Did you know that 90% of the milk we drink comes from wasps? Ha! April Fools! Is it April yet? No? Erm, January Fools! That does exist. Stop laughing, it does. That bum told me so. 97% of our milk comes from one animal, the humble cow. Well, as humble as a cow can be, at least. But you can also buy goat’s milk and sheep’s milk. Not too shabby, right? What about buffalo milk? Or pig’s milk? Fancy a bit of that on your Cornflakes? No, I didn’t think so. Gin remains best for that, of course. Then we have camel, yak and elk milk. Horse milk is drunk in Asia, and probably the UK, although nobody will know about it. And then there’s reindeer milk, a particular speciality in certain parts of the world, where its red hue is said to be rather shiny…
Reindeer milk, however, isn’t the easiest milk to… milk. It contains 22% more fat than cow’s milk and one of the reasons we milk cows is because they’re docile. The same cannot be said of reindeer, who will use their horns to knock seven bells out of you if you go anywhere near their milk producers. I couldn’t find out what they’re called in reindeer. One person milks, the other holds its horns. Goat’s milk is best, of course. Tastier than cow’s milk and rather creamy. Pig’s milk is a new avenue some are perusing. ‘Some’ being a handful of incredibly… unique… individuals. Pigs are highly aggressive and are highly paranoid creatures. Their milk is said to be very delicious, but rather hard to obtain. To do just that, one farmer once had to creep up on the pigs whilst they were sleeping, pinch their tiny, tiny nipples and run for it. That sounds a bit of a strange way to spend one’s night, doesn’t it? He also said that the best way to milk pigs is to use some sort of machine. He discovered that a human breast pump fits perfectly. I really do wonder how he figured that out. “Husband of mine, have you seen my breast pump?” “Erm…”
We all know what milk is, right? Each year, dairy farms produce 718 million imperial tons of milk from 260 million dairy cows. Six billion people drink milk on a regular basis. Around 10,000 BC, nomadic tribes started to settle in small communities and with that came domesticated animals. Soon, we thought, ‘Hey! Let’s drink their milk.’ Although one must wonder what the first farmer was attempting to do when that happened. “Timothy, some delicious liquid just came from Gertrude, our community cow!” “Woweth, ‘tis delish!” “I know, I know!” “So, Jeremiah, how did you discover this?” “Erm…”
By 7000 BC, dairy animals had spread to Europe, although the cow fad didn’t hit Britain and Scandinavia until 4000 BC. Golly, we were resistant to Europe even then. In 1788, two bulls and seven cows (lucky guys) were put aboard a ship and sent to Australia, the first cows in the country. Although we can’t know what cows think, I imagine the first thought of those cows was something like, ‘This is a bit different to Surrey.’ But it wasn’t the last time milk producing animals were put on boats. Other early explorations of our planet saw goats in their hundreds put on ships sailing around the world to discover new and unchartered lands. They were there to provide the sailors with lovely fresh milk. Of course, several ships were overrun with goats, thus leading to plenty of goat mutinies. “BAAAA!” “Oh hell, the goats have overthrown the captain and have taken charge!” “And worse yet, they think they’re sheep!”
Milk really became popular in the 19th century with the industrialisation of our world. With expanding railway networks, milk could be transported from rural locales to big cities with relative ease. Imagine that, eh? Imagine showing up at King’s Cross to wait for the first milk train. “I got here as fast as I could, Timothy! You sounded frantic in that letter you sent me several weeks ago.” “I know, I know. The milk train is here!” “Milk? What in good heavens is milk?” “It’s a delicious new drink, Jeremiah. Gonna take the world by storm!” “And where did it come from?” “You know that big pink ball thing near a cow’s genitals?” “Erm…” “Yeah, there.” “Why would anyone look at that and think to squeeze it?” “That’s an excellent question…”
The great British public were outraged when The Great Western Railway started transporting milk into London from Maidenhead in 1860. There were protests and everything. Probably proto-hippies. A ‘Give Cows a Chance’ sort. It’s the sorta thing we get mad about here in Britain. The milk trade boomed and demand rocketed. By the end of the 1860s, only 5% of milk was imported into London from the countryside. Do you know what that number was come 1900, only 40 years later? 96%. That’s some very sore cows.
Milk became a huge part of our culture. It entered our language in various expressions. Crying over spilt milk. To wash the milk off one’s liver, meaning ‘to purge oneself of cowardice.’ The milk of human kindness. And what about the Milky Way? Not the chocolate bar. Although just as delicious. The Ancient Greeks named it the ‘milky circle.’ According to legend, Zeus brought Heracles to Hera to suckle whilst she was sleeping. Bit weird. It wasn’t even her kid. Hera woke suddenly and was outraged. She pushed the baby away, resulting in milk dropping to the ground. Someone then thought, ‘Hey! That looks like all those stars in the sky that we don’t have a name for…’
Milk is very good for you, too. In fact, Nero’s second wife, Poppaea, kept 500 asses to provide milk for her bath. “Therein lurked a magic, which would dispel all diseases and blights from my beauty,” she said. Ass milk is almost certainly not what you think it is.
A cow’s udder can hold between eight and 40 pints of milk and the average moo will produce around 200,000 glasses of milk in her lifetime. The UK produces some three billion gallons each year, and yes, that is some very sore… oh, I’ve already done that joke. Never mind. Milk is remarkable. Yet we take it for granted. It’s just there. Like that rash on your bottom you won’t go to a doctor about because you don’t want to show a stranger your bottom and I get that, I really do. But it’s not just ‘there.’ It’s a part of the world. Our history. And our future, I’m sure.
Do I like milk?
Sure. It’s darn swell…
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