Generations of experience help Horst Brothers succeed with poultry

DALTON, Ohio — Sometimes, it just makes sense to stay with what you know best.

That’s been part of the lesson at Horst Brothers poultry farm, where brothers Nevin and Bob Horst operate one of the state’s top poultry operations.

The Horst family has been producing eggs for the state for the past 70 years. They tried raising hogs in the early ’90s, but soon returned to what they know best.

“We just don’t know any better,” joked Nevin Horst, 44. “It’s just something we know. We grew up with it.”

And the business has arguably “grown up” with the Horst brothers, growing from the early barns of their grandfather and father, to the modern barns, which produce about 220,000 eggs a day.

In 1994, the Horsts completed a 500-by-55 chicken barn, equipped with an automated feeding and water system, and a manure collection down below. In 2004, they put up a second, larger barn at 600 by 60 feet, and they hope to get the third barn up in the next few years.

Following the market

The growth mimics the demand, they say, and the need for more revenue. Their birds are owned by Gerber Feed, which also furnishes the feed. But Bob and Nevin furnish the facilities and labor, along with two employees and the occasional help of the Horst children.

Although the barns have many automated features, including fan and blower systems that keep the air fresh, there’s still a hefty amount of physical and mental work each day.

Nevin Horst estimates they spend about six hours each week just completing paperwork — documents related to record keeping, inspections and audits, and self-regulatory efforts to keep the farm healthy.

He points to a computer monitor to show the graph he’s been working on — not an expense or revenue graph — but instead, one that shows how many flies are found in the barns.

Keeping watch

–He regularly sets out index-size cards to keep track of fly droppings, and then enters the data into the screen. If the numbers get too high, he knows something is wrong and needs adjusted.

All told, his farm is inspected by at least a half-dozen agencies, including the Ohio Department of Agriculture, the Ohio Egg Quality Assurance Program, Pennsylvania Egg Quality Assurance Program and United Egg Producers.

Inspectors typically grade the farm according to various checkpoints, and if something needs attention, they let the farm know. The Horsts sell their eggs to Sauder’s Eggs.

Kevin Elder, director of ODA’s Livestock Environmental Permitting Program, said the farm is inspected every six months to ensure it complies with the standards of its permit.

“Their compliance has been great,” and reinspections unnecessary, Elder said.

Besides paperwork, the Horsts spend part of each day checking feeders and waterers, removing any mortality, and packaging eggs onto flats. The facility is set up so the chickens and eggs stay clean, and everything is kept at a comfortable temperature.

Elder said he has known the Horsts since the 1990s, when he worked for ODNR’s Division of Soil and Water Conservation.

“This truly is a family operation,” he said. “Every time I stop there, one of the brothers is in the packing house or bird house. They are very particular about how the faculty is operated and have had very few complaints.”

Shipments

–The farm ships an average of one semi-truckload of eggs a day, and Sauder’s takes care of them from there — the cleaning and grading, and the marketing.

The Horst brothers are unsure who the next generation of operators will be — possibly some of their own children. Whoever it is will have both opportunities and challenges, depending on what happens with legislation.

Demand is strong, they say. Ohio ranks No. 2 nationwide for egg production. And, although the Horsts are about ready to put up a third barn, they want to have a clear direction first.

The big question is “what’s animal rights going to do?” Bob Horst said.

“The industry has done fairly well over the last several years,” Nevin Horst said. “But there’s not been any expansion, and a lot of it has to do with, nobody knows where it’s going to go.”

“‘Til it all gets settled out, (my brother) and I are going to be retired,” Nevin said. “But it’s that next generation that this fight’s basically for.”

Although the Horsts’ poultry farm has lots to see, it’s not on display. It all has to do with the health and well-being of the birds, which can easily become sick if a guest introduces a contaminant.

Inspectors are allowed in whenever they want, but anyone who visits must first sign his or her name and the time of their visit. Boots and coveralls are provided at the door, and they’re to be worn throughout the facility.

“I know where my chickens have been, but I don’t know where you have been,” Nevin Horst tells visitors.

