Q&A with John Hornstra
During the “Blizzard of ’78,” John Hornstra and his father pulled a sled piled high with cases of milk to make deliveries to their customers, bravely facing the wintery conditions as they walked down the street. Today, as owner of Hornstra Farms in Norwell, Hornstra’s commitment to his dairy customers continues unabated. Hornstra has put his heart and soul into his family’s business, and more importantly, has worked diligently to provide his customers with the best-tasting and freshest dairy products available on the South Shore. “I was always brought up that milk is not a beverage, it’s a food. And one of the most important foods is milk,” Hornstra says.
Learn more about Hornstra and his cows as he shares what dairy farm life is like seven days a week, 365 days a year.
What do you love most about your farm?
Watching the future generations of our cows come along and seeing how they mature. Improving on your genetics is a big thing. It’s very rewarding to see the cow you started off with and how you improved this cow’s offspring by using appropriate bulls.
What are your biggest challenges?
We deliver to almost 3,500 homes on the South Shore and finding enough land to grow feed in an area that’s so densely populated is a hard thing; there’s just not a lot of land left in this area to grow the feed for the cows. I am very lucky that we work with the Wildlands Trust, the Trustees of Reservations, the Massachusetts Audubon Society and the towns in our area that have preserved open space and are very interested in us using their land. We help maintain this land that everyone loves to preserve and we are able to harvest feed for our cows at the same time. It also helps the town by keeping the areas mowed and keeping the brush away from around the edges.
What’s a typical day like on the farm?
We start milking the cows at five o’clock in the morning. Usually before that, our plant manager is in our bottling plant, starting to pasteurize the day before’s milk. Our bottling plant runs really early in the morning getting our milk ready to pasteurize and homogenize, and bottled for the next day. We pasteurize our milk the way they pasteurized milk in the 1930s. It’s at a lower temperature for a longer period of time, and it gives our milk a really distinct, sweet flavor that people really enjoy.
It really depends on what day it is with what goes on here. Some days we’re making butter; some days we’re making ice cream. We bottle milk three days a week. In the summertime we’re busy plowing and planting corn, and spreading manure in our hay fields. Believe it or not each cow eats about 100 pounds of feed per day. All summer long you’re busy working and putting away feed for the next winter.
What’s the last thing you do on the farm before calling it a day?
I usually go and check on the cows and make sure everyone is healthy and that nobody is sick. Then I go home. When I know the cows are okay, then everything else can wait.
For the rest of John Hornstra's interview and a list of dairy farms in Massachusetts, go to the second page.
With the weather we’ve experienced this winter, how has that affected deliveries?
We only missed one delivery the day that we had that blizzard and they didn’t want us on the road. So we decided to postpone deliveries by a day for that week. But that’s the first time in 100 years that we’ve missed a delivery. I remember walking up the street pulling a sled with cases of milk with my dad in the 1978 blizzard. We really are conscientious that our customers get the best service that they possibly can.
If your cows could talk, what would they say about you?
That’s an interesting question. Depends on which cow you ask! Our cows are very well taken care of. They are used to having me around, and all of us in the barn; they get quite a bit of attention.
Cheryl Crosby is senior editor of Boston Parents Paper.
For a list of dairy farms in Massachusetts, click here.