Have you ever thought about trading your dairy cows for Yaks, Water Buffalo or Reindeer?


Well, we thought it would be fun to take a look at how the world produces & consumes non-bovine milk around the globe. The origin story of humans drinking animal milk seems to not have found consensus among scientists, religions, archaeologists or historians.

The gist of the story is this….

(According to National Geographic) “The earliest evidence of animal milk drinking dates back almost 9,000 years to modern-day Turkey near the sea of Marmara, where milk fats have been found on ancient shards of pottery.”

BUT, the BBC says “The first people to drink milk regularly were early farmers and pastoralists in western Europe”.
This version of the story is based on the study of teeth from human remains found in the UK archaeologists.

BUT, there is a decent amount of research suggesting milk consumption began In Africa.

Ohhhh, the tea is piping hot. Lets put some milk in it. 

Photo courtesy of nature.com

We (“we” meaning most humans) believe that milk came from a wild animal called an “Auroch” which is the ancestor of our modern cow. They were believed to have been domesticated 8-10 thousand years ago….and from there…..no consensus.

Another thing we do not agree on is the best type of milk to consume, the most healthy milk, or the best tasting milk. It seems the only thing we CAN agree on is that whatever type of milk you prefer, Dairy is and has been an important part of the human diet for thousands of years.
Let’s take a look at the types of animal milk we are consuming & producing globally….

Camel Milk:
Widely consumed in arid regions, camel’s milk is rich in immune-boosting proteins like lactoferrin and immunoglobulins. It’s even considered the closest to human mother’s milk. Due to high demand and low supply camel’s milk is challenging to find and very expensive at about $30 USD per liter. Despite being expensive in North America, demand around the world is increasing. The global camel milk market is expected to grow to between $2 & $13 BILLION dollars by 2029. Massive commercial camel farms are being set up in UAE with breeding programs aimed and creating more productive breeds.

Goat’s Milk:
Goat’s milk contains little to no A1 casein proteins, making it easier for some to digest than cow’s milk. It lacks agglutinin proteins, which cluster fat globules, resulting in better tolerance for some people. Like camel’s milk, it can be pricey. Lighter and more digestible than buffalo milk, goat milk has lower fat and lactose content. Commercial goats milk production is mainly supported by the manufacture of various goat cheeses, and more

Photo Courtesy Redwood Hill Farm

specifically, goat cheeses from France. Most milk production is currently coming from small producers, but decent efforts are being made globally in commercially successful grazing, larger scale commercialization and government support programs for breeding, sanitization and equipment.

Yak Milk:
In the Tibetan Plateau, where most yaks live, people enjoy yak milk and butter in teas. It’s highly nutritious, with more protein than cow, goat, or even human milk. This might be the big break you have been looking for, because commercial Yak dairies aren’t really “a thing”. Yet. Shark Tank, here we come! China has made the most movement toward a version of commercialization with current cow dairy facilities setting up yak milk collection for its rural farms.

Water Buffalo Milk:

Photo Courtesy of Delicious Italy

Popular in India and Italy, buffalo milk is creamier and richer than cow’s milk. It is used to make delicious cheeses like mozzarella and paneer and fan faves like butter, cream, and yogurt. Buffalo milk is the second most consumed milk globally after cows milk, but small producers make up the bulk of commercial production. A farm in British Columbia Canada that has a herd of 200 is averaging a yearly production of 110,000 litres, where a farm with 200 head of Holstein would be seeing about 2,000,000 liters per year. On the plus side, Buffalo live an average of 15 years longer than a dairy cow.  However, production is not the biggest issue in farming buffalo milk, marketing is. Creating and nurturing a market for buffalo milk seems to be the biggest challenge facing this burgeoning corner of the milk market.

Sheep’s Milk:
Sheep’s milk is common in Mediterranean countries. It’s high in fat and protein, making it ideal for cheese production (think feta and Roquefort). Not unlike many types of animal milk, fluid milk is not what the consumers are interested in. The production of sheep’s milk is deeply supported by the manufacture of sheep cheeses.
Sheep’s milk is a niche market, and it struggles with the same issues as many of the other types of milk farming we have mentioned above. In North America at least, marketing remains the challenge for farmers looking to create a market for their milk.

Horse (Mares) Milk:
Consumed in Central Asia and parts of Europe, horse milk is used to make fermented beverages like kumis. It’s low in fat but rich in vitamins and minerals. It has a distinct sweet and nutty flavor, and more translucent than cow’s milk. Mares Milk has no real commercial industry to speak of, and it looks like it will remain that way for the near future.

Donkey Milk:
Known for its skin benefits, donkey milk has been used for beauty historically. It’s low in fat and lactose, making it suitable for those with allergies.
This one surprised me. While Donkey milk does have a (small) global market, the majority of production is currently in Europe with a growing global demand. According to the Zion Market Research report, the global donkey milk market was worth about 26.89 million USD in 2022 and is estimated to grow to about 55.63 million USD by 2030. Wow. Who knew?

Reindeer Milk:
Among the Sami people in Scandinavia, reindeer milk is a traditional source of nutrition due to Its high fat and protein content. Beyond traditional farming & consumption, the Reindeer milk market is being explored mostly from a tourism perspective for now.

Bison Milk:
Not to be confused with Buffalo, Bison milk is rare but nutritious. It’s similar to cow’s milk but with a unique flavor. It is not produced commercially to any real extent, mostly due to the fact that Bison are aggressive & huge & don’t like being milked.

Pigs Milk
Have you ever wondered why we drink cows milk, but not pigs milk? Probably not, but #themoreyouknow, you know? From a health perspective, pigs milk is higher in fat content, and has roughly the same protein & sugar content as cows milk. However, to put it simply, pigs are challenging to milk. Sows have 14 teeny tiny teats compared with the four large nipples on a cow’s udder. Also, Sows send milk to their suckling piglets in bursts that last only up to a minute, so it would take a long time to get a commercial level of milk production from a pig. The big benefit of a dairy cow is their storage tank…the udder. The udder gives them the ability to milk for a much longer time, and therefore, much faster.

So, what does pigs milk taste like? From Wikipedia: “Pig milk has been described as having a chalky and slightly salty taste. It is saltier and creamier, yet grainier than other cheeses. The flavor of pig milk is gamey and stronger than goat’s milk. Pig milk cheese, made from pig milk, is described as delicious, salty, creamy, and grainy.”

Did you know?
You can make plastic from milk? YOU CAN! AT HOME! Scientific American tells you how to do it.

That’s it! Are you ready to be a trail blazer and Yak Milk Producer? Whether you’re producing camel’s milk in the desert or buffalo milk for pizza in Italy, the world of dairy is as diverse and fascinating as we are! 🌍