About the Author

Chris Kick lives in Wooster, Ohio. An American FFA Degree recipient, he holds a bachelor’s in creative writing from Ashland University. He spends his free time on his grandparents’ farms in Wayne and Holmes counties. More Stories by Chris Kick

3 Comments

  1. Hamilton says:

    I do eat eggs, but this type of large-scale operation where you need to “…spend part of each day removing any mortality…” or dead birds daily is definitely a place I avoid purchasing eggs from. I have been on these large egg farms and I know why the Horst brothers keep track of flys because the fly population is insane. I even worked at a place, a place that was seen as well run and when you went to grab a broom, you could not see the handle due to the many flys.

    I buy my eggs from only very small farms where instead of commercial machines and lots of stacked, metal cages, there is a chicken coop, where the chickens and hens go in and out at will, they get to preen themselves, scratch in the dirt, fly up in a tree (yes they do this behavior, but most of you probable don’t know this, since the birds are rarely given this opportunity), and can eat worms… Many behaviors I bet the Horst brothers’ grandfather’s birds participated in.

    Oh and the eggs I eat have orange yolks, not the anemic yellow yolks most people eat. I am know for my superb egg salad sandwiches, my secret is simple, buy only free-range eggs from a well-run, very small operation where the birds get to participate in natural behaviors.

  2. FED-UP &PO'd farmer says:

    Hamilton-you are disallusioned-even small farms have dead chickens regularly. We have 250 layers, and, on average, loose 5 or 6/wk from cannabalism alone…and ours are in a traditional henhouse with a large fenced-in outside run. You have every right to eat what eggs you want to, but please dont do it at someone elses’ expense. There is no need to degrade someone just because you have a difference of opinion. It would be such a better world if we kept to ourselves and not attack others merely because they are different than what we may be.

  3. berlinoh5 says:

    I’m going to rock the boat a bit and address an article by Mike Barnett, publications editor for Texas Agriculture Talks, about HR 4733. (Visit www. sapaws. com to link to the article). The legislation would prohibit the government from purchasing animal products that are not ‘humanely’ produced for school lunch and other federal programs — a step in the right direction for farm animals. Mr. Barnett has posed the question, “So who defines ‘humane?’ He is worried it will be ‘animal rights groups’.

    To address this question, Adele Douglass, who founded Humane Farm Animal Care about a decade ago to recognize farmers for their transition toward more humane treatment of farm animals, provided some insightful analysis. Ms. Douglass is not a vegetarian; she believes, though, that farm animals should be treated humanely from birth to death. She believes the current industry standards define humane treatment by whether the animals are producing, eating and growing. If they aren’t growing fast enough, they are given hormones. If they are confined too closely, they are given antibiotics to prevent disease. These are not natural living conditions for the animals.

    Ms. Douglass believes gestation stalls, battery cages and other confinement housing systems do not allow animals to move naturally.

    To put this in terms most people can understand, she quoted Dr. Temple Grandin, who not only serves on the Humane Farm Animal Care’s highly regarded scientific committee but also is considered one of the nation’s top authorities on the development of humane protocols for farm animals.(By the way, an animal welfare advocacy group is hosting Dr. Grandin at the OSU Fawcett Center for Tomorrow this December.)

    Dr. Grandin once said that a pig housed in a gestation stall is like you and I spending our entire lives in an airplane seat. Do you think that would be OK as long as you were fed regularly? She also went on to share that pregnant sows have a natural nesting instinct. Animal scientists have filmed what happens to these sows in these stalls, right before giving birth.T hey are exhibiting extreme frustration while trying to dig in a space that is barely big enough to contain them.

    Mr. Barnett did make an interesting statement which I feel is relevant to the constitutional amendment proposed by Ohioans for Humane Farms. He mentioned that currently there is no funding attached to HR 4733 to help farmers convert their current housing systems to more humane housing systems. Without a funding component, small family farmers will go out of business.

    If consumers really want to pass humane legislation for farm animals, this or any other legislation needs to have a funding mechanism to help farmers make the changes that will mean real humane treatment for farm animals.

    Look for Certified Humane® products to support farmers who have made the change.

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