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Sheep, Goat, Cow: Which Animal Milk is the Healthiest?

Updated on 27. Dec. 2018
Got Milk? Find out if one is actually healthier than the others.
Got Milk? Find out if one is actually healthier than the others.

Sheep, goat, or cow dairy? Is one healthier for you than the other? Did you even know you had the choice? Most of the dairy products we see at the local grocery market in the US come from cows, but the markets for sheep and goat dairy products have been slowly growing in recent years.

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Got milk? All mammals do, but the most commonly consumed dairy products come from cows, goats, and sheep. Discussions as to which animal dairy is healthiest abound, but with inconclusive results. Some people swear by goat cheese and scorn any other animal dairy product. Others wonder why in the world you would ever drink milk from a sheep. Still, others say no dairy at all!

Putting aside all of the confusion floating around the internet, let’s try and look at the basics of each dairy type.

In this ( cup to cup comparison of goat and cow milk, it was found that each respective milk has their advantages, but that it cannot be conclusively said that one is better than the other. You may find that one dairy product suits your system and taste buds better. My sister loves goat cheese, whereas I find it a bit biting and only palatable when mixed in with other strong flavors.

In a side by side comparison of the three kinds of milk, the Natural Gourmet Institute found that cow milk has more total protein and higher levels of Vitamin B12 and folate than sheep and goat milk.1 However, goat milk has more calcium and magnesium than cow’s milk and has the added bonus of Vitamin C. In addition, goat milk is most similar to human milk in its composition and is believed to trigger fewer allergic reactions than cow’s milk. The reasoning behind this is its relative digestive ease owed to the smaller fat globules and the lower levels of lactose in goat’s milk.2 Goat’s milk also does not contain alpha lactoglobulin, the protein in cow’s milk responsible for many allergies.3 Sheep’s milk is also easier to digest than cow’s milk and is a naturally homogenized product. The conjugated linoleic acid (or CLA) found in sheep’s milk may have potential anti-carcinogenic properties as well. In layman’s terms, it is believed by some that sheep’s milk may have properties that could inhibit the spread of cancer. However sheep’s milk also contains higher levels of lactose, so those with lactose allergies beware!4

Due to the smaller nature of the goat dairy industry, it is believed that goat milk and goat milk products are less likely to contain pesticides or growth hormones than cow milk or cow milk products.5 However, many smaller cow dairy farmers and dairy cooperatives restrict or forbid the use of pesticides and growth hormones. It is important to know the source of your dairy products, whether sheep, goat, or cow. The quality of your dairy products will most likely be the biggest determinant of their healthiness.6 Look for grass-fed or pasture-raised dairy products as these will have the highest levels of vitamins and beneficial fatty acids.7

Cow’s milk is cited as being a complete protein source, with 8 grams of protein and 12 grams of carbohydrates per cup with 30 percent of your daily calcium.8 However, in direct contradiction to the “Got Milk?” advertisements in your latest edition of Vogue, milk and dairy products are not essential to your diet. The health benefits imparted by animal dairy can be found in other food items. It is important to remember if you do choose to incorporate animal dairy into your diet, that moderation is key!9

Want to try something different tomorrow? Check out EatSmarter’s exclusive goat cheese omelet recipe. Or feeling something savory at dinner time? We have got you covered with this delectable recipe for goat cheese tortellini.

Want to try your hand at homegrown dairy production? Check out this book by Kim Pezza on raising your own goats. The addition of a goat to your family may not only mean a new pet but also could be your first foray into farming your own dairy.



  1. Ryan Warren, "Cow vs. Goat and Sheep Milk," Natural Gourmet Institute, Natural Gourmet Institute, 24 May 2016, Web.
  2. Ibid.
  3. "Is Goat Cheese Healthy?" DoveMed, DoveMed, 3 July 2016, Web.
  4. Warren, "Cow vs. Goat and Sheep Milk."; Diane Welland, MS, RD, "Make Room for Cheese -- If Incorporated Wisely, It Can Be Part of a Healthful Diet," Today's Dietitian, Great Valley Publishing Company, Inc., Feb. 2011, Web.
  5. "Is Goat Cheese Healthy?"
  6. Kris Gunner, "Is Dairy Bad For You, or Good? The Milky, Cheesy Truth," Authority Nutrition, Authority Nutrition, 18 Aug. 2016, Web.; "Health Concerns about Dairy Products," The Physicians Committee, The Physicians Committee, 26 Jan. 2016, Web.
  7. Gunner, "Is Dairy Bad For You, or Good?”
  8. Lauren Cox, "4 Experts Answer: Is Milk Really Healthy for You?" Live Science, Purch, 29 June 2012, Web.
  9. "Health Concerns about Dairy Products."
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