Category Archives: Why goat milk?

Myth: All Goat Milk is the Same

It seems like a lot of folks think that “goat milk is goat milk is goat milk.”  That’s not true.  We produce our milk very differently from commercial milk.  Here’s a webpage with lots of pictures of typical goat milk farms: http://www.allgoats.com/commercial.html

What you’ll see in those pictures is a lot of goats inside barns, a lot of big heavy equipment bringing feed to the goats, and not much pasture at all. When you imagine a goat farm, you probably picture something like ours – goats nibbling trees, bushes, grasses, and weeds (forbs) out in the sunshine.  The reality for most commercial dairy goats is more like laying hens – they’re not free-range unless they proudly advertise that fact, and, if they do have the freedom to go outside, it’s a small lot adjacent to the barn with little to no living plants to eat.

Do you seek out grass-fed beef, free-range eggs, pastured poultry, etc.?  Then why would you settle for confinement-raised milk?

I have not found any nutritional studies on pastured vs. confined goat milk systems.  But it is hard to imagine that goat milk would be the only farm product that defies all the other research showing pastured farm animals produce healthier products.  Here are some pages specific to grass-fed milk:

  • http://www.eatwild.com/basics.html
  • http://www.natural-by-nature.com/milk-organic-myth.htm
  • http://www.reuters.com/article/2010/05/28/us-milk-grass-fed-cows-idUSTRE64R5GY20100528

We know that humans who eat fresh veggies and get lots of exercise are healthier than humans who sit around eating processed foods.  We know that hens who walk around outside foraging on fresh plants produce healthier eggs than chickens who spend their lives in battery cages, eating only processed food.  We know that cows who walk around outside eating living grasses produce healthier meat and milk.  But goats aren’t “economically important” enough for nutrition scientists to study the difference in goat milk.  And scientists would be hard-pressed to find pastured goat milk in stores.  Because, like all dairies (cow or goat), goat dairies find it’s cheaper to produce milk in confinement.

So I find it a little disturbing that well-educated food-focused consumers think that all goats are pastured and all goat milk is the same.  It’s not.  Dairy goats are typically only pastured on small farms.  Pasture is expensive.  But if the nutrition isn’t the same, cheap goat milk could be more expensive than you think.  If you have access to local dairy goat products that are pastured, snap them up.  They are worth the higher price.

Here is an interesting article that compares 1940s nutrient levels to 2002 levels (Meat and Dairy: Where Have all the Minerals Gone).

What changed between 1940 and 2002?

1) Increased reliance on confinement farming; 2) increased reliance on petro-type fertilizers for raising the crops that we feed to animals; 3) the moon landing; or 4) All of the above?

Back when dairy animals were predominantly raised outdoors, milk and cheese were richer in important minerals.   The old-fashioned ways left the land and the consumer in better shape.  The old-fashioned small farms bought most of their inputs locally, and spent most of their farm income locally.  The old-fashioned pasture-based farm recycled manure into compost into nutrient-rich fertilizer into nutrient-rich grazing land and back around, 360 degrees, into nutrient-rich foods.

If you are thinking about raising goats, please learn about pasturing goats (and using pasture rotation to keep goats healthy).  If you must raise them in confinement, try to bring them freshly-cut forage as the bulk of their diet and make sure they still get exercise and sunshine.  But the goats will definitely be happier if they get to go out and choose from the “buffet” for themselves.  Goats like exercise, fresh food, variety and mental stimulation.

Our goats get extra hugs for Earth Day

Goats celebrate Earth Day every day.

Big livestock like cows tend to compact soil because they concentrate so much weight on their hooves.  Goats’ lighter body mass makes them gentler on the soil.   Compacted soil can become so hard and dense that nothing grows there.  Goats trod gently, leaving their pastures in good shape.

Goats eat noxious weeds.  It’s why they’re used for clearing firebreaks.  They can utilize a lot of weeds for food.  We are rehabbing our farm and dealing with a lot of noxious weeds.  The goats are a big help.  They eat new growth, which weakens the plant.  The plant has to use stored energy to regrow, and eventually, many weeds just stop coming back because they don’t have the energy reserves left.  Some plants, the goats won’t eat the plant, but they’ll eat the flower.  Then the flower can’t become seeds that spread the weed.

KitHoldingBlackberryOur top black-berry eater, daughter of Too Much Bucks Chief’s Ko Kona

Some weeds are toxic to goats, but only in large quantities (often because the weeds contain tannins).  Goats sometimes eat a sub-lethal dose of those weeds to self-medicate; the tannins can be toxic to internal parasites before they reach a toxic level for goats!

Yep, goats don’t take a lot of medicines.  When you medicate a cow to promote production and growth, any medicine the cow’s body doesn’t absorb can end up in the compost, ground, or runoff.  Yuck.  There aren’t many medicines made for goats, and happy goats don’t need a whole lot.  Like people, stress can make goats sick, but happiness can help their immune system!  That’s one of the reasons we let our Mammas raise their own babies.  We want them to have healthy immune systems so they stay naturally healthy.

