Is it time we started valuing the benefits of goat milk?

The public ‘court of perception’ has always been that of ‘yewk’ and ‘arrgh!’ when it comes to the idea that goat and sheep milk can not only substitute the increasingly expensive cow milk but also provide better nutritional value than the timeless dairy.

The public ‘court of perception’ has always been that of ‘yewk’ and ‘arrgh!’ when it comes to the idea that goat and sheep milk can not only substitute the increasingly expensive cow milk but also provide better nutritional value than the timeless dairy.

But now the UN food agency, Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), has come out to urge the world to embrace goat and sheep milk.

In a new publication, “Milk and Dairy Products in Human Nutrition,” launched last week, FAO said milk from a variety of animals, including goats, donkeys and camels should be widely used to counteract high cow milk prices caused by the growing demand for dairy in the developing world.

The report forecast that dairy consumption in developing countries will grow by 25 per cent by 2025 as a result of population growth and rising incomes, but that milk – a crucial source of dietary energy, protein and fat – will likely be out of reach for the most vulnerable households.

It urges governments to invest more in programmes that make milk and dairy products available to poor families and that help them produce milk at home.

Currently, the price of a litre of fresh off-farm cow milk ranges between Rwf350 and Rwf400 in Kigali, while the same reportedly costs between Rwf200 and Rwf250 in Nyagatare town.

Figures from the Ministry of Agriculture (Minagri) indicate that the country had 2,672,571 goats, 1,135,141 cattle, and 807,392 sheep, in 2012.

Rwanda and the milk question

Currently, government deems the One-Cow-Per-Family programme, Girinka, initiated to reduce child malnutrition rates and increase poor farmers’ household incomes as crucial in transforming rural incomes and boosting nutrition.  

To-date, according to Minagri, more than 177, 200 families have benefited from the programme. The target is to reach 350,000 families by 2015.

Nathan Mugume, the head of communication in the Ministry of Health, said: “While goat, camel, and donkey milk is nutritious, in Rwanda, we sensitise people to use readily available cow milk, and foods such as vegetables rich in vitamins, proteins and carbohydrate.”

“Goats, camels and donkeys and others that can be milked are not common in Rwanda but cows are –this is the reason we are promoting Girinka.”

The FAO Senior Nutrition Officer Ellen Muehlhoff, who co-authored the publication, said: “Where programme participants are very poor, additional support may be needed in terms of capacity development and support for the construction of sheds, available pasture, training and education in animal husbandry and livestock management.”  

Awareness campaigns can change negative attitudes toward goat milk.

In Rwanda, goats are commonly reared for their meat, not for milk.  

Muehlhoff, however, is not ignorant about the society norms that would discourage consumption of goat milk or sheep milk, in Rwanda.  

“Cultural habits and tastes regarding goat milk differ between countries and population groups within countries.  For instance, Middle Eastern and central Asian people have old traditions of consuming goat milk, while it is rather low in Far-Eastern or Western African countries where some populations have taboos for this type of milk,” she said.

In an e-mail, Muehlhoff said goat milk is quite important and that several projects in East Africa show that dairy goats can contribute significantly to household income and children’s nutrition.  

“Where goat’s milk is considered a taboo or meets with negative attitudes and cultural barriers, sensitisation and nutrition education can help to change negative attitudes toward goat milk,” she said.   

“Dairy goats can easily be kept by poor urban and rural communities to supply milk, meat and skin. Goats are much cheaper to acquire and reproduce quickly and can be an important source of income and food where families cannot afford to raise dairy cows because of lack of land or fodder.”

Dr Rachna Pande, a

Specialist in Internal Medicine at Ruhengeri Hospital, said cow milk is high in calcium, antioxidants, and healthy omega three fatty acids, reduces risk of cancer and gout and increases bone density, among others.

Dr Pande said: “However milk from other animals also has its advantages and disadvantages. In India, buffalo milk is regularly consumed, camel milk is consumed in the dessert state of Rajasthan and, other people use goat milk. Considering the rising demand and prices of cow milk, it is mandatory to tap alternate sources.

Even vegetable milk like soya milk, rice milk, and others, are alternatives.”

Although the term ‘milk’ has become almost synonymous with cow milk, dairy from many other species is consumed in different parts of the world.

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Expert verdict:  Goat versus cow milk

Goat milk is naturally homogenised.

If you were to place both a glass of fresh cow’s milk as well as fresh goat’s milk in the refrigerator overnight, the next morning you would find that while the goat milk looks exactly the same, the cow milk has separated into two distinct ‘phases’ of cream on the top and skim milk on the bottom. This is a natural separation process that is caused by a compound called agglutinin and it will always cause the cow’s milk to separate.

The problem with such homogenization is that once the cell wall of the fat globule has been broken, it releases a superoxide (free radical) known as Xanthine Oxidase. Now free radicals cause a host of problems in the body not the least of which is DNA mutations which often lead to cancer! Thus, the benefit of natural homogenisation comes into clear view.

Goat milk has smaller fat globules and does not contain agglutinin which allows it to stay naturally homogenized thus eliminating the dangers associated with homogenisation.

Goat milk is easier to digest

Goat milk has smaller fat globules as well as higher levels of medium chain fatty acids. This means that during digestion, each fat globule and individual fatty acid will have a larger surface-to-volume ratio resulting in a quicker and easier digestion process. Also, when the proteins found in milk clump up in the stomach, they form a much softer bolus than cow’s milk. This allows the body to digest the protein more smoothly and completely than when digesting cow’s milk.

Goat’s milk rarely causes lactose intolerance

All milk contain certain levels of lactose which is also known as ‘milk sugar.’ A relatively large portion of the population suffers from a deficiency of an enzyme known as lactase which is used to digest lactose. This deficiency results in a condition known as lactose intolerance which is a fairly common ailment.

Goat milk matches the human body

This matter is both an issue of biochemistry as well as thermodynamics. Regarding the biochemistry of the issue, we know that goat’s milk has a greater amount of essential fatty acids such as linoleic and arachidonic acid than cow’s milk as well as significantly greater amounts of vitamin B-6, vitamin A, and niacin. Goat milk is also a far superior source of the vitally important nutrient potassium. This extensive amount of potassium causes goat’s milk to react in an alkaline way within the body whereas cow milk is lacking in potassium and ends up reacting in an acidic way.

Thermodynamically speaking, goat milk is better for human consumption. A baby usually starts life from three to four kilogrammes, a baby goat (kid) usually starts life at around the same weight, and a baby cow (calf) usually starts life at around 45 kilogrammes. These two animals have significant and different nutritional needs for both maintenance and growth. Cow milk is designed to take a 45-kilogramme calf and transform it into a cow. Goat milk and human milk are both created for transforming a three-kilogramme baby/kid into an average adult.

Adapted from mtcapra.com

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