Modern Milkman

Sarah Mercer holds open her bag as Frank Wallis of Recluse, Wyo., pulls out jars of non-processed whole milk for her on Aug. 8 near the Sheridan County Fairgrounds in Sheridan.

SHERIDAN — In much of the nation, it's been a couple of generations since those "remember when" days of the milkman bringing fresh milk to the door in glass jars, but a milkman in northeast Wyoming has resurrected those times for more than 125 families in the area.

Frank Wallis drives a large pickup instead of a delivery van and wears a Carhartt coat and cap rather than a white uniform, but he's still "the milkman" to Wyoming residents who are grateful for the chance to drink milk straight from a cow they can see and touch.

That is, if they drive to the tiny town of Recluse in northern Campbell County, where Wallis operates EZ Rocking Ranch, a source for locally raised grass-fed beef, pastured chickens and eggs, free range turkeys, pastured pork and, of course, fresh milk.

Every Tuesday, Wallis delivers fresh, raw milk in glass half-gallon jars to Gillette, and every Friday he makes the loop from Buffalo to Story, Big Horn, Clearmont, Sheridan and the smaller towns in between.

On a recent Friday in Sheridan, Wallis pulled his truck into the driveway of the house where deliveries are made and began unloading cooler after blue cooler filled with jars of milk.

More than a dozen regular customers showed up, paid Wallis for their milk and chatted about a variety of topics: homemade cheese, how the cows were doing, an upcoming conference about living on the land.

Each customer owns a share of a cow in Wallis' herd of 17 dairy cows, which is the only way they can legally consume the raw, unpasteurized milk under a state regulation.

Wallis grew up on the ranch near Recluse with his sister, former state Rep. Sue Wallis, who died unexpectedly in January of this year and was an advocate in the Legislature for locally grown food.

Three families asked Wallis to keep and milk cows for them since they lived in town and had no way to keep their own cow.

Wallis wasn't thrilled with the idea right away because he had a full-time job. However, the families kept discussing the idea and eventually purchased two dairy cows — named How and Now from the movie "My Fair Lady" with Audrey Hepburn.

Word spread about the cow share program, How and Now had daughters Daisy and Kate and Wallis's dairy herd grew.

Peaches, Cream, Pudding, Sugar, Will and Kate all joined the herd. Will and Kate are two English cows named after the royal Will and Kate who got married around the time they joined the herd. Will is now the herd bull, and Kate is a milk cow.

The herd is now 17 cows, although only 11 are currently producing milk.

Wallis milks each cow about nine months of the year then gives them a three-month vacation — something he, himself, has not taken for about five years unless you count a day away from milking to pick up a pig in Montana, he said with a laugh.

Wallis spends four to five hours per day from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. milking each cow individually with a vacuum pump that imitates a calf sucking on the mother's udder. The milk goes straight from the udder to an enclosed can, which is taken to what used to be the kitchen in the bunkhouse but has now become the dairy room.

Wallis, who often works with interns who want to learn how he produces fresh food, pours the milk from the cans through a filter and into sanitized half-gallon jars. The jars are immediately placed in an ice bath to quickly chill the milk then refrigerated until the once-a-week delivery.

When not milking cows, Wallis raises calves that will grow up to replace the current dairy cows and cares for pigs, chickens and beef cows and harvests eggs, working sun up to sun down to provide residents of northeast Wyoming with fresh, local food.

"I've retired; I'm now at leisure except for the milking cows and growing pigs, and chickens and beef cattle. Actually I think I work harder now than when I had a job," Wallis said, laughing.

But he doesn't mind the hard work.

"It's great pleasure to see some of these kids, some of them are suffering from things like autism and things like that where the enzymes and the good proteins and the good nourishment in this milk is actually helping some of these kids," Wallis said. "I've had people who are recovering from cancer start to drink this milk, and they're actually gaining a little weight. Those kind of things feel really good. I don't know if you can put exclamation points on a print piece or not, but it feels really good. It's not about the money; it's about providing good, wholesome food."

His cows are on pasture year-round, eating grass in the summer and hay in the winter, although he has started sprouting barley seed, which provides 6-7 inches of green grass per day for each cow year-round.

Residents in Sheridan purchase raw milk — at about double the cost of a gallon of milk from the store, which they say it's worth — for a variety of reasons.

Kayla Halloran and her boyfriend, Ben Ross, have owned a cow share for more than a year. The share costs $35 per month and includes one gallon of milk per week. Halloran purchases an additional gallon and a half each week. She and Ross drink half a gallon weekly and put the rest toward their latest whole food pursuit: cheese.

They started with soft cheese spreads a year ago and have since purchased a wine fridge to age hard cheese ranging from cheddar to Gouda to cheeses with additions like jalapeno and garlic.

"We get more back in nutrition and taste, and we just love experimenting with different kinds of cheeses," Halloran said. "It's right up there with our philosophy of do it yourself, grow your own food and just take care of the environment."

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