Moms love spending time with their kids.

Moms love spending time with their kids.

This hillside was solid weeds before the goats fixed it up,

with help from their trusty sidekick alpacas.

A good thing and bad thing about goats is that they poop everywhere.  (Sometimes, on my foot.)  But that’s fertile compost coming out, and goats spread it around.  What they take out of the land in food, they give some back in fertilizer.  The small pellets decompose into soil fertility.  Since it’s spread around, it tends to break down into the soil and fertilize the entire grazing area.  You know how your dog can leave spots on the lawn where he uses the bathroom?  That’s because there’s too much fertility in one spot.  Fertility is good if it’s not too concentrated.

Goat fertilizer is good stuff.  It doesn’t take a factory to make it, either.  It helps plants grow, but, unlike manufactured fertilizers, it also improves the quality of the soil.  It adds humus (plant debris that helps the soil stay loose, helping deliver oxygen to plant roots).  It also supports beneficial microbial growth and earthworm activity in the soil.  Earthworms loosen the soil, too, so keeping them happy is a bonus.

sweetier

And then there’s goat milk soap – also good stuff for Mamma Earth.  Goat milk helps the soap be gentler and cleaner rinsing, so there’s less irritation to the skin.  If you don’t strip away the skin’s natural oils, you don’t need as much lotion (often made with chemicals), either.  Choose an all-natural formula, and there’s nothing but biodegradable, natural ingredients going down the drain – and into the sewage plant – and out of the sewage plant – and into the waters downstream from the sewage plant.

One of the properties of goat milk soap is saponified proteins from the milk.  They help “lock” oils into the lather to help it rinse away easier.  That makes it good for laundry soap and household cleaning, too, because it reduces “redeposition” without using chemical anti-redeposition agents.  Can goats save the world?  Maybe not, but they can definitely improve it!

Jpeg Our sweet Maggie, hot off the presses (another Kona daughter)

So, if you have goats, give ’em an extra hug or pat today, because they’re very Earth-friendly.  (Yes, some goats actually like being hugged!)  If you don’t have goats to hug, maybe send ours some good energy while you use their soap – they’re hugging Mamma Earth for you.

Why goat milk? Sugars

Goat milk naturally contains sugars.  Sugars boost lather in soap.  Some of our recipes are technically – by the oils in the recipe – very low in lather.  The oils that contribute lather to a recipe can contribute other qualities we don’t want, like being too “cleansing” – they can actually strip skin’s moisture if there’s too much of them.  Adding goat milk lets us make a milder recipe that still lathers beautifully.

Sugar is a natural humectant, like glycerine is.  It draws moisture to your skin.

Of course, sugars also make goat milk soap more technically challenging to make.  Sugars add heat to the saponification process.  That’s why you don’t see true cold process goat milk soap in stores, unless the recipe is heavily modified to cool it down (adding chemicals, using very, very little goat milk, or diluting the soap with stuff like added glycerine – which makes the soap wear away faster in the shower).  And that’s probably why I use honey so much in our soaps – I love a challenge!  More sugar, more complicated soaping.  But honey add its own great qualities, so that’s a post for another day.

Medium-sized cold process soap companies can make 40-pound batches of soap in a huge block.  One person can churn out hundreds of pounds of soap each day that way.  But goat milk soap won’t play nicely with big batches like that.  It would heat up so much, it would bubble right out of the mold!   We do batches as big as 5 lbs, but even those sometimes overheat.

It’s worth the extra effort, though, because the sugars add great qualities to the soap.  Fluffy lather in a mild soap, humectants, plus all the other goodness goat milk adds like protein and lactic acid and vitamins.

Why goat milk? Clean rinsing

I was running late one day, and Phil offered to help, so I asked him to wash my eyeglasses.  He reached for a bar of soap, and I told him “No, use detergent!”  Glasses need serious cleaning.  Soap can’t protect my dry hands AND clean eyeglasses.  You know what?  It can.  Now I use goat milk soap to wash my specs.  It really does rinse THAT clean.

Which is why it’s a good laundry soap, too.  Laundry detergents have surfactants – stuff that helps dirt come off the clothes and float in the water – and anti-redeposition agents – stuff that holds dirt in suspension in the water, so it doesn’t just transfer to other clothes.  Those are usually chemicals.  But goat milk soap performs a lot of the same action without chemicals.

If I can get technical, the magic comes from “micelles” which is just a name for a natural phenomenon that happens when soap molecules join together in a special way.  Micelles are little clumps of cleaning goodness that trap dirt inside the clump.  The inside of the clump likes oil, so it hangs onto the oil you want to wash away.  The outside of the clump is charged in a way that doesn’t like being around oil, so it stays in the water when you rinse, but the oily dirt is still trapped inside, so it rinses away, too.

