by Lisa Wogan
For hundreds of years, cows have dominated the milk scene in America. But that may soon change. In 2009, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the domestic production and consumption of camel milk, and today, there are more than 5000 camels grazing in the United States. Could Americans get over the hump and adopt a new milk? Let the competition begin!
Which one produces healthier milk?
|☑ CAMELS Throughout the Middle East, Africa, and Asia, camel milk is the health drink of choice. Compared to cow milk, it has three times the vitamin C and 10 times the iron. Plus, the creamy beverage is loaded with probiotics, antioxidants, unsaturated fatty acids, and an insulin-like protein that’s similar to the protein in human breast milk. And because camel milk is so nutritious, it’s often championed as a treatment for a wide variety of conditions, including Crohn’s disease, breast cancer, autism, and diabetes. One study demonstrated that people with Type 1 diabetes who drink camel milk require significantly fewer insulin injections than diabetics who don’t.
||☐ COWS Cow milk can be a little more difficult to swallow. Setting aside the bloating, cramping, and other side effects that sucker-punch the lactose intolerant, drinking cow milk has been linked to a host of other problems, including asthma, juvenile-onset diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and ovarian and breast cancer. That’s not exactly the sort of thing featured in “Got Milk?” ads. However, there are some definite benefits to tapping ol’ Bessie. Cow milk is full of calcium, the key to maintaining strong teeth and bones, and it’s something of a PMS buster, too. According to one study, women who consume four glasses of milk a day are “less irritable, weepy, and depressed” in the days before their period.
Which one is easier to milk?
|☐ CAMELS Camels don’t make it easy. To begin with, momma camels don’t take kindly to farmers fondling their teats, and they don’t respond well to machines. As an additional headache, because camels are so tall, farmers have to stand while milking. What results is a deft and ritualized dance between camel and milker. In Sudan, for instance, milkers perch on one leg and balance a gourd on the other to catch the milk.But those aren’t the only problems. Female camels also need their calves nearby to release milk. To counter this, milkers often drain the camel while a calf is suckling her. If a baby camel isn’t available, herders will sometimes resort to building a decoy calf by covering a frame in camel skin. (The trick generally works.) Still, even under the best circumstances, camels only produce around two gallons of milk per day.
||☑ COWS Over the centuries, dairy cows have been bred to produce about 7 gallons of milk per day—averaging between 15,000 and 25,000 pounds of milk per year—without complaint or need for company. As small farms were transformed into large-scale commercial operations at the turn of the 20th century, milkmaids turned in their stools and pails. These days, most of the 9 million dairy cows in the United States are milked by machines, assembly line-style, in “milking parlors.” Here, cows are herded through a washing pen twice a day, rinsed by sprinklers, and latched into milking stalls. The cows’ udders are sprayed with antiseptic and then attached to a milking machine—either by humans or robots. The milk is then channeled down pipelines to a storage tank, where an electronic sensor recognizes when the cows are out of milk and releases the udders.
Between the robo-milkers and the automated feed stations, it’s possible for one person to oversee the milking of as many as 500 cows in one day.
Which one is more American?
|☑ CAMELS To some people, drinking camel milk seems like an unpatriotic act. At least one conservative radio talk show host has condemned drinking the beverage, claiming that it promotes the backward ways of foreign Muslims. Yet, fossil evidence indicates that camels may be more American than anyone living in the United States. The modern camel’s ancestors evolved in this part of the world more than 50 million years ago.
||☐ COWS Cows didn’t drop their first pies on the continent until 1611, when the English brought Jersey cows to the Jamestown colony. However, once cows made a home here, they prospered. Today, there are about 100 million cows living in the United States, which means there’s roughly one cow for every three people in America.
Which one is more fun to tip over?
|☐ CAMELS Please do not attempt to tip over a camel. They bite, and they can kick in all four directions. Angry camels are also known to knock people down and sit on them, causing serious injury. But the nastiest thing they do is spit. When provoked, a camel can regurgitate the contents of its forestomach and then fling the foul green cud from its mouth. It’s one of the most disgusting defense mechanisms in the animal kingdom.
||☑ COWS Yes, they’re slightly easier to push over, but please don’t go cow tipping, either. It’s mean. Also, it’s more difficult than you might think. In 2005, a British Columbian zoologist examined the physics of tipping cows and concluded that it requires 4.43 people to knock over a stable animal. The cow-tippers would also have to act quickly and quietly. Cows don’t sleep standing up; they only nap, so they’re roused easily.
Which one makes the better cheese?
|☐ CAMELS Unlike cows, goats, and sheep, camels do not have the proteins in their milk that are necessary for curdling— the separation of curds and whey that starts the cheese-making process. So for all the centuries that humans have been guzzling camel milk, there’s been no munching of camel cheese. However, in the 1990s, scientists changed that by adding calcium phosphate and vegetable rennet to camel milk, yielding a soft, low-cholesterol cheese. Ever since, a dairy in Mauritania has been producing a Brie-like cheese nicknamed Camelbert.
||☑ COWS Making cheese from cow milk is an ancient tradition going back at least to Egypt, where the topic shows up on tomb murals. No one knows who first turned milk into cheese, but it likely happened by accident. About 8,000 years ago, someone probably stored milk inside a container made of animal skin, and after a few days, cheese was born. Different cultures refined the process through curing, flavoring, and aging. A major benefit of cheese over milk is its ability to keep for weeks, months, and even years. In 2009, a 15-year-old piece of cheddar sold for $50 a pound in Wisconsin.
Which one makes more fascinating excrement?
|☑ CAMELS Highly efficient and well-adapted to dry climates, camels waste almost no water. As a result, their urine is concentrated like syrup, and their dung is so dry that it can be burned for fuel immediately upon hitting the ground.
||☐ COWS Cows consume 50 to 100 pounds of feed and 20 to 50 gallons of water per day, which eventually produces 150 pounds of manure. Fortunately, the waste contains a soil-building mixture of nitrogen, phosphoric acid, and potash that makes for excellent fertilizer. But a cow’s process of digestion also releases methane in SUV-like quantities. Scientists in Wales recently discovered that adding garlic to cow feed can cut flatulence by 50 percent, although it does nothing for the cow’s breath.
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