By Lesa Wilke
Goat milk is preferred over cow milk in much of the world, and approximately 70% of the milk consumed by humans worldwide is supplied by goats. In the United States, the cow is still king, but goats are the fastest growing livestock animal and goat milk consumption is rising rapidly. Why is goat milk so popular worldwide and why is its popularity rising in the US? Well, compared to cows and cow milk, goats are easier to keep; and goat milk is great tasting, produced more naturally, more nutritious, available raw, easier to digest, acceptable to many with lactose intolerance, and it triggers fewer milk allergies.
Goats don’t need as much space as cows, are easier to handle, thrive on marginal pastures, and are perfectly happy eating things that we consider nuisances like poison ivy and brambles. Goats are suitable for hilly, rocky, and wooded areas where cows could not be kept, and actually prefer wooded browse to pasture (they prefer to reach up to eat rather than down like cattle). Goats convert their food into milk much more efficiently than cows, and many people find it easier to deal with the smaller quantities of milk (see Table 1) they produce. Much of the upsurge in goat popularity has been with those interested in increasing their self-sufficiency, and most find it much easier to keep a few goats. The dwarf dairy goat breeds are even being allowed in some urban areas because they need so little room, are easy to care for, and provide so many benefits.
Fresh goat milk tastes creamy, sweet, and mild – virtually indistinguishable from whole cow milk. But, goat milk must be properly handled (processed in sanitary conditions and cooled immediately) to insure that its sweet taste is preserved. Taste also differs from goat breed to breed; with those breeds producing the highest butterfat content (Nigerian Dwarves and Nubians) typically producing the sweetest, mildest tasting milk (see Table 1). In some areas of Europe, stronger tasting milk is preferred, so breeds originating there (like Oberhasli and Toggenburg) do tend to produce milk with a stronger taste. Dairy goat herds in the US are typically small, and the goats are allowed to free range rather than being maintained on feed lots as most cow dairy herds are today. Goat dairies also tend to keep antibiotic use to a minimum and rarely use hormones, whereas most dairy cows are pumped full of antibiotics and bovine growth hormone (as well as bovine somatotropin — a hormone used specifically for increasing milk production). Also, goat milk does not contain agglutinin, the substance that makes cow milk separate, so goat milk does not need to be artificially homogenized like cow milk.
The vitamins and minerals in goat milk can play an important role in helping us meet our daily nutritional requirements. On the vitamin front, goat milk supplies up to 47% more vitamin A, 350% more niacin (B3), 25% more B6, is lower in folic acid (B9) and B12, and is comparable to cow milk for the other vitamins. On the mineral front, goat milk is 13% higher in calcium, higher in phosphorous, has 134% more potassium, has more iron, contains four times the copper, has more magnesium, has substantially more manganese, has more selenium, and has comparable levels of zinc and sodium when compared to cow milk. Goat milk simply supplies more vitamins and minerals than cow milk.
Unpasteurized goat milk is increasingly available from small farms (laws regarding sales of raw milk vary from state to state), and many believe raw milk is much healthier for humans because pasteurization destroys the nutrition and beneficial bacteria in raw milk. Pasteurization also makes it more difficult for humans to absorb calcium and it breaks down the lactase in milk (the enzyme that helps digest lactose), making milk more difficult to digest.
Although the US government strongly discourages the consumption of raw milk (and probably rightly so for the mass-produced milk from antibiotic and hormone fed cows living on feed lots), raw milk has been consumed by humans for hundreds of years, and if properly processed, poses little health risk.
Goat milk is naturally homogenized, with smaller fat particles evenly distributed throughout the milk, and is much closer to human milk in makeup than cow milk. The vitamins, minerals, trace elements, electrolytes, enzymes, and proteins in goat milk are therefore easier for humans to assimilate than similar content in cow milk. For these reasons, goat milk is typically digested in as little as 20 minutes; whereas it can take 24 hours for humans to digest cow milk.
As much as 75% of the adult population suffers from lactose intolerance, or the inability to digest lactose.
This is caused by the by the lack (or an insufficient amount) of the enzyme called lactase. Goat milk contains about 10% less lactose than cow milk and since it passes through the human digestive tract so rapidly, many with lactose intolerance have no difficulty with goat milk.
Also, because raw goat milk still contains the enzyme lactase, switching to unpasteurized goat milk can be helpful to those with lactose intolerance.
Milk is a good source of protein (see Table 1), but the complex proteins in milk are what cause some to be allergic to it, and the alpha-s1-casein protein in cow milk is the primary one responsible for milk allergies in humans. Goat milk contains much lower levels (89% less) of this particular protein, and some goats produce milk with no alpha-s1-casein. Studies of infants have shown that approximately 90% of those allergic to cow milk are able to drink goat milk without suffering any allergic reaction.
Increasingly, goat milk is simply viewed as a healthier alternative to cow milk, and as interest in healthy foods and sustainable living grows, more are choosing it instead. Dairy goats are becoming popular additions to the small farm or homestead, goat milk is now regularly available in grocery stores, and with homestead goat ownership rising, it can also often be found at local farms or homesteads. It’s time to give goat milk a try!
Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in From Scratch magazine. Read the latest issue here. Read the issue this article appeared in here including more photos and information about goat’s milk. Don’t forget to subscribe using the form below.