Among all the milk produced by domestic animals, goat's milk has one of the highest bromatological and pharmacological values for humans. Only in the case of our species, it is surpassed by the milk of women. Its values have been known since ancient times since Hippocrates (450 B.C.) prescribed this product and both Greeks and Romans considered it as a panacea.
Goat's milk is well known in Mexico and its use is widespread in the production of various cheeses and the no less popular cajetas. However, few families, even among goat keepers, use this product in their children's diets. This fact is paradoxical since, in general, the nutrition of infants is deficient in almost all the country, and goat's milk can fill or complement in a very satisfactory way their energetic, protein, mineral, and vitamin requirements. There are many examples in the world of the optimal use of natural goat milk consumption.
One of the most relevant is that of Greece and Turkey, whose children, mainly in rural areas, have almost always been raised on this milk. All families, even the most humble, have some goats that act as wet nurses for their generally numerous offspring. On islands such as Crete and Cyprus, the healthy and normal growth of a baby would be inconceivable without a supplement of goat's milk. In other regions of the Mediterranean and in the nomadic tribes of Africa and Asua, this pattern is also repeated.
As already noted, for thousands of years in these regions, man has known that goat's milk is the best substitute for human milk, ensuring the child's health and vigorous growth. Also for thousands of years, adult man has ingested this milk to attenuate and even cure various gastroenteric ailments and, as already pointed out, the ancient classics, whether Greek or Roman, saw this product as a wonderful remedy that cured many ills. This use for direct consumption was gradually lost in Western countries, to continue production with the almost sole purpose of making well-known by-products such as cheese, sour milk, sweets, creams, butter, etc.
Production in Mexico
From the scarce and erratic data on the production of this milk, it can be placed within an oscillation of around 300 million liters per year, with the states of Coahuila and San Luis Potosí standing out with more than thirteen million liters, followed by Oaxaca, Puebla, Durango, and Guerrero with more than five million liters of production. The production systems are very varied, but always more intensive than those used by producers whose only business is meat production, mainly goat.
There are stables that apply high technology, sometimes with many hundreds of goats in milking, well-fed and optimally managed, whether in their reproduction, breeding of kids, mechanical and hygienic milking methods and with good milk handling, taking maximum care of the hygienic conditions, whether of the goat or of the product obtained. These establishments breed specialized pure breeds, such as Alpine, Saanen, Toggenburg, or Anglo-Nubian, most of them coming from the best herds in the United States.
These highly-technical farms are generally located in the most irrigation-rich areas of the country, such as El Bajío and La Laguna. The yields of these farms are high to very high. The average milk production per lactation of all the goats milked on the farm is generally over 600 liters of milk and the percentage of weaned kids compared to mated females frequently exceeds 150% per year. These averages are equal to or higher than those obtained by French producers, the most efficient in the world.
The second production system, also profitable, is the one whose main objective is to obtain suckling goats, which, once sold at one month of age, their mother continues milking them, which is common in large areas around Torreón, in Nuevo León, etc. In general, these are producers with fewer resources than in the technified systems and their management is more traditional, with much less attention to reproductive, nutritional, or sanitary management.
They work with crossbred animals of the aforementioned pure breeds, with Criollo cattle. Their yields are extremely variable, since they depend, on a large scale, on the production of fodder that they produce and/or rent (in the case of cotton or other stubble). In good years, it is possible that the average number of goats in lactation ranges from 150 to 200 liters and the percentage of kids between 100 and 120 %.
The third system, the majority in the country, is the one that applies milking only sporadically, taking advantage of a year of good forage resources. It is based solely on the always scarce resources of the pasture. Annual or per-goat yields are minimal and even more variable than in the previous system, since they work with very rudimentary methods, without specialized breeds, and without the application of any technique.
Goat milk as food for humans
The similarity between goat's and cow's milk is more apparent than real since there are important differences in the components of fats (lipids) and proteins. Goat's milk has a higher proportion of so-called short-chain fatty acids (capric, caproic, and caprylic acids) than cow's milk, which makes it much more digestible for the baby and gives it a particular flavor.
This high proportion of short-chain fat is being intensively studied in several research centers in the world. The milk is used for goat milk treatment of a large number of patients with nutritional malabsorption, suffering from chyluria, steatorrhea, hyperlipoproteinemia, and in cases of intestinal resection, coronary problems, such as feeding premature babies, children with epilepsy, fibrous cystitis, and gallstones.
Another property of these fats is that the fat globules are smaller than those of cow's milk, which is another factor that increases the digestibility of such an important component. There are also very important differences in the composition of the different proteins, depending on the milk considered. The main of these differences consist mainly in caseins (more than 80%), by far the main nitrogenous component of all kinds of milk. Goat's milk provides more essential amino acids than cow's or human milk.
Goat milk stands out for its high mineral content, mainly calcium and phosphorus, essential components in bone formation, and provides the infant with the rest of the essential minerals such as iron, copper, zinc, etc. Like most mammalian milk, it is sometimes low in iron and copper, so it should be supplemented with these minerals in the case of a diet based only on this nutrient. Goat milk is also rich in vitamins, providing all the requirements of the infant, with the exception of folic acid which has lower content than cow or human milk. This vitamin is essential in the process of formation of red blood cells, so it is necessary to correct it with the addition of folates.
