While the cow remains the American symbol of all things dairy, most of the world actually consumes more goat milk than cow milk. In part this is because of necessity. Goats are hardier in extreme weather than cattle, require less food and can adapt more easily to a variety of diets. A small herd of milking goats can be easily maintained in forests, deserts or scrub land, while cattle and sheep require richer pasture.
Whether or not you choose to raise your own milking goats, you should consider making the switch to goat dairy products. Goat milk is full of health benefits for your body inside and out. You can enjoy goat milk yogurt, ice cream and cheese. Goat milk soap has impressive anti-aging properties. In this article we’ll cover everything you need to know about goat milk including its health benefits, where to get it, how to raise your own dairy goats and even how to make homemade goat yogurt.
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Learn all about goat milk and the benefits of raising dairy goats.
- Nutritional Profile
- Health Benefits
- Raw Goat Milk: Risks and Benefits
- Raising Dairy Goats
- Pasteurizing Milk at Home
- Goat Dairy Products
- Goat Soap
Let’s start by taking a look at exactly what is in goats milk. Here’s the approximate breakdown of fats, proteins and carbohydrates:
- Fats (Lipids) – 3-6% (varies by breed)
- Proteins – 3.4%
- Carbohydrates (Including Lactose) – 4.8%
- Minerals – 0.8%
- Milk Salts (Sodium, Calcium and Magnesium Chlorides) – <1%
- Water – 87%
The exact values of each component are effected by the breed of milking goats, their diet and environmental conditions. Vitamins make up such a small proportion that they seem negligible when calculating percent composition, but their contribution to the health benefits of goats milk is vital.
It is not the amount of protein, fat, lactose or minerals in goat milk that make it so much healthier than cow milk, but rather qualities of each component make that the difference. For instance, the proteins in goat milk have high levels of essential amino acids and a structure which is less apt to cause allergic reactions than the proteins in cows milk. The lactose in goat milk is more easily digested thanks to an abundance of enzymes, and even the minerals are more bio-available in goat milk. Read the full scoop on the benefits of goat milk vs cow milk here.
“Milk. It does a body good.”
This popular marketing slogan describes goats milk more aptly than it does cows milk. Consuming goat milk regularly provides a variety of health benefits, including:
- Reduced stomach acid.
Goat milk is actually a better acid buffer than many over-the-counter antacids.
- Alkalized digestive system.
Due to the modern diet high in refined grains, most of us have acidic blood pH. This can increase inflammation in the body and predispose us to a whole host of health problems. Goat milk contains alkaline ash, and does not produce acid when it is digested. It is also high in the amino acid L-glutamine which is often recommended by nutritionists to help elevate pH in the body.
- Stronger immune system.
Selenium is an immune modulating mineral with powerful antioxidant properties. It is a trace mineral that is lacking in many modern American diets but is found in ample amounts in goat milk.
- Provides easily digested nutrients.
The big culprit for many would-be dairy consumers is lactose. A large percentage of the population lacks the enzymes necessary to break down lactose, and suffer from gas and intestinal distress when they consume dairy products. Goat milk contains lactose digesting enzymes, lower levels of lactose and a fatty acid structure that makes it easy to digest. Many people suffering from lactose intolerance find they have no trouble digesting goat milk and goat milk products.
- Stronger bones from high calcium levels in goat milk.
- Decreased inflammation.
Goat milk is full of enzymes that reduce inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract. Many people claim they experience decreased inflammation throughout their bodies, including relief from arthritis pain. Research clearly shows the benefits of goat milk on easing inflammation in the gut, and ongoing studies will help clarify its anti-inflammatory effects on the rest of the body.
- Boosts uptake of essential nutrients.
Goat milk can help increase the uptake of minerals like iron and copper which is especially helpful for people suffering anemia. It also provides significant amounts of potassium, phosphorus and vitamin B.
- Healthier hearts.
Goat milk is full of healthy fatty acids that reduce cholesterol deposits in arterial walls. This reduces the risk of stroke, heart attack and atherosclerosis. The high potassium levels in goats milk help lower blood pressure and ease the pressure on the entire cardiovascular system.
