Backyard Farmer: Introduction to Goat’s Milk

Raising goats for goat’s milk opens up the world of DIY dairy products. Whether prompted by sustainability, gourmet food, saving money, or all three, starting a backyard farm has become both an appealing and realistic option. After a veggie garden and chicken coop, the next step to rounding out your farm is dairy production. Here, you can learn about the history and health benefits of goat’s milk and glean some inspiration for your first goat’s milk projects along the way!

History of Goat’s Milk

While you may feel dubious at the prospect of making your own cheese, raising goats for goat’s milk is not that farfetched. In fact, it’s one of the most ancient ties in human history. Goat’s have been raised for meat and milk for over 10,000 years. Goats were actually one of the first animals to ever be domesticated – only predated by the ancient friendship of dogs and humans. While the domesticated goat has its own species name of Capra hircus, it was originally domesticated from a middle eastern wild goat (Capra aegagrus)

With the human population closing in on eight billion, the goat population has mirrored this dramatic growth. The growing demand for dairy has put pressure on goat dairies around the world. Today, one billion goats roam the earth, found on all continents except Antarctica. While cow dairy may seem more prevalent (especially in the United States),  goats are the more common choice for smaller, more artisanal dairy production. 

Health Benefits of Goat’s Milk

Though regarded as the “poor man’s cow,” milk from goats has a higher nutritional content than from cows and is easier to digest for a broader range of people. Compared to cows, goat’s milk has more calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus. Additionally, though it has lactose, it has a softer curd that is often easier to digest for people with more mild lactose intolerance. In fact, about 40% of people with an allergy to cow’s milk can consume goat’s milk without an issue! 

Combating Malnutrition

Goat’s milk has garnered quite a bit of attention due to its nutritional makeup. Among its claims to fame, goat’s milk can be a healthy nutrition source for infants because of its softer curd, diversity of healthy fatty acids, and similarities to human milk. In fact, in countries where many newborns were orphaned due to the HIV/AIDS epidemic, goat’s milk has served as an affordable, protein-rich food source. Healthy protein options boost the immune system and can help children fight off the progression of the virus.

Goat’s Milk in the Kitchen

For the foodies out there, goat dairy is likely nothing new. Maybe you’ve been crumbling goat cheese on roasted beet salads and caramelized onion pizzas for years. But others of us might be wondering how to approach this tangy food. Even if you’ve mastered goat cheese, you may want to take the plunge into other goaty creations.

Minimizing the Goatiness

At first whiff, goat’s milk comes across as pungent, and such a strong odor can be quite divisive. If the health benefits of raising goats appeal to you, but you’re not quite sure how to take a swig without gagging, fear not! Here are a couple of pieces of advice for minimizing the goaty flavor of your dairy.

Different Breeds, Different Flavors

Just like a Granny Smith tastes different from a Honeycrisp apple, different breeds of goats produce differently tasting milk. While some breeds like Oberhaslis and Toggenburgs were bred for their strong, powerful flavors, others have a more mild, sweeter, or richer taste. Saanens, for example, generally produce lighter, milder milk. On the other hand, Nigerian Dwarf goats make rich milk with high-fat content. When deciding which goat breed to raise, consider the flavor you hope to get from the milk!

Processing

Once you’ve milked the goats, the processing of the milk has a great influence on the flavor of the dairy. Chilling the milk generally reduces the goaty flavor, while leaving it out will let the flavor develop. The goaty taste comes from the fatty acid called caproic acid. If the milk ages at room temperature, the fatty acid can multiply, resulting in a stronger flavor. However, when chilled below 38°F, the enzymatic reaction slows, and the goat’s milk will taste much milder. While most fridges sit around 40°F, you can create your own temperature-controlled setup with a Coolbot system! When making cheeses, sometimes you may want a more dramatic taste, and embrace the tanginess of the goat. If you’re just looking for a glass of milk at breakfast, chilling the milk immediately will make the straight milk more palatable.

What to Make with Goat’s Milk?

The creative potential with goat’s milk is truly endless. Just in terms of food, you can make everything that is made with cow’s milk. Cheese, yogurt, butter, and even ice cream are all possible right from your home kitchen. Just grab some cheesecloth, a little lemon juice or citric acid, and some patience, and your meals will be full of delicious flavors straight from your backyard! Once you’ve mastered the basics, it just takes a bit of creativity to spruce up your dinners. Even apart from the basic dairy products, goat’s milk can be a delightful additive for bath products. Goat’s milk adds a creaminess and exfoliator to soaps and lotion, and you can make them from your own home!

The moral of the story? Goat’s milk can do anything cow’s milk can do and do most of it better.

Goat’s Milk & Sustainability

Compared to their counterparts, goats are a much more environmentally friendly dairy animal. With their more moderate grazing behavior, they can both reduce the spread of invasive plants while supporting the growth of natives. They generally leave less of an impact than cattle. Not only does their small size make goats a better fit for a backyard, but they can also withstand harsher conditions, making goats an appropriate backyard farm animal around the world. Both from an environmental and economic perspective, goat’s milk is a more sustainable option!

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