prior to remodeling their freestall barn and investing $500,000 to install two Lely robotic milkers, the Horsts milked in a double-10 herringbone parlor.
“It had gotten to a point on the farm that our parlor wasn’t sufficient anymore,” Doug says. “After about three years of research and our trip to the university to see the robots in action, we finally decided it would be easier to put money into the machines to free up time to spend with family.”
The robots, which milk 24/7, were installed during the summer of 2011 and the farm began using them that September.
“I’ve been very impressed with the robots, and the cows caught on rather quickly,” Doug says. “Not only did this investment allow us to lower our labor costs by one full-time employee, but it’s also increased our milk production by 12 to 15 percent.”
According to Emily, the robots allow Doug to spend more time at home with their kids, Nathan, 4, and Allison, 3, and more time off the farm to attend YC events.
“Before the robots, it was a lot harder for us to get away,” Emily says. “But now, we’re able to attend meetings together a lot easier. They’ve definitely given us an advantage because we’re able to be around other producers our own age and bounce ideas off each other.”
As for the future, Doug and Emily are committed to staying involved in the Cooperative and YC program.
“So far, we’ve only got our feet wet,” Doug says. “There’s so much more to do, but I know we’re both excited to see how we can move up and make a difference.”