According to the above, goat milk has a great nutritional value for infants. The energy it provides through its fats and lactose is approximately 60 to 75 Kcal per 100 grams. It provides all the essential fats that the child is not able to synthesize and also all the essential amino acids, minerals, and vitamins. This milk can be consumed naturally, but it must always be boiled or pasteurized beforehand. Like all milk, it should never be consumed raw. The danger of contracting diseases, mainly fevers caused by brucellosis, is always latent. All mammalian milk is one of the best natural breeding grounds for dozens of pathogenic microorganisms. In the case of goats, Brucella melitensis is the most fearsome and frequent enemy. It communicates a serious disease to children and adults: Malta fever.
Goat milk is a complete food, surpassing cow milk in the better mineralization of the organism, which leads to a better bone composition, more compact and better-formed bones.
It provides more vitamin A in the blood plasma and more calcium and phosphorus in the serum.
In the adult diet, goat milk is roughly equivalent to the ingestion of half a kilogram of beef or ten chicken eggs, or one kilogram of fish. The ingestion of three liters per day fulfills all the energy and protein requirements of an adult man subjected to normal physical exertion.
The first controlled studies of goat's milk fed to infants are very recent. For example, Mack, in 1952, fed 38 children of 5 months of age, half with goat's milk and half with cow's milk. This author observed the greatest increase in weight, height, and bone conformation of the kids fed goat's milk. These experiences were later confirmed in cases all over the world. In addition to the aforementioned chemical composition, goat's milk differs from cow's and human milk in its higher digestibility, different alkalinity and buffering power, and in certain therapeutic values both in medicine and in human nutrition.
Pharmacological properties of goat milk
Besides its excellent nutritional properties, goat's milk has always earned a very high prestige for its good pharmacological attributes in very common diseases, both in infants and adults. These include, due to their high frequency, various allergies to other milk and gastroenteric ailments such as ulcers, pyloric stenosis, etc. Goat milk has been recommended as a substitute for other kinds of milk for infants suffering from allergies, mainly cow's milk or other food sources. It is very frequent that cow's milk, an almost obligatory substitute for mother's milk, is the cause of strong disturbances in infants.
Approximately 12 to 30% of children under three months of age are affected with various allergic symptoms when they drink cow's milk. In older children, 6 to 12 months, the incidence of the disease rises to 20%. It has been seen that children allergic to cow's milk are also allergic to cheeses made with cow's milk and other by-products. In all these cases, experimentation has shown that evaporated goat milk has been the best substitute.
More than 50% of the patients tolerated this product perfectly and in the rest, although it produced some allergic reactions, these were much less intense than when they ingested cow's milk. The symptoms of these diseases are various, sometimes presenting as bronchial asthma, bronchospasm, vomiting, migraine, rhinitis, diarrhea, abdominal pain, anaphylaxis, urticaria, emphysema, destruction of peripheral white blood cells, hyperactivity, up to very severe presentations leading to death by anaphylactic shock.
The best preventive treatment will always be to give the baby breast milk, at least until four or six months of age, until the immune system is strong and can eliminate the most powerful allergic agents. If it is not possible to provide human milk, it will be necessary to resort to hypoallergenic foods, such as goat's milk.
The second infantile problem derived from milk consumption is lactose intolerance due to the loss of the lactase enzyme in the intestine, and the consequent impossibility of digesting lactose. The majority of humans with this deficiency is due to hereditary origin. It is considered to be of simple Mendelian inheritance, with dominant character, so it is sufficient that a parent is lactose non-tolerant, for their children to possess this character. This disease is very common in black African populations, although it also appears in the rest of the human races throughout the world. It is enough for a patient with intolerance to be given 50 grams of lactose diluted in water, for strong abdominal pains and diarrhea to occur immediately, increasing blood glucose.
But the use of goat's milk as a pharmacological agent is not limited to the above two disorders. Since ancient times it was observed that patients suffering from gastric ulcers, pyloric stenosis, and any other gastroenteric discomfort, reacted favorably with the ingestion of this milk. It is currently prescribed to epileptic children, patients with excess cholesterol (as it inhibits the deposition of this compound in the tissues), cystic fibrosis, gallstones, and coronary bypass.
This brief summary has tried to highlight the high bromatological and pharmacological value of goat milk. Several countries in the world are promoting the consumption of this product, mainly in the most marginalized and, therefore, the most underprivileged sectors, which are generally located in rural areas.
There is no doubt that the goat adapts to a wide range of climatic and edaphological extremes: it is generally poorly managed and, even when subjected to these harsh systems, continues to produce. Women and children can raise them perfectly well and their production costs are extremely low. It has a wide food spectrum, from pastures to shrubs, tree leaves, and waste of all kinds of horticultural and fruit crops. Its reproductive rate is very high, twin births are more common than single births.
With all these attributes, the goat is an animal that should be encouraged in almost all the country and its diffusion would lead, inexorably, to increase the welfare of the population, mainly the peasant.
By Santos Arbiza Aguirre