The three dairy animals familiar to Westerners were domesticated between 10,000 B.C. and 8000 B.C. in the Fertile Crescent. Goats and sheep were probably first, followed by cows. All three have since been bred to improve temperament and output, but cows have responded the most profoundly.Why don’t we consume dairy products from mammals that aren’t cows? (Slate)
The ancestor of the European milch cow was the ox-like wild aurochs, which finally went extinct in the 17th century. The aurochs could be fierce and stubborn, but a few centuries of breeding transformed it into an animal so docile it will actually line up to be milked and so prolific that a single cow produces around 100 pounds of milk a day. The cow's genome, for whatever reason, responded readily to human dabbling. In this, cows are like wolves, from which we've created dog breeds as different as Chihuahuas and Great Danes, and unlike cats, which all look and act pretty much the same despite having been domesticated back in the Neolithic era. Given its genetic pliability, it was probably inevitable that the cow would become a major dairy animal wherever it could survive.
In America, cows never had any real competition. The ice age had scoured the continent of all of its large ruminants, with the exception of the bison, and Native Americans had no dairy tradition for the colonists to adopt. So, as Deborah Valenze recounts in Milk, Europeans brought cows along with them when they set off for North America and then let these autonomous food factories graze on the continent’s unlimited vegetation until their milk or meat was needed. The cows thrived, to say the least: Between 1627 and 1629, while the colonists were fretting about other things, the number of cattle in Virginia grew from 2,000 to 5,000.
I imagine in a future Permaculture world full of local biodiversity, we'll be able to enjoy the rich milk and cheese products of other animals the article talks about:
But what are we missing out on by abstaining from other mammals’ milk? Take the goat: Its milk is tangier, richer, and, to reasonable persons, much tastier than cow’s milk. The superior flavor owes a great deal to the fact that goat's milk does not separate; the cream is knitted into the milk. Goats produce the most milk of any mammal relative to body size, which would make them attractive to industrial dairies if they weren’t so small. At best, dairy goats are the size of a Newfoundland; milk output averages only around a few gallons a day. A direr failing: Goat's milk cannot easily be made into butter.
Unpalatable fat and protein levels keep some milks off the shelves, but the difficulty of milking recalcitrant beasts can be no less an obstacle. Consider water buffalo, which are raised in Campania, Italy, to make the otherworldly mozzarella di bufala but are otherwise little known in the West. Water buffalo are smart and watchful and have giant horns—in other words, they’re dangerous—yet their milk has been a cornerstone of the most dairy-crazed cuisine in the world, that of India, for 1,000 years. Indian cooks use buffalo milk in cream sauces, boil and coagulate it for paneer, or reduce it to a paste called khoa that becomes the basis for desserts such as the rosewater-sweetened gulab jamun.But according to Mark Bittman, you may not need that milk at all:
But the bucolic cow and family farm barely exist: “Given the Kafkaesque federal milk marketing order system, it’s impossible for anyone to make a living producing and selling milk,” says Anne Mendelson, author of “Milk.” “The exceptions are the very largest dairy farms, factory operations with anything from 10,000 to 30,000 cows, which can exploit the system, and the few small farmers who can opt out of it and sell directly to an assured market, and who can afford the luxury of treating the animals decently.”Got Milk? You Don't Need It (NYT)
Osteoporosis? You don’t need milk, or large amounts of calcium, for bone integrity. In fact, the rate of fractures is highest in milk-drinking countries, and it turns out that the keys to bone strength are lifelong exercise and vitamin D, which you can get from sunshine. Most humans never tasted fresh milk from any source other than their mother for almost all of human history, and fresh cow’s milk could not be routinely available to urbanites without industrial production. The federal government not only supports the milk industry by spending more money on dairy than any other item in the school lunch program, but by contributing free propaganda as well as subsidies amounting to well over $4 billion in the last 10 years.
The BBC World Service was recently on a farm in the UK; they pointed out that milk is sold for less than it costs to produce making it impossible for anyone to get into dairy farming. WTF?