That Goaty Flavor: Does the Milk Taste Bad?
Many people claim they hate goat milk or can’t drink it because of a “goaty” or “gamey” flavor. Mild tasting goat milk depends on freshness and cleanliness. If the udders are not properly cleaned before milking or hairs fall into the milk the flavor can be tainted. Fresh goat milk is nearly indistinguishable from cow milk. If you are not going to use all the goat milk you have right away, freeze it to preserve the fresh taste.
As you can see, goat milk is a nutrient dense food that offers many digestive, immune and cardiovascular health benefits. Some people who are severely lactose intolerant may still have difficulty digesting goat milk, and others may have specific allergies to proteins present in goat dairy products. That means that goat milk isn’t a magical milk that will solve all your health problems or even guarantee that you can eat cheese again if you are allergic to cow milk. But it is a good, balanced, nutrient dense food that is more digestible for most people than cow milk.
Health Benefits for Infants and Children
Babies have been fed goat milk since ancient times. It provides many more benefits than cow milk, in part because it contains many of the bioactive components that are also present in human milk, helping to stop the growth of harmful bacteria in the body. As with any new food, goat milk should be introduced gradually to your child’s diet. While goat milk allergies are less prevalent than cow milk allergies, they do occur. Introduce goat milk products slowly (you can try introducing them to your own diet while breastfeeding) and watch carefully for any reactions in your child.
A child fed goat milk will experience:
- Fewer allergies
Babies fed cow milk often develop dairy allergies, a problem that rarely occurs with infants fed goat milk.
- Relief from gastrointestinal and respiratory problems.
This occurs in part because of the structure of the protein casein micelle in goat milk.
- Healthy development and growth.
Babies fed goat milk regularly will demonstrate higher blood serum levels of essential vitamins, minerals and even hemoglobin, the molecule which carries oxygen in the blood. These infants show improved body weight gain and better bone development than those fed cow milk.
- Lower occurrence of common childhood illnesses.
Goat milk is rich in medium chain fatty acids which minimize cholesterol deposition, dissolve gallstones and decrease the risk of chyluria, mal-absorption syndrome, steatorrhoea, cystic fibrosis and childhood epilepsy.
Health Benefits for the Elderly
Goat milk is especially beneficial for older people who often suffer from digestive issues. Here are seven reasons that goat milk is the perfect food for the elderly:
- It is easily prepared.
Many elderly people simply don’t have the energy to cook nutritious, homemade meals. Goat milk products like cheese, yogurt and milk are ready-to-eat and require little preparation. Combined with fruit or whole-grain bread they can provide a protein rich meal easily.
- Goat dairy products are easily chewed.
Dentures, missing or loose teeth, gum problems and low levels of saliva are common culprits that make the simple act of chewing daunting for the elderly. Soft goat cheese, yogurt and milk are easily consumed.
- The smooth texture and mild flavor of goat milk products are well tolerated by the elderly.
- It is easy to digest
Up to a third of elderly people suffer from a reduction in stomach acid, making it difficult for their bodies to break down food and absorb nutrients. Goat milk has special enzymes that help digest its proteins, fats and carbohydrates.
- Goat dairy products strengthen bones.
The minerals in goat milk are easily metabolized. The increased uptake of calcium combats osteoporosis.
- Goat milk is hydrating.
As we age dehydration often becomes a problem. The sensation of thirst wanes, and changes in taste buds make us desire juice or milk instead of water. Goat milk is 87% water, making it a hydrating powerhouse.
- It has high levels of magnesium and potassium.
These important electrolytes are excreted in large amounts by people taking diuretics. Goat milk helps to restore healthy levels of these important minerals.
Raw Goat’s Milk
Raw Milk Danger!
This is the association the FDA, CDC and media promotes: unpasteurized cow or goat milk causes vomiting, diarrhea and potentially serious illness. The FDA goes so far as to say, ” within a short period of time, some can develop symptoms that are chronic, severe, or even life-threatening.”