Why goat milk? Amino Acids and Protein

People ask me “why put goat milk into soap?”  I want to give them a factual answer, but sometimes I feel like goat milk soap is voodoo.  We make it this way because it’s really good.  Try it.  There just aren’t any solid studies – none that I’ve found, anyway – that scientifically prove why goat milk makes natural soap so amazing.  We feel it on our skin, but we don’t have an explanation in the scientific literature.

Take a look at this summary from SelfNutritionData (SND).  Look, in particular, at the graph of the proteins in goat milk – every segment is colored in.  Goat milk contains a wide array of amino acids, forming a complete protein.  SND says “The good: This food is a good source of Protein, Riboflavin, Calcium and Phosphorus.”  (Goat milk is no slouch in Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids, Vitamin A, Vitamins B6 & B12, and Zinc, Copper, and Selenium, either.  If you needed an excuse to eat goat cheese, goat fudge, or goat caramels, there it is.)

If you were eating it, you might pause at the cholesterol – about 3 mg per ounce – but we WANT cholesterol on our skin.  It’s a unique type of oil (and you know that sunflower oil in a lotion is lovely, as is olive oil and many others).  There aren’t many “kind” sources for animal cholesterol in skincare, but goat milk has about 9%.  Tallow soap (sodium tallowate) is made from lard from dead animals (although the animal would have been slaughtered for meat anyway, so please don’t think animals are being killed for soap!).  Goat milk comes from live animals.

But let’s go back to those proteins.  Proteins provide a lot of benefits in skincare.  They make the lather rinse clean.  High-molecular weight (big) proteins can sit on top of the skin for “film-forming” properties that help protect against moisture loss and improve the feel of the skin.  In a cleanser, proteins can reduce irritation.  Having a range of proteins, in a range of molecular weights, makes goat milk a fantastic additive to natural soap, shampoo, shaving bars, and lotions.

If I want to add protein to a soap, without goat milk, I might go to my vendor and pick up a bottle of lupine protein.  It contains 35-35% of all the essential amino acids.  Or maybe I should get “Cocodimonium hydroxypropyl hydrolyzed rice protein”?  I think I’ll stick with the goat milk!  Goat milk contains the whole range of protein amino acids, across an array of molecular weights, in a natural form where the other components might (might!) complement each other.  (I say “might” because research is inadequate, and goat milk skincare research is even less available.)  But you know how orange juice does you body more good than vitamin C tablets alone do?  There may be a synergy in whole goat milk that makes those proteins, together, really pop.

When you buy really expensive skincare products, they like to tout the “peptides” in their product.  A peptide is a set of amino acids linked by a peptide bond.  Goat milk has those, too.

Some of the peptides in goat milk are nutritionally-awesome, by the way.  Drink your goat milk, eat your goat cheese, and look for nice fermented goat milk yogurts, kefir, or cheeses! (Read this study, and you’ll want lots more goat milk food! Link is a pdf download).  Or maybe it’s the lysozyme, which is higher in goat milk than in cow milk.  I hate that there’s so much guessing around the science, but it sure sounds promising!

Some goat milk proteins have hydrophobicity – they avoid water.  (That may make them lipophilic – having an attaction to lipids – which would encourage them to bond to the skin’s surface, providing a moisture barrier, or to bond to oily debris, helping it rinse away.)  Hydrophobic compounds form micelles in water – a cluster.  In cleansing, micelles tend to trap dirt in the middle of the cluster, helping it rinse away.  If the goat milk proteins maintain their hydrophobicity after saponification, that could explain why the soap seems to clean well, rinse easily, and yet leave a moisturized feeling, too!

I like solid science, and it’s a little frustrating that we don’t have concrete studies I can point to that say “this is why goat milk soap is so much kinder to skin.”  But we do know those amino acids are in the milk, and we know that our skin feels good after washing with goat milk soap – even if our skin tends to feel worse after washing with other cleansers.  And we know that proteins, amino acids and peptides enhance the function/feel/mildness of chemical skincare products.  And we know from nutritional research that natural nutrients often work better together, in their natural mixture/form, than they do when we separate them out.  Unfortunately, I haven’t found hard science to answer “why goat milk?” definitively.  But I know my skin prefers when I put goat milk into the soap!

P.S.  Any researchers out there want to take this on?  If we could prove that goat milk soap is gentler on skin, it could make a world of difference in healthcare.  Part of the reason healthcare workers don’t fully comply with hand-washing and hand sanitizing rules is that frequent washing beats their hands up.  If we proved that goat milk soap is gentler, hospitals would have solid data for providing it to healthcare workers and reducing hospital-acquired infections linked to lack of handwashing.  I’d be happy to contribute a few bars to science, even make a few identical soaps – no milk, 3-10% “industry standard” amount of milk, and our normal amount.