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Pig's Milk...a Guest Post from Hank Sock

So the reasons why we don't drink pig milk or eat pig cheese are complicated. Clearly, cows, sheep, goats, all produce excellent milk and cheese. Even camels are milked.

 

But pigs are one of the exceptions to the farmyard milking rule. Pigs and horses and mice and dogs and cats all are not milked. Why? Well, let's just stick to pigs for now, because if we include all of those animals, I'd have to write a whole book.

 

So there are several important interconnecting factors to consider why determining why we don't drink Pig's milk.

 

1. The physiology of the pig itself

2. The creation of the pig as a domestic farm animal

3. The actual composition of pig milk

 

We do not know which of these factors are the most important, but all of them play a role in the pig not being used for milk.

 

1. The Physiology of the Pig.
Pigs are mammals, and thus they lactate to feed their young. However, unlike cows, sheep and goats, pigs to not have udders. In addition, pigs can have up to 18 piglets per litter, and thus they need a lot of nipples, each producing a small amount of milk.

 

The result of this is that it is very difficult to manually milk a pig. In fact, this would best be done by a machine that would hold the pig and reproduce the suckling actions of 14 simultaneous piglets. The complexity of making such a machine even today indicates that when humans were first domesticating pigs, they would have no way of effectively getting milk out of a pig.

 

This ties into:

2. The Creation of the Pig as a Domestic Animal
Pigs, like all farm animals, are modified forms of their wild ancestors. Thus, the purposes that the original domesticators of farm animals had in mind for farm animals were reinforced during the process of domestication. Thus, because pigs were difficult to milk, the domesticators of pigs did not breed pigs for the ability to milk them. Thus pigs remained difficult to milk and, in fact, have been bred to create more piglets and be even more difficult to milk.

 

This relationship between the traits of domesticated animals and the purposes humans have for them is fascinating and complicated and, of course, has to do with genetics and artificial selection.

 

Additionally, because the pig was bred as a meat animal, and pigs cannot get pregnant while lactating, farmers had every reason to stop the lactating of the sow as soon as the piglets were weaned so that it could begin creating a new litter. This resulted in another negative feedback against dairy production for domesticated porcines.

 

3. The composition of Pig's Milk

Chemically, pig's milk is richer in fat than cows, and so would be very nutritious for people to drink. It is actually more similar to human breast milk than other animals and so may have been preferable as a nutritious snack for children.

 

However, pig's milk does not contain the short-chain fatty acids that make goat, sheep and cow milk taste like milk. The long-chain fatty acids of pig milk would not taste bad, but they would taste strange to us. Additionally, the taste of an animal's milk is heavily influenced by the diet of pigs, and the diet of pigs varries significantly seasonally. Thus there would be no consistent flavor and sometimes it might even be objectionable.

 

Finally, we have a reason that I have not even listed. We do not drink pig's milk because we do not drink pig's milk.

 

It is perfectly possible now to create a machine that would milk a pig, a pig that would produce more milk, and even a pig that could get pregnant while lactating. But because pigs are not part of our cultural consciousness of the idea of dairy, and because they have an unclean image in the eyes of most cultures, it is unlikely that even if science can produce great pig milk that people will ever be interested in drinking it.

 

That is simply an effect of culture, which is far more complciated than anything silly, like the composition of fatty acid chains.

 

And now you know...or, more correctly, now you better understand how much we don't know about something so very simple.

 

 - Hank Sock

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Comment by Lydia Barnes on July 29, 2014 at 11:19am

And here I was thinking we didn't drink it just because... pig milk? gross

Comment by Michael Floyd Hancock-Parmer on May 30, 2014 at 9:38pm

Horse's milk is a common drink in many places, including Central Asia. I realize your focus was on the milking of pigs, but I thought you might want to edit the post to reflect the (non-American) reality of horse milk.

Comment by Jessica Gail Eastburn on May 4, 2014 at 5:52am

I would try it...

Comment by Jay on April 26, 2014 at 12:44am

I already dislike the slightly different taste of goats milk-- and so I shudder to think of PIG'S milk

Comment by Maggie Horlor on September 25, 2013 at 2:46pm

If we could, I wonder how it would taste?

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Comment by smurphinater on June 11, 2011 at 7:33pm
I don't really drink milk in general, I know it's supposed to be good for me and all, but I can't really get into it. I still get my calcium from vegetables, though, which I consume in great numbers, especially brocolli.
Comment by Rachel Boyd on February 15, 2011 at 11:40am
So, I would really like to use this for my anthropology class to talk about artificial selection. Any chance you could show where you got all this information from? Don't get me wrong, I believe you, but I don't think my professor would let this count without references...
Comment by schnabeldame on January 24, 2011 at 2:21pm
Interesting ... yes, I would think pig's milk quite objectionable, but if you think rationally - there's no reason why it should be more objectionable than milk from more generally accepted animals. And I keep thinking - there's an expression in German if you find something very frustrating and can't get it done: "das ist doch zum Mäuse melken!" - "This makes you want to milk mice!"
Comment by schnabeldame on January 24, 2011 at 2:21pm
Interesting ... yes, I would think pig's milk quite objectionable, but if you think rationally - there's no reason why it should be more objectionable than milk from more generally accepted animals. And I keep thinking - there's an expression in German if you find something very frustrating and can't get it done: "das ist doch zum Mäuse melken!" - "This makes you want to milk mice!"

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