On the other hand, many health specialists and nutritionists advocated the benefits of raw goat milk (and raw cow milk). Raw milk has more vitamins and enzymes. It can help balance gut flora and keep you healthy.
So which is it? Should you consume raw or pasteurized goat milk?
Let’s start by analyzing the facts. Yes. Raw milk can cause illness. How much?
- Of an average 24,000 food borne illness cases per year from 1990-2006 about 315 per year were from dairy products, according to the CDC.
- 75% of the population consumes dairy products regularly.
- Nearly 10 million people in the US now consume raw milk regularly.
- Nearly 5000 people are killed by all food borne illnesses each year, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).
- Only a few deaths in the last decade have occurred from pasteurized dairy products, and not a single death has been attributed to raw fluid milk since the 1980’s.
In short, you are at a much greater risk of serious food borne illness from produce, poultry, meat, eggs and even nuts than from dairy, raw or pasteurized.
Where to Get Raw Milk
If you do choose to drink raw goat milk, the best way to protect your health is to purchase it from a reliable source. Ideally this would milk from your own milking goats or from a nearby farm that follows sound animal husbandry practices. Before purchasing any raw milk product, ask to visit the farm. See how the animals live and how they are milked. Is the farm clean? Are the animals healthy? Is the milking parlor sanitary?
Of course, the best way to ensure that your goat milk is fresh and uncontaminated is to collect yourself each morning. The next section will tell you all about raising your own milking goats. This page will help you find a local goat dairy in your area.
Raising Dairy Goats
Raising your own dairy goats is a great way to keep a supply of fresh goat milk on hand. Goats are easier to handle than dairy cows, thanks in part to their much smaller size. They thrive on steep hillsides, brush and forest that won’t feed cows or sheep. And their curiosity, friendliness and playful antics make them a pleasure to have on the farm. Two milk goats averaging two to three quarts a day for eight to ten months each year will supply enough milk for the whole family.
Remember that goats are social herd animals. They are happiest living with other goats, but you can keep a single goat if you provide it companionship. Horses, donkeys, cows, sheep and even dogs, cats and pigs can form friendships with goats. Chickens aren’t really enough fun to be good goat companions, though the two species can live peacefully together. If the goat doesn’t have a natural herd, it will also adopt you and your family.
To get started, you’ll need to choose from among the many milk goats breeds. Each breed of milking goats has unique characteristics that make it suitable for a particular environment or dairy market. For instance, Toggenburg and Alpine goats come from cold climates and do well during rough winters, while Nubians are a desert breed that tolerates hot, dry weather with ease. The small Nigerian Dwarf is well suited to a small backyard or even urban situation while the larger LaMancha needs room to stretch her legs. If you are making cheese you want a breed like the Nubian or Nigerian Dwarf that produces milk with a high butterfat content. If you are selling raw milk the high production of a Saanen is ideal.
Popular Dairy Goat Breeds
Here are a few of the most popular dairy goat breeds.
- Alpine goats have perky ears and elegant necks. They are a Swiss breed that takes well to cold winters and produces lots of rich milk.
- Saanens are the largest of the dairy breeds, and the heaviest producers. They are all white, friendly and commonly seen in large dairies.
- Toggenburgs lactate for a long time, allowing you to keep milking for most of the year. They are so curious they can become challenging to handle.
- Oberhasli goats are beautiful small goats with lower milk production than other breeds. They are sweet and friendly, and easy to handle.
- LaMancha goats are striking with their tiny ears. They look like they have no ears at all. These are calm goats and good milkers.
- Nubians are one of the most popular breeds, in part due to their beautiful, long floppy ears and Roman noses. They produce milk with a high content of butterfat, good for making cheese and yogurt.
- Nigerian Dwarf goats are a tiny breed, rarely topping 45 pounds when full grown. They produce ample milk considering their small size, and their milk has the highest butterfat content of any goat milk, reaching up to 10% at the end of lactation.
Learn all about the five best dairy goat breeds here.
Buying a Goat
Depending on your location, the breed you choose and the particular goat you are interested in the prices can vary widely. Your best chance at purchasing a healthy, productive goat is to buy one from a nearby goat dairy. You should be allow to visit the farm, meet the goats and verify their production and health for yourself.
