For farmer Larry Stap, family-owned and -operated is about the cows, the cream and the conviction of his faith
By Sarah Sakurazawa and Rowan Westwood
March 15, 2023
This story was written as part of an agriculture-reporting internship with the the journalism department of Western Washington University and Whatcom County Dairy Women, supported by a grant from the Dairy Farmers of Washington.
Wearing a red button-up shirt that matches the color of the barn his great-grandfather built, Larry Stap sits on the bed of his Mazda pickup. He might have to favor a hip that’s scheduled for replacement surgery in a couple of weeks, but his smile is as sweet as his family dairy’s chocolate milk. With fans from the Canadian border to Portland, Oregon, and plans to expand into eastern Washington, Larry Stap is a fourth-generation dairy farmer and owner at Twin Brook Creamery in Lynden, Washington. Counting his kids and grandkids, three generations now live on the farm.
Year farm started: 1910
Acreage: The farm includes 230 acres plus 50 acres rented from neighbors.
Facilities: The dairy farm and bottling plant are on separate sites, three miles apart.
Herd: All Jersey, 265 milking and dry cows and another 220 youngstock.
Cream of the crop: Twin Brook Creamery produces whole, 2 percent, 1 percent and fat-free milk; heavy whipping cream; half-and-half; strawberry and chocolate milk; and eggnog seasonally, all sold in glass bottles.
4,000 – 7,000: Number of glass milk bottles Twin Brook Creamery washes in a day.
Customers can return their bottles at the store where they purchased the milk and get their bottle deposit back.
Self-sufficient: “We grow most of our own feed. When you have enough land base, you can raise all your own feed. So that works out really nice.”
‘Lots of history here’: The oldest barn on the farm was built by Stap’s great-grandfather in 1911.
Family first: In 2006 Stap’s daughter and son-in-law Michelle and Mark Tolsma asked to join the family business. “Instead of getting bigger and adding more cows, we diversified and started bottling our own milk.”
‘Responsibility’: The main skill Stap says his father taught him. “Those cows need to be milked seven days a week, the calves need care seven days a week. You can’t just think about tomorrow, you have to think about long term.”
‘Always, always, always’: “Probably the biggest thing is to worship the Creator. Our mission statement is, We are a family-owned and -operated dairy that exists to glorify God, through the stewardship of the land and the animals that He’s entrusted to our care in the best way possible.”
Tech support: Twin Brook Creamery installed four Lely robotic milking machines around 2016.
Milking times: Cows are milked three to six times a day, depending on the cow’s daily production. Each cow produces about 55 pounds, or nearly 6 gallons of milk, a day.
Six: Approximate number of minutes it takes for the robot to milk each cow.
Snack time: Cows eagerly line up to be milked by the Lely robotic milker because they get a special high-energy snack. Cows enjoy the treat so much they sometimes “cheat” and try to go through the milking line extra times. The robot tracks their computer tags and shoos them off if they’re not due to be milked.
Toughest part of farming: “It’s seven days a week. You won’t get days off, you probably won’t get vacations, you still have to milk the cows when you’re sick, so be ready for some serious commitment.”
‘It all boils down to stewardship’: “If you don’t take care of the soil properly, you’re probably not going to have good quality feed. If you don’t take care of the animals that provide your living, they’re not going to produce well.”
Learning curve: “You can take some college classes, you can go to ag colleges and they’ll help you a lot. But you’re never going to get the learning that you have working on an actual farm. Just learn, learn, learn, because you’re never going to learn it all. It’s just amazing what you can take through life with you.”