Dairy in the Raw
From The Land
The Other Side Ranch keeps shareholders in the fat year round
It’s 14 degrees on a bright January morning, as I set off down the road to The Other Side Ranch in Old Snowmass. Turning onto the long, fenced drive, I stop to take in the postcard-like scene. Dorper lambs, seemingly oblivious to the chill, frolic in snow-covered fields to my right. Before me, a whitewashed 1890s farmhouse and scattering of meticulously kept barns and outbuildings stand against a backdrop of rolling hills. Beyond them looms iconic Mt. Sopris. The sky is a brilliant cobalt blue.
Driving on, I spot a herd of impressively large black Jersey cows penned outside the rustic timber dairy barn I’ve come to visit. Out of the car, I’m quickly surrounded by the ranch’s informal welcoming committee, a band of super friendly dogs of varying colors, sizes and breeds, including a few Alaskan husky “rescue” dogs from Krabloonik. “My kind of place,” I think.
Suddenly, I spot her. Sam Wilk (“Like ‘milk,’ only with a ‘w,’” she’s quick to point out), the caretaker of sorts of the aforementioned cows. Since she was hired on by owner Kate McBride two-and-a-half years ago, Wilk has also taken over its raw dairy operation and pasture-raised meat business. Hardy and hale, and with a wry wit, she is clearly the kind of person who takes herding and milking and otherwise tending to her charges, including a 1,000-pound bull named Susie and a smaller up-and-comer named Zeus, in stride.
“It’s a different job than I thought it would be when I started,” she says. “When I got here, I barely knew how to milk. Now, I walk out of my house on the ranch at a quarter to 8 every morning. I milk the cows, log how many pounds of milk I get from each one, work the production kitchen making yogurt or butter or cream. I’m in constant motion.” She pauses, then adds with a grin, “I love the cows.”
After stopping to note how content said cows seem in their sunny corral, Wilk leads me into the dairy. The first thing I notice about the small but efficient space is how spotless it is. “It’s the first thing people experience,” she explains with pride. “We have to keep it clean.”
In addition to a neatly kept work and storage counter, commercial refrigerators line the walls. They’re filled mostly with fresh milk and cream that day, though yogurt and butter are often on hand as well. A pair of chest freezers are filled to the brim with packaged lamb shanks, leg of lamb, stew meat and bones. While the lamb is processed off-site in Delta, dairy products go from cow to bottle or jar in two back rooms.
In a milking room heated just enough to keep the pipes and wet concrete floors from freezing, Wilk feeds organic barley, oats and alfalfa to the cows while she milks them. “It gives them nutrition and keeps them entertained,” she says. Next door in the production kitchen, she meticulously filters and bottles the finished products. Raw whole milk, as well as the yogurt, cream and butter that Wilk makes, is available to people who buy shares in the dairy operation. Shares are $100 a year and the money goes to the care of the milking cows.
Seemingly a solitary job, Wilk is quick to note that she often spends time with shareholders stopping by to pick up milk or other raw dairy products, as well as customers in to purchase meat products.
“We have over 30 regular shareholders who come weekly for milk and some of them make it a point to come in while I’m here,” she says. A simple honor system allows shareholders to drop off empty milk bottles and pick up freshly filled ones during Wilk’s off hours. “We’ll catch up and chat about what they’re up to.” Sometimes, in the summer, groups will visit for educational tours, or, as Wilk puts it with a grin, “To learn where real milk comes from.”
To purchase meat products or to learn about becoming a raw dairy shareholder, contact Wilk at 575.779.0364, or stop by the ranch. And keep an eye out for The Other Side Ranch stand at the Basalt Sunday Market this summer.
GO FIND IT!
The Other Side Ranch
5459 E. Sopris Creek Road, Snowmass