Beginning goat keepers should start by purchasing an adult doe who has successfully kidded at least once. You might not know what you are doing, but she does. She is likely to have a successful, problem free pregnancy and kidding and she will be patient with you as you learn to milk her. These does are more expensive, especially if she is a high producer. But if you consider you other options I think you’ll find it is worth the cash up front to buy a healthy, experienced doe.
Your other choices are:
- Buy a full-grown virgin doe, or one that has just been bred for the first time.
The first pregnancy can be difficult for a doe. Just like people, some goats simply have better anatomy for kidding. A first time doe may not handle kidding well and might need help, especially if there are complications. She may or may not be a good mother, so you’ll need to be available to help her care for the kids in their first moments. Finally, there is no guarantee that she is a good producer. Some does only give a pint or so a day, even if they have strong genetics.
- Buy a kid.
This is a tempting option, as kids are far cheaper than full grown goats. But consider the real costs: you have to feed and care for the goat until it is 9-12 months old, when you can breed it. You are looking at well over a year of feed invested before you get your first glass of milk, and again you have no guarantee that the goat will be a good milker.
If you purchase a pregnant doe be sure to get a written guarantee of pregnancy, and ask for a service memo if the buck was registered. This way you can register the kids with the American Dairy Goat Association. With smart breeding you can work your herd up to full American registered status which will greatly increase their value.
Feeding a Dairy Goat
You have probably heard stories about the appetite of a goat. The truth is that they can be picky eaters, and certainly won’t touch a tin can. A starving goat will eat cardboard or garbage, but this is far from a suitable diet.
Goats are ruminants. They need lots of fiber to maintain a healthy gut.
While goats are capable of surviving on poor scrubland or even desert ranges, they produce more milk when fed properly. Here’s what you need to keep your dairy goats well-fed and producing lots of milk:
- Forage – This is brush, trees or even pasture. Goats prefer the new leaves on trees and brushes above all other forage options.
- Hay – Depending on the quality of forage available, you may need to supplement with a high quality alfalfa hay. Pick hay that is leafy, as goats won’t eat the stems.
- Grain – A dairy goat should receive a grain ration during the last 6-8 weeks of pregnancy and throughout lactation. Her needs will vary, but a general guideline is one pound of grain per goat, plus one pound of grain for every 2 pounds of milk. Goats put more energy into milking than cows, and need to be fed properly if you want lots of milk.
- Minerals and Salt – Loose salt and minerals should be available at all times. Goats need copper, a mineral which is toxic to sheep, so be sure to feed goat minerals only. Copper deficiencies cause serious health problems in goats, and can take years to become evident.
- Water – This seems obvious, but fresh, clean water should be available at all times. Goats are picky. If their water or feed is soiled (most often by themselves!) they won’t eat or drink it.
Baby Goats and Milking
If you want to get milk from a goat you will have an adorable, feisty and unavoidable by-product: goat kids.
The Immaculate Milkers
Goat Milk without kids?
A Wyoming woman purchased two female goats as hiking companions and light pack animals. They have never been bred. You can imagine her surprise when not one but both goats started producing milk one day and then kept going for the next eight months. She happily milked them, ending up with enough milk to give to friends, make cheese and have an endless supply of goat milk yogurt. The phenomena has repeated itself for the last three years.
The local veterinarian believes that the goats were stimulated to produce milk by the scent of elk hormones. They spend many days walking through the woods hiking with their owner, and seem to be affected by rutting elk.
Breeding Dairy Goats
Most goats are seasonal breeders, only going into heat in the fall. Gestation lasts about five months, so they kid in late winter or early spring. The Nigerian Dwarf is the only non-seasonal dairy goat breed (several breeds of meat goats breed year-round). If properly fed and well cared for, these goats can be bred once every 8 months for continuous milking. However this is stressful on the goat and requires very careful management.
Every 18-21 days between September and December unbred does will go into estrus, or heat, which lasts from 6-72 hours depending on the doe. At this time she is receptive to a buck and can become pregnant.
