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:
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.