Expert chefs and acclaimed home cooks will tell you that to make a great dish, you need the best ingredients. Sometimes, that may take you out of the way to get those. Maybe it’s the best tomatoes, peaches, or beef from a region of the country. In the days of the explorers, some would travel halfway around the world to get spices from a particular spot. And then you come to a place in Utah that feels almost as far, and you get to the community of EskDale – on the extreme western edge of Millard County at about the state line with Nevada, and find the dairy run by Dr. John Conrad and his family, which has been producing some of the best milk and dairy cows in the world.
Named for the Esk River in Scotland, EskDale markets itself as a place where you don’t have to see a lot of people. In fact, there are more dairy cows than people, and passing another car on your way out might be cause for alarm. However, the conditions are just right for raising healthy cows that produce great milk. That focus on a quality product, according to Conrad, is the reason the dairy focuses on top-notch genetics in their cows.
“We’ve been able to sell our dairy cows all over the world,” Conrad said. “We had a few recently get purchased to go as far as Australia.”
For Conrad and his family, showcasing their cattle is how they have set their dairy apart in a competitive world. With margins slim in the dairy industry because of the high cost of fertilizers, fuel, and feed for their animals, Conrad believes the dual focus on milk and high-quality animals has set their dairy apart.
The dairy in EskDale is the main source of economic development for a community that is founded on shared assets. Built as a religious community under the House of Aaron, most of the 30 families or so that live here have had some connection to the dairy, while others grow feed for the animals.
The dairy started in 1973 with its milk being sold to a local cheese plant in Delta, the nearest town at some 80 miles away. In time, Conrad and his family decided to partner with Gossner Foods out of Cache Valley and sell their milk to them for making Swiss cheese.
“They treat us so well, we’ve stuck with them for more than 20 years,” Conrad said. “And they’re even better people than they are businesspeople.”
The relationship has worked so well because Conrad focuses all his efforts on the health of his cows and focusing on the best genetics, which in turn produces high-quality milk worth driving for. Some might wonder why set up shop in the middle of the desert? Conrad is quick to highlight that keeping his cows in a dry area is important because it keeps the feet of his cows dry, leading to better health. Conrad is fixated on cattle genetics and is known as the ‘Godfather of Cattle Genetics’ in Utah.
“We focus on what works for our cows and we stick to it,” Conrad said.
But Conrad isn’t a lifer in EskDale and didn’t grow up in agriculture either. In fact, his father was an accountant in the San Francisco and New York City, prior to moving to the desert. But John loved working with animals and pursued that path by studying pre-veterinary medicine at Utah State University in Logan. Conrad earned his veterinary medicine degree at the University of California-Davis, and then moved to EskDale in 1976 to work on the community dairy. While there, he continued to do veterinary work at other dairies in Utah and Nevada, including the dairy housed at the Utah State Prison in Draper for more than 20 years, before settling back exclusively in EskDale in recent years.
Despite the remoteness of the town, Conrad loves living in the community because of the values of hard work everyone develops. With more cows than people in town, he also gets plenty of time to spend doing what he loves – caring for his cattle. Conrad’s focus on animal health and quality milk is something worth traveling across the world for – or at least the middle of the desert.