Keeping a Buck
If you are keeping a small herd of milking goats, it is probably not worth the effort or expense to keep your own buck. He will require separate housing and bucks can become aggressive and difficult to handle, especially during the breeding season.
While some people do allow their bucks to run with the herd, this practice makes it impossible to know when each goat was bred. It is important to know the date of breeding so you can plan to be with the doe when she kids. It is not uncommon for does to need help during kidding. Even an experienced mother may be overwhelmed by twins or triplets and be unable to get all the babies dry quickly enough to prevent them from becoming chilled. Chilling is the leading cause of death for young kids. If you know the date your doe was bred, you know when to expect the kids and be ready to help.
To keep an ample supply of goat milk flowing, you only need the services of a buck once a year. Most small goat keepers simply rent a buck or take their does to another farm to be bred each fall. You could also purchase a buck for breeding and butcher him for meat afterwards. If you choose this option, pick a young buck. Older bucks have a powerful smell that can affect the quality of the meat.
Feeding Baby Goats
Between 155 and 160 days after breeding your doe will kid. Twins are common, triplets are possible. They will be cute, playful and hungry. It is essential that baby goats drink their mother’s first milk, which contains immune supporting colostrum, within half an hour of birth. Weak or runt kids may need help reaching the teat the first time, especially if they have stronger siblings.
Some people remove kids from their mothers immediately and bottle feed them, so that they can keep all of the doe’s milk. This is a labor intensive effort that is stressful for both the doe and the kids.
An easier system for everyone is to simply leave the kids with their mother for the first six weeks. Let them grow strong and healthy. After six weeks you can begin separating them from the doe for 12 hours at a time so you can milk once a day. For example, you separate doe from kids at seven in the evening. At seven the next morning you milk the doe, and then turn her back out with the kids. At this age they can be fed hay, grain and forage on pasture.
While you will get less milk by leaving the kids with the doe, there are many benefits to this method:
- It’s Easy!
Bottle-fed kids need milk every 2-4 hours during their first weeks of life, 24 hours a day.
- You Aren’t Married to Your Farm.
A doe must be milked regularly or she risks developing mastitis, a serious udder infection. If you do all the milking you must be there twice a day, every day. If you leave the kids with her, you can go out of town and let them milk for you for a few days.
- Healthier Kids.
The kids will grow up healthy and strong. Most importantly, they will know they are goats. Bottle-fed kids tend to grow into aggressive, unmanageable adults because they are so coddled as babies.
A third option is to separate the kids from their mothers full time at 6-8 weeks of age. They will need to be fed milk, but you can use a feeder with udders. At this age feeding milk to the kids is a less time-intensive job.
Milking a Goat
Milking a goat is a simple process that takes very little time. For the best advice on milking goats, read our simple guide to milking goats here.
Most goats will keep producing milk for up to ten months as long as you continue milking regularly. Remember that milking is more energy intensive for goats than pregnancy. To keep your does healthy, they should have at least two months off before they begin producing (freshening) again. Many people slowly stop milking (a process called drying-off) when their does become pregnant, giving them a full four or five months off before lactation begins again. While you get less milk this way, it gives the doe a chance to recover and lengthens her productive life.
Pasteurizing Milk at Home
Phew. You’ve picked a breed, purchased does, bred them, helped them kid and learned to milk. Now it is time to enjoy the fruits of your labor. Fresh goat milk can be drank straight from the bowl, though I think it tastes best chilled. You can store fresh raw goat milk in the fridge for two or three days without any changes in flavor. After that it is best stored frozen.
Some home dairy farmers choose to pasteurize their goat milk. Pasteurizing uses heat to kill bacteria in the milk, but it also degrades beneficial enzymes and vitamins and changes the flavor of the milk. If you follow sanitary milking practices, your milk should be free from harmful bacteria. Infants, the elderly and those with compromised immune systems are at the greatest risk from bacteria in goat milk. You may choose to pasteurize to ensure that you protect vulnerable members of your family.
To pasteurize goat milk follow these simple steps:
- Place milk in a double boiler or in jars in a canner.
