BY NICOLE CLARK
America is the third-largest goat milk producing continent in the world, with 64.3 litres of milk produced per goat.
Ontario is the largest goat milk producing province in Canada. According to a 2015 statistic, Ontario is home to 245 of Canada’s 387 goat milk producers. The largest Ontario goat herd has approximately 1,200 goats, where the usual number is 60 to 400 on a dairy goat farm.
Most of these farms are located in Ontario’s southwest, but also range in the northern and eastern areas of the province.
Goat dairy has a number of positive health benefits. First of all, goat dairy is much easier to digest than cow dairy. This is because of the smaller fat globules that are in goat milk. They reach the stomach and form a softer curd than that of cow milk. There is also the fact that goat milk is made up of approximately two per cent curd, whereas cow milk is about 10 per cent. This allows the body to absorb it with less irritation than cow milk. Goat milk is also a practical alternative for those who are lactose intolerant or lactose sensitive because the milk is low in lactose, or milk sugars.
Goat milk has fewer allergenic proteins and causes less inflammation than cow milk, because of the over 20 different allergens found inside of cow milk.
It is also high in calcium and fatty acids but low in cholesterol. It boasts 33 per cent of the daily recommended calcium value compared to the 28 per cent found in cow milk. Goat’s milk can also aid in the treatment of ailments like coronary disease and intestinal disorders with its high levels of medium-chain fatty acids; 30-35 per cent compared to the 15-20 per cent found in cow’s milk.
The moisturizing qualities of the fatty acids and triglycerides in goat milk keep the skin looking good, with improved acne, complexion and skin health.
It also yields approximately twice the vitamin A than cow’s milk.
Goats are approximately one-sixth the size of a cow, making them less difficult to handle. They also get along well with humans and other animals, allowing for a safer environment to raise children in.
This was a consideration for Katie Normet, co-owner of River’s Edge Goat Dairy, located just east of Arthur, Ont., when she made the decision to operate a goat dairy farm. She has raised five children on the farm and at one time owned beef cattle as well. She said, “It wasn’t that much fun because we had to keep our two-year-old locked-in somewhere if we had to move the cattle. They are just so darn big, they can not even mean to hurt you.” She added, “It wasn’t great as a farming activity for a family with small kids. All my kids have toddled through the goat pens, even with the moms and babies. And they have never done anything.”
“You just don’t have that fear of injury the same way that you do with cattle,” she said.
She also said in comparison to running a cow dairy farm, goats are, “More efficient animals. Pound per pound, they produce more milk on the number of resources that they use than a cow does. They’re nice animals to work with.”
In terms of the health and nutritional benefits of goat milk, Normet said, “There is still lactose in goat milk, but it is a little bit different form. Some people who are lactose intolerant with cow milk are OK with goat milk.” She said some of the yogurts and cheeses, because they are more gentle, and the artisan products, are more easily tolerated by those who are lactose intolerant, adding “It’s one of those things people just have to experiment and play a little bit with.”
In terms of any drawbacks to goat farming, she said, “You’re really dependant on Mother Nature, but that’s any farming. That’s not just goats.”
Normet and her partner, Will Makxam, produce their goat dairy products onsite, with their herd of about 50 goats.
They sell their products from the store located on their farm as well as at three Saturday morning markets located in Kitchener, Guelph and Orangeville. Some of the products include yogurt, milk, ice cream, butter, whipping cream, five different types of cheese and goat meat.
Debbie Ferguson, a Waterloo resident who has been a River’s Edge Goat Dairy customer for about eight months since walking by their stand at the Kitchener market, enjoys being able to interact with the farmer when buying the products.
“I just like the idea of a small business. This is what they’re producing. I like that it’s not always the same,” Ferguson said. She has been to France and seen the process and production of cheese and thinks that it is all very interesting. “It’s just the creativity of the producer that makes the difference,” she said.
Marg and Steve Feeney, Waterloo residents and goat dairy consumers for 10 to 15 years, visited the farm’s Kitchener market stand for the first time after a promotional card for River’s Edge caught their eye in an upstairs restaurant.
“It’s very healthy and for me, it’s easy to digest,” said Marg. “It’s what makes the Greek salad,” added Steve.