4/10/2017 2:13:00 PM A mother's love Crabb honors late son's wish to become a dairy farmer
Dylan Crabb’s photo on his family’s dairy farm serves as a reminder of his dream of wanting to be a dairy farmer and take over his family’s dairy farm. He passed away in 2009, but not before he got to make his dream come true. PHOTO BY BRITTANY OLSON
This Ayrshire heifer calf goes back to one of the first cows Dylan Crabb received to start his own dairy herd. Crabb, who was diagnosed with leukemia as a teenager, milked cows until he passed away at the age of 16. PHOTO BY BRITTANY OLSON
HOLCOMBE, Wis. - Dylan Crabb always wanted to be a dairy farmer when he grew up. Even after being diagnosed with cancer in 2006 at the age of 13, he never lost sight of his goal to have his own herd of Ayrshire cows - his favorite breed - on his great-grandfather's farm. While Dylan passed away two weeks after he turned 16, there are still cows in the barn. His mother, Lori, and stepfather, Bruce Johnson, are milking about 30 Ayrshires on Lori's family's 240-acre farm near Holcombe, Wis. Continuing their herd along with opening an ice cream and cheese shop called Dylan's Dairy in a nearby town are just two ways Lori and Bruce honor the memory of Dylan. The dairy, named Two Rivers Farm, sits near the confluence of the Chippewa and Fisher Rivers in northern Chippewa County. Lori grew up milking cows on the farm. "I remember at 13 years old, getting off the bus and finding cows grazing out front. My grandpa had bought me 10 cows," Lori said. Unfortunately, the barn sat idle for nearly three decades afterward. But it was Dylan - depicted in a painting on the front of the barn - who resurrected its dairy heritage. "Dylan was born a farmer, plain and simple," Lori said. "He and Bruce spent two years putting the barn back together." During a trip to the Rusk County Fair in Ladysmith, Wis., Dylan fell in love with the red cattle that now fill his barn. "The girls showing Ayrshires told Dylan about their outstanding butterfat, moderate size, longevity and gentleness," Lori said. "Now that I am doing a lot of the milking, they have proven themselves on all four counts." Even though Bruce hadn't grown up on a farm, his close relationship with Dylan led him to jump into dairy farming. "Bruce didn't grow up with cows, but he lives, breathes and sleeps cows now," Lori said. "He's incredible. He's the glue that holds it all together." Despite Dylan's diagnosis with leukemia at age 13, the young dairyman pressed on with fixing up the barn and getting it ready to house dairy cattle once again. Chemotherapy and two unsuccessful bone marrow transplants proved to be no match for the disease, but Dylan's spirit was undeterrable. Through the Make-a-Wish Foundation, Dylan received his first two Holstein cows named Star and Moon. There were also four Ayrshire cows donated along with a pipeline. Although he was very ill, Dylan went out to the barn every day to milk his cows. "And, when he couldn't walk anymore, his friends carried him to the barn," Lori said. The young farmer remained strong all the way to the end. Lori said through all the pain and suffering he endured, Dylan only cried one time. "It was 10 days before he died," Lori said. "There were some baby ducks in the bay of the river, and Dylan told me, 'Mom, their lives are starting and mine is starting to end.'" Dylan passed away on Memorial Day in 2009, 2.5 years after being diagnosed. In the days and months following his passing, Lori and Bruce, along with daughters, Morgan and Jayde, were swept up by waves of grief. "One night, I decided that crying wasn't going to heal it," Lori said. In the middle of the night, she began to paint a scene on the ceiling of a building located just down the street from the beauty salon she owned in Cornell, Wis., a few miles from the farm. "I painted Dylan in the clouds freehanded," Lori said. After Lori attended cheesemaking and ice cream making school at UW-Madison and UW-River Falls, that building became Dylan's Dairy, an ice cream and cheese shop in downtown Cornell. The Dylan's Dairy logo features Dylan's likeness, a young boy in a ball cap and rubber boots carrying a milking machine and a bucket. "We make 24 flavors of ice cream, and sell 42 varieties of cheese from local cheesemakers," Lori said. In that same spirit with wanting to honor Dylan's memory and make the world a little more loving, Lori and Bruce also have four foster children who help on the farm as needed. "Everything is a family endeavor," Lori said. Even in addition to running her salon and Dylan's Dairy, Lori does half of the milking, with a neighboring Amish family helping with the rest. In tandem with a herd of cows, Dylan's Dairy and taking in foster children, Lori has one last adventure to round out what she feels is her life's tribute to her son. "It's my last, but certainly not least, adventure," she said. Now that Jayde is in the process of taking over her mother's salon, and with Morgan majoring in pre-medicine with hopes of working as a pediatric oncologist, Lori is working on turning the house at Two Rivers Farm into an on-farm inn for families of children with terminal illnesses. "Everything will be free of charge for these kids and their families," Lori said. In addition, the Wisconsin Ayrshire Breeders Association gave its distinguished service award to Bruce and Lori, in honor of Dylan, this March at the association's annual meeting. "One of their directors carried an article written about Dylan with him for two years. He was determined to honor Dylan one way or another," Lori said. While Dylan is no longer physically present, his memory and legacy live on through his beloved Ayrshire cows, kind words and deeds and, most of all, a mother's undying love for her child.