An increasing number of people cannot tolerate cow’s milk. Whether this is because they react to the proteins in cow’s milk, to the lactose sugar in the milk or to the residues of the hormones, antibiotics and other drugs which have been pumped into our intensive-raised, over-milked cows no one really knows.
A number of those people will have a problem with any animal milk - but a number will not. Whatever the reason, their systems will be able to tolerate - indeed, flourish on - milk from sheep, goats, buffalo or, if they could get it, camel.
Michelle Berriedale-Johnson talks to Liz Sutton of Delamere Dairies, the biggest producer of goats’ milk products, and looks at the lone buffalo herd (see here) at Laverstoke Park.
The original herd of Delamere goats, back in 1985, consisted of just three goats. Now, 20 years later, Delamere process and pack milk from eleven farms from Yorkshire to Somerset and their milk (both fresh and UHT) is available in most supermarkets, as is their award-winning cheese and their plain and fruit yogurts.
Farming goats, Liz reckons, is not only a financially viable alternative to farming cows, but more enjoyable. Because they are physically so much smaller than cows (you would need around 10 goats to weigh up to one cow!) goats involve more actual husbandry - but they are much easier to look after. They are impeccably clean (no sloppy manure to muck out), friendly and full of character. Because they have never been intensively farmed they are healthy, rarely suffer from mastitis or the other illnesses common in cows, and produce their kids with very little help from humans.
The goats on Delamere-supplying farms are not farmed organically but there is no routine use of anti-biotics and the farms operate low-input systems for fertilisers - the goats’ manure is spread back on the land. The goats live in large, airy, straw-bedded yards as free ranging more than 100 goats (the minimum number for a viable goat farm) is very difficult. Because goats have a strong social structure they are kept in groups according to when they kid. They are fed on grass or maize silage, hay, straw and a concentrate and are able to eat and browse at will. Each goat will produce around 1,000 litres of milk a year.
There are no subsidies available for goat farmers in the UK (the Suttons would much prefer it remained that way) so if you wish to farm goats, you have to make it pay. To do so, Liz reckons, you need a herd of around 600 goats and a milking parlour - an investment of around £250,000 - although you do not need much land. And of course you could run your goats in tandem with a herd of cows.
Tolerance and nutritional content
Goats’ and cows’ milk share a number of proteins so those who are allergic to cows’ milk proteins may also be allergic to goat milk. However, the fat globules in goat milk are smaller than those in cows’ milk so easier to break down and tolerate. Goat milk also forms a softer curd than cow’s so is easier to digest. Certainly there are a significant number of people who are not clinically ‘allergic’ to cow’s milk but for whom cows’ milk triggers symptoms from catarrh to hyperactivity to arthritis and who can tolerate goat’s milk and goat milk products with no problem.
Nutritionally goat milk has a similar protein content to cows’ milk, slightly less fat, carbohydrate and lactose, the same amount of calcium and higher levels of potassium, magnesium, iron, copper, zinc, and
vitamins D and B3.
In taste terms fresh goats’ milk, milked in a modern parlour and kept well chilled, is mild and delicious. It has none of the sour taste associated with milk from the family goat milked in a bucket at the back door. It makes excellent yogurt and wonderful cheese - and cooks just like cow’s milk, although the flavour is slightly stronger.
Delamere Dairies’ products are in most supermarkets or check www.delameredairy.co.uk 01565 632422.
Water buffalo have been bred for centuries in Asia for high quality meat and dairy products - not to mention their willingness to plough fields and pull carts. Since the crusades they have also been
supplying the people of Italy and the Balkans with milk. It is from Italy or Romania that most of the British buffalo come.
However, most is not a lot. Although there are a number of herds dotted around the country virtually all their milk is sold under contract for cheese making. Buffalo dairying attracts no support from Defra or any other government body, and, relative to their size, buffalo produce very little milk, so small milking farms find it almost impossible to make money. As result most sell their milk for cheese making - or have sold their herd to the one large farm that is sufficiently well funded to be able to milk and sell the milk at a profit.
This is Laverstoke Park, the organic mixed farm in Hampshire owned by the racing driver Jody Scheckter and his wife. Laverstoke Park now has a herd of over 300 buffalo - along with Jersey, native Angus and traditional Hereford cows; Hebridean, Lleyns, and polled Dorset sheep; saddleback and middle white pigs.
From a farmer’s point of view milking buffalo can be a mixed blessing. Buffalo have a tougher immune system than dairy cows - and, like goats, have not been subjected to intensive farming regimes - so are generally disease resistant. They can survive well on relatively poor pasture so need little extra feed and they are friendly and easy going - unlike the American bison or Africa Cape buffalo with which they are often confused. However, they produce substantially less milk than cows - depending on breed and condition, up to 50% less. But... their milk commands a hefty premium.
Nutritional content and taste
Buffalo milk has 50% more protein than cow’s milk, 40% more energy in calories, nearly 40% more calcium and high levels of the natural antioxidant tocopherol. But it also has twice as much fat - spread evenly across saturated, mono and polyunsaturated fats.
The high fat content makes it excellent for cheese or ice cream making although it can present a problem in fresh milk as, without some degree of homogenisation, the fat will solidify on the top of the milk over a couple of days.
In taste terms buffalo milk is delicious - rich, creamy, smooth and mild. Buffalo cheeses, both soft and hard, have a long established reputation as a delicacy and buffalo ice cream is right up there with the best of the cheeses.
Cow’s milk intolerance/allergy
Some people who are allergic or intolerant of cow’s milk do seem to be able to tolerate buffalo milk well. Whether this is as a result of the actual composition of the milk (cows and buffalo do have a completely different genetic make-up) or because buffalo have not been intensively reared, it is impossible to say. Whichever, drinking buffalo milk rather than cow’s milk is reputed to have dramatically improved a wide range of conditions from eczema to epilepsy. And there are certainly a lot of people who would like to try.
Why no government support?
So why, given that buffalo milk commands a hefty premium while cow’s milk is sold for a pittance, are government and local agencies not offering some kind of financial incentive to enable small buffalo farmers to produce and market their milk?
Currently the only enterprises able to do so have to draw their investment from wealthy private individuals like the Scheckters. Maybe this is another area where the Prince of Wales might bring his
experience and the power of his brand to support two of his favourite causes - organic, integrated agriculture and alternative, integrated health?
Where you can buy it
Meanwhile, for those who want to try buffalo milk, Laverstoke Park supplies milk to Waitrose where it costs £1.99 per litre and is stocked in 101 of 186 Waitrose stores.
Those who want to know more about Laverstoke Park should check 01256 772800 - www.laverstokepark.co.uk - and if they are near Basingstoke they can drop by the park’s excellent butcher’s shop and buy the most brilliant range of special breed (including buffalo) sausages!
First published in 2006
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