Tradition continues: Crook family dairy tends to fifth generation
Thayne – Shane Crook, fifth generation dairy farmer, carries on his family’s tradition in beautiful Star Valley.
Surrounded by the Salt River Mountains, straddling the Wyoming – Idaho state line, the area was often called “The Star of All Valleys” by early pioneers.
Shane Crook’s great grandmother, pioneer Annie Crook, moved to the Wyoming side of Star Valley in 1910. William and Annie Crook’s sons, Lyman and Newell, purchased the dairy in about 1950. Lyman’s son, Ronald Crook, purchased the dairy from his father and uncle in 1993, and Shane purchased the dairy from his parents, Ronald and Barbara Crook, in 2011.
Shane enjoys life in Star Valley, and the intricacies of the dairy.
In 1998, he earned a degree in agriculture and soil science from Ricks College – now Brigham Young University-Idaho. He then studied aerospace engineering at Utah State University, and earned degrees in finance and economics. His wife, Michelle, earned a master’s degree in economics. The young couple decided to settle in Star Valley, agreeing it’s a great place to raise a family.
Much has changed in the dairy industry in Star Valley over the past 100 years.
Ronald explains, “Twenty years ago, there were 150 dairies – the largest with 30 to 40 cows - and about 10 cheese factories in this valley. There used to be eight small dairies on just the land we farm now. Then, they all took their milk to the cheese factory in Thayne. Now, all the milk is trucked to Idaho.”
“It’s cheaper to produce milk in other places because of warmer climates and better access to feed,” he continues. “Many farmers here have sold out. Now we’re down to about 10 dairies in the valley.”
Shane adds, “We are over three times bigger than the next largest dairy, milking about 175 head of cows and running about 400 total animals. We’ve started expanding, because we have to make it worthwhile for the truck driver to haul the milk. This spring, we added 36 cows from another dairy in the valley, and we plan to buy more.”
“When the dairy cows are milked, the milk is pumped into large tanks. The milk temperature has to go down to 40 degrees, and then stay below 45 degrees,” Shane explains. “We can legally hold the milk three days, but the truck comes every other day to haul the milk to Idaho.”
He continues, “We sell raw milk to Sartori Company in Blackfoot, Idaho. They produce world-famous, award-winning cheese.”
Sartori is an artisan cheese company, focusing on hand-making great cheese. Sartori’s SarVecchio Parmesan earned Best of Show honors at the 2009 U.S. Championship Cheese Contest, then First Runner Up in 2011. The company’s Limited Edition Cognac BellaVitano recently took third overall in the 2001 World Cheese Awards.
Every other day, a truck arrives from Sartori to pick up and transport milk from Star Valley. Back at Sartori, the truck driver tests milk samples for antibiotics before unloading at silos. If there are traces of antibiotic in the milk, the entire truckload is discarded before entering the silos, and the dairy submitting the milk has to pay for the entire truckload of milk.
“We don’t use rBST hormones,” says Ronald Crook. “We sign papers to that effect.”
Shane adds, “That’s consumer driven. Pediatric groups say it’s fine, and that adding the hormone does not cause problems for anyone drinking the milk. Cows produce it naturally, but certain groups have made it seem like a bad thing.”
Crook Dairy is a Grade A facility, meaning the milk is of highest quality, and can be used for fluid milk, cheese or any other dairy product.
“We drink the raw milk here ourselves,” says Shane, “so we keep everything very clean, and we keep our cows very healthy.”
He believes, “A healthy, happy, comfortable cow is a productive cow.”
Cows at Crook Dairy produce about 60 pounds of milk per cow each day.
If a cow is sick, she is milked separately. Her milk does not enter the tanks, but is used to feed the calves. She may be treated with antibiotics, but that milk never comes into contact with the milk headed for Sartori.
“It has to be withheld for a certain time,” Shane explains, “Milk is withheld continuously once antibiotic treatments have been administered, and for 96 hours after the last of three treatments.” Sixty days before calving, the cows are pulled from the milk string and rested. Twenty-one days prior to calving, they are moved into the barn and watched more closely. After calving, cows and calves are given medicines and drenches, and separated after a few hours.
Increasing efficiency and safety
Traditionally, cows are milked from the side. Crook Dairy cows are milked twice a day from behind to increase the number cows milked at a time.
“It takes less space to milk cows from behind than side-by-side,” Shane explains.
Every two years, dairies are inspected according to federal regulations for cleanliness and high standards in the facility, water, machinery and the milk.
“The guidelines are very strict,” Shane describes. “They check everything and want to know if the cows are stressed or sick. They make sure the cows are clean. They ensure we have a good, safe food supply.”
In addition to the federal inspection, Wyoming dairies are inspected every six months.
Crook Dairy is a family business. Shane Crook owns the company and keeps records of each cow at the dairy. His wife, Michelle, takes care of the financial records. Prior to their purchasing the dairy, Ronald kept the dairy records, and his wife, Barbara, tracked the financial records. Barbara has bottle-fed the calves for 20 years. She considers herself their surrogate mother.
Shane is glad to call Star Valley home and says, “It is a good place to raise a family. In fact, Donnie and Marie Osmond’s uncles had a dairy just across the road. You go away to school, and in the summer time you come back because you just can’t get the valley out of your system.”