- Heat milk to 165° Fahrenheit for 15 seconds.
- Cool the milk as quickly as possible, but don’t place hot jars directly in cold water as they will break.
- Store the milk in the refrigerator.
Goat Milk Dairy Products
While goat milk is delicious straight from the glass or over your breakfast cereal, it can also be made into a wide range of delicious products. Here are a few of my favorite goat dairy products, complete with recipes so you can make them at home.
Even if you’ve never drunk straight goat milk, you’ve probably enjoyed a rich, creamy goat cheese. Goat milk can be made into many kinds of cheeses, but the most common is a soft goat cheese or chevre. This delicious, mild goat cheese is easy to make and only takes an hour and half!
Soft Goat Cheese Recipe
1 quart goat milk
Juice from 2 lemons
1 ounce vinegar
1/2 tsp salt
Steps to Making Soft Goat Cheese
- Line a colander with two layers of fine cheesecloth.
- Heat goat milk to 180° in a heavy bottomed pan, stirring frequently.
- Remove from heat and set aside for two minutes.
- Add the lemon juice and stir.
- Add the vinegar, stirring briefly. Allow to set for two more minutes.
- Slowly pour into cheesecloth and let sit for five minutes.
- Gather the cheesecloth ends together and tie them with a string. Hang from the faucet over the sink.
- Allow to hang dry for one hour.
- Mix in dried herbs of your choice.
- Refrigerate till set.
Learn all about goat cheese and find more recipes here.
Goat milk makes a tasty yogurt that is healthy alternative to cow milk yogurt. It doesn’t cause as much mucus build up as cow milk can. Making yogurt at home gives you control over more than the flavor. By using honey or fruit to sweeten the yogurt you avoid the high amounts of refined sugar present in most supermarket yogurts.
Here is my favorite goat milk yogurt recipe. You can easily modify it to make your favorite flavors.
Basic Goat Milk Yogurt Recipe
2 quarts raw goat milk
2 tbs high quality yogurt
You’ll need a 2 quart saucepan, and a small cooler and two 1 quart mason jars with lids.
Steps to Making Creamy Goat Yogurt
- Heat goat milk to 180°F in a heavy bottomed pan, stirring frequently.
- Remove from heat and let cool to 115°F.
- Pour a small amount of cooled milk into the jar with the yogurt (this is your starter culture) and stir well.
- Add the yogurt/milk mixture back to the cooled milk, stir well and place immediately into the two quart mason jars and seal.
- Place in the cooler and fill with warm water to insulate the jars.
- Let sit for eight hours.
- Refrigerate. The yogurt will continue to solidify overnight.
Be sure to use good yogurt for the starter. Old yogurt will make thin, runny goat milk yogurt. The higher the quality of the starter, the better your final product will be.
Try adding fresh fruit, maple syrup, honey or vanilla bean to your finished yogurt to make yummy flavors.
Goat Ice Cream
Ever heard of goat milk ice cream? It is thick, delicious and almost good for you. If you make your own with honey it can hardly be called junk food. Learn how to make delicious goat milk ice cream here.
In addition to making delicious edible dairy products, goat milk can be used to produce an amazing bar of soap. The soap is creamy and soft. Goat milk is nearly as good for your skin as it is for your GI tract! Goat milk soap relieves eczema and psoriasis, soothes dry or cracked skin and gently clears up acne.
Learn all about the benefits of goat milk soap and how to make it here.
Making the Switch to Goat Dairy
Goat milk is delicious, healthy and can be made into many delicious dairy products. Raising milking goats yourself is a rewarding way to keep a constant supply of fresh goat milk in the house. You can throw a dinner party and serve lasagna with homemade goat cheese in place of ricotta and enjoy a bowl of goat yogurt with fruit and nuts for breakfast. You’ll be supporting your immune system, gut health and heart in the process.
Goat milk is a healthier alternative to cows milk for young children, the elderly and everyone in between. If you have any sensitivity to lactose or the proteins in cows milk, give goat dairy a try. You may be surprised at how much better you feel.
And finally, the real reason you should keep milking goats: Baby goats are stinking cute.