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Making Iowa home

October 3, 2023


3 minute read

As a young dairy farmer, Robert Horst found himself at a crossroads when deciding where to build his herd. After considering many different states, he finally settled in Iowa.

Horst grew up in West Virginia on a small dairy farm in partnership with his future in-laws. At the age of thirteen, his family sold their cows and began a new operation with beef cattle and hogs. However, Horst never lost his passion for dairy and became a herdsman at 22 on a 500-head dairy farm in Maryland. While Horst loved working on a dairy farm, he dreamed of owning and operating his own someday.

Horst took action toward his dream when he began to make the move to Iowa with his wife and two daughters. When deciding where to settle, he considered many of the 50 states. It was important to Horst that he found a supportive community, good school districts, and a prime dairy farming ground when deciding where to plant his roots. He started his search in the hills of northeast Iowa and eventually moved his way into flatter ground. He settled in Bristow, his best genetics with him. In all, the family moved eight heifer calves and one cow to the new Iowa farm.  

Horst did not start milking immediately when he got to Iowa as he continued to develop his hoof-trimming and custom calf-raising business that he began during his time as a herdsman in Maryland. He continued his business in Iowa for nearly 20 years. Horst primarily raised Holstein calves for other farmers and would sell them back to them when they were mature. During this time, Horst had a Jersey cattle herd that he was building up and began to breed Jersey cattle to the Holsteins he was raising. These genetics became very popular with the farmers in his area, and Horst eventually sold all of his Jersey-Holstein crosses to one farmer in Minnesota, leaving him once again with his prized Jersey cows. His love for the Jersey cattle is deep as he first discovered the breed while dairy judging in college. He fell in love with their extremely feminine look, gentle nature, and high milk-fat content. To this day, Horst still raises only Jersey cattle on his farm, where he milks 130 cows. These Jersey cattle have also been prized with many awards at shows nationwide.

Another factor Horst considered when moving to Iowa was the market in which he would sell his milk. When he began milking in 2002, Horst began selling his milk to Swiss Valley, now Prairie Farms. Today, he still sells milk to Prairie Farms and sits on the board. Horst credits the dairy farm’s success to his family, as his two daughters played a significant role in the operation while he was away working on his hoof-trimming business. They are both grown now and successful young women in their respective fields. Horst still lives on the dairy farm with his wife and believes there is a bright future for their farm; his biggest piece of advice is to find the person who has had the most success in whatever you want to do, talk to them, and most importantly try and learn from them.