Goat Milk; All the Fuss

We all know what to do when life hands you lemons.  But what about when life walks a stray mother goat and her week old baby into your life?  Well, you get her arse on a milking stand and milk her for all she’s worth.  (side note: you also love, cherish, and spoil her, drown her in snuggles and goat kisses, and turn overnight into the crazy goat lady)

I’ve long heard that goat milk is “better” than cow milk but not being a big milk drinker, I never bothered to wonder why.  On the rare occasions I noticed goat milk in stores, it was either in yogurt form or far too expensive for my frugal self.  Besides, should the occasional milk craving arise, we’re able to buy raw, grass-fed cow milk in our local market.

All that changed, of course, when I started milking my own goat.  The first season was pretty meager; between my lack of milking skills and her lack of training, the milk pail didn’t exactly runneth over.  My daily draw was so small that I often poured it directly into my coffee mug when I was finished.  Fresh from the teats.

But this year we came in hot: planned pregnancy (hers, not mine), an adorable hand-pump milker, and a freshly-built milking shed (turns out goats are not very fond of being milked in the rain).  Though it would be a vast exaggeration to claim milking skills, even a novice like myself was able to eke out an excess of goat milk.  I won’t lie; it’s been pretty glorious to have on hand.

So what’s up with the nutrition?  I finally put my research hat on and got busy.  And now I’m feeling even more smug about my goat milk.

One cup of goat milk comes in at 168 calories, 10 grams of fat, 11 grams of carbohydrates, and 10 grams of protein.  For reference, whole milk from a cow comes in at a 146 calories, with 8 grams of fat, 13 grams of carbohydrates, and 8 grams of protein.  Nothing much to see here.

But when you check out the types of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, shite gets interesting. 

Goat milk contains roughly 10% less lactose (milk sugar) than cow milk.  Because lactose intolerance is just that, an intolerance as opposed to an allergy, many people who double over in pain after a regular dose of cow dairy can enjoy goat milk quite comfortably.  It’s likely not only the smaller amount of lactose (let’s be real, 10% isn’t that much), but also the easier digestibility of goat milk that makes in so inoffensive.  With a digestion time up to 6 times faster, there’s less opportunity for milk sugars to hang out and ferment in the gut.  That fermenting is responsible for the bloating, pain, and other symptoms that define lactose intolerance.

The proteins are even more exciting.

The protein content of milk is generally around 80% casein and 20% whey.  The protein at fault for true dairy allergies is casein, specifically the A1 beta-casein.  Stay with me.  The A1 beta casein was a genetic mutation from the original, A2 beta-casein that’s long been present in bovids’ milk.  While the A2 type has been nothing but delightful and nutritious throughout mans’ milk-drinking career, the A1 casein is another story.  

A1 consumption has been linked with allergies, inflammation, asthma, eczema, autoimmune disease, neurological issues and cardiovascular disease.  Not a good rap to have.  Its mutation also allows the A1 casein to break into beta casomorphins, bioactive particles that have been linked to SIDS, autism, and type I diabetes.  Correlation isn’t causation, of course, but the shoe fits a little too comfortably.  While the degree to which BCMs can cross the gut lining and move into the bloodstream hasn’t been established, it’s likely to be higher for those with leaky gut syndrome or otherwise compromised gut integrity. 

While different breeds of cows have different A1:A2 ratios, most of the milk you can find at a grocery store in the US comes from breeds that are predominately A1.  But you may be able to find A2 Milk in your area if you want to try it out.

On to fat.

The fat globules in goat milk are smaller than cows’, meaning a higher surface-area-to-volume ratio for easier enzyme action and quicker digestion.  It also lacks a protein called agglutinating euglobulin which is responsible for the way cream rises to the top of cow milk, and thus appears naturally homogenized.  It has more essential fatty acids than cow milk, specifically arachidonic acid and linoleic acid, and a whole host of short chain fatty acids that are anti-fungal, anti-bacterial, and anti-microbial.  Not only that, but 35% of goats’ milk fat is made up of medium chain triglycerides, those same quick burning fatty acids that coconut oil is lauded for!  Rock on, goats’ milk fat.

Goats’ milk contains more minerals than cows’ milk, notably calcium, magnesium, potassium, copper, phosphorous, zinc, and selenium.  And research shows that the nutrients within are more bioavailable than those in cow milk.

The vitamin content of goat milk is slightly lower than cow milk, but has a similar profile.  Exceptions are niacin and B6, which are significantly higher in goat milk.  Another interesting difference is the vitamin A content: in cow milk, much of the vitamin A is in beta carotene form, the precursor to true vitamin A, which requires a conversion by our body for use.  For some, this is an easy hat trick while for others, especially thyroid-compromised individuals, this conversion can be difficult and will result in little usable vitamin A.  Enter, goat milk!  Instead of beta carotene, goat milk contains preformed vitamin A ready to rock our eye, skin, and immune health.

Goats also take the prize for environmental responsibility.  Compared to cows, they maintain well on a small footprint and can thrive on what seems a sparse diet.  Instead of grazing, they are efficient browsers, preferring shrubs and weeds to grasslands.  Because they aren’t raised as intensively as cows, dairy goats generally aren’t imbued with the trifecta of GMO feed, antibiotics, and added hormones that dairy cows are.

The downside to goats’ milk -the only one I can find- is the cost and the scarcity.  If you can find it locally, a gallon can run between $6 and $10.  However, I’ve seen mere quarts selling for $6 at my local Whole Foods.  Goats’ milk yogurt is a bit more affordable and easier to find, so for someone intolerant of cow yogurt, this would be worth a try.  Depending on your state’s regulations, local farms might be allowed to sell raw milk on their property.  If that’s the case, the freshest and often cheapest goats’ milk can be picked up at the cost of a slight detour.

If all else fails, keep your eyes peeled for stray goats in the neighborhood and unlimited dairy could be yours too!

Honeycomb testing out my DIY milking stand last summer.