RAMAH, N.M. — Dane Lambson starts his mornings milking Honey. Honey is a Jersey cow he traded for a beef cow about two years ago. A dairy cow, Honey’s previous owners could not keep up with the amount of work and discipline required to milk the cow every day and told him, “Get the cow or we are taking her to the butcher,” Lambson, 61, recalled a recent morning.
“She has to be milked every day. If you don’t milk the cow every day, it messes her up pretty bad. It’s not an option. If you can’t do it, you gotta find someone to do it.”
Lambson raises about 15-20 beef cows on a field in the Ramah area. He wanted a dairy cow, so he butchered one of his own that winter and traded the beef for Honey. It all worked out pretty well, he said.
Lambson now gets about 3 gallons of milk every morning and supplies his family and friends with fresh milk. There’s enough left for him and his wife Shari Lambson to make yogurt, cream cheese, butter, ricotta, mozzarella, cheddar, Gouda, Monterrey, smoked pepper Jack, Monterrey Jack, Romano, Cheshire, provolone, Reblechon and the list goes on.
Dane and Shari Lambson were making Tomme cheese at their home in Ramah one recent morning. Tomme cheese, Shari Lambson explained, is a round cheese made on the same farm from which its milk is sourced. French cheese lovers tend to associate Tomme-style cheese with its circular round shape, earthy gray-brown rind, and intensely nutty taste. But there are many varieties of Tomme cheese, and the Lambsons were making Tomme de Savoie that morning.
“The process of making cheese starts at 90 degrees,” Dane Lambson said, stirring 12 gallons of milk in a large pot on the stove. “It will age for a minimum of three months and possibly up to a year. Savoie is an Alpine region in eastern France.”
Dane Lambson visited the Alps in his youth, when he spent two years serving on a mission in Europe for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He remembered returning to his mother’s home in Ramah to find a year-old cheese his mother made sitting in the cellar. He believes his mother forgot all about it, but the taste was good after a year, and it was a treat for the young man.
His mother Dorothy Lambson raised her seven children sharing chores on the family farm. The dairy cows were Dane Lambson’s responsibility.
“We had two to three cows all the time,” he said. “That was my job since I was 7 years old.”
When his siblings left for college, Dane Lambson took charge of the farm. Over the years, he has learned every aspect of the operation, including planting, harvesting and making the most out of every year’s crops.
It has paid off.
This year, Ramah Lake was full for the first time in seven years, and the local farmers had a chance to grow alfalfa and other crops for cattle that they got to irrigate with water from the lake. Lambson planted 18 acres of oats and peas and harvested about 1,600 bails. The bails are bundled and stocked at the barn were Honey spends her days and nights. She usually gets a bail a day, and a bowl of high protein pellets, and also gets to chew on a block of salt. The pellets are her treat every morning during the milking process. With this year’s harvest, Lambson plans to feed Honey and supplement his 15-20 beef cows.
“With the drought and everything, this is the first real hay that came out of this valley,” he said. “With this much feed, I will be able to feed my cattle and milking cow for a couple of years.”
CHEESE AND DRONES
During breaks making cheese that morning, Shari Lambson took the spoon and stirred the milk. The two worked in synchronicity in the kitchen, knowing what to do and when to do it without explaining themselves. Shari stirred. Dane Lambson opened his laptop and looked at videos of his field along New Mexico Highway 53 he shot from the air with a drone. He explained the irrigation pivot got stuck in the field a couple times in the summer. He flew the drone to get a better look at the situation and also to see the damage caused by a herd of elk that roamed through his field that week.
Shari got tired and stopped stirring. Dane picked up where she left off. At times, he would stand on a stool to get a better grip and keep stirring.
When the milk had to sit quiet for about an hour to allow the culture to work, Shari served a couple of bowls of cereal, one with Honey’s milk and the other with Honey’s yogurt. Dane Lambson walked to an adjacent room where the couple keeps a large refrigerator full of cheese. He talked about the different types of cheese he has made over the years. While his mother made cheese when he was growing up, he did not learn until 10 years after he and Shari got married. They got a milk cow and fed their five children homemade dairy produce. Most of his knowledge about cheese, and drones, comes from the internet such as instructional videos on YouTube.
THE OLD DAYS
“There used to be a time when I was growing up in Ramah, when I was in high school, everybody in town had access to raw milk either through their own cow or somebody else’s,” Dane Lambson said. “We had two or three milk cows when I was growing up and we supplied many families with milk. Now it is more convenient for people to buy it at the store, even when the product is not nearly as good.”
With a population of about 500, only a handful of people in the farm town of Ramah still raise chickens, rabbits and goats for their own consumption. And as far as Dane Lambson knows, only another family raises a milk cow. For him it’s a way of life. He grew up in it, and it’s what he knows and feels comfortable around. Asked whether he would be interested in producing milk or cheese for commercial purposes, he chuckled.
“I think that would take all the fun out of it,” he said. “Having to do it and having to deal with all the aspects of it, I would have to get more cows to keep up with the demand, and keep it going consistently all year round, and I would have to be milking twice a day and pretty much overshadow everything else that it is going on. You would not be able to find anybody to take care of it nearly as easy. You would have to hire somebody to be there part time.”
Information from: Gallup Independent, http://www.gallupindependent.com