Maine may not be ready for moose milk

By Julia Bayly, BDN Staff
Posted Nov. 28, 2013, at 7:58 a.m.

FORT KENT, Maine — Got moose milk?

That’s right, milk, from Maine’s state animal, the moose. You know, the ones tourists are as anxious to see as we are to avoid hitting with our cars on the roadways.

It’s not as outlandish as one might think. OK, maybe it is, but not according to a report released this week by the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations.

In it, report co-author Anthony Bennett, from the livestock industry office with the UN, forecasts dairy consumption to grow by 25 percent in developing countries by 2025 due to increased populations in developing countries.

But a steady increase in cows’ milk prices, Bennett said in a statement from Rome this week, “will likely be out of reach for the most vulnerable households.”

Among his solutions?

“Governments need to address the issue by making nutrition a specific objective in dairy sector development and by investing in programs that help poor families keep small dairy livestock,” according to his report.

The report goes on to state that alpacas, donkeys, moose, reindeer and yaks could also be milked, alongside other species that are already used for milk such as buffalo, goat and sheep.

“That’s a new one on me,” Julie-Marie Bickford, executive director of the Maine Dairy Industry Association, said Wednesday. “I’ve heard of camels and yaks being milked, but moose? Never moose.”

Odd as it may be to consider, there is apparently a decades-old tradition of moose milking in Russia and Sweden.

According to some reports, the most difficult part of milking a moose is convincing the animal to come and stand still.

Yeah, getting near the moose — that’s the toughest part.

I’m thinking the real difficulty points come in just after you place the bucket under the moose and reach for the teats. But that may just be the city girl in me talking.

Some Russian farmers reportedly have had success in domesticating herds of milk moose by first dousing themselves in moose calf scent — I don’t even want to know — and then mimicking the sounds of the baby moose.

Now, I have never considered moose to be the brightest bulbs in the box, but it seems to me sooner or later mama moose is going to clue in to what’s going on and be none too happy about the deception.

Regardless, several farms in Russia reportedly have a good thing going producing moose milk, which is believed to be therapeutic for gastrointestinal ailments.

Never mind the ailments, I am now waiting for the day I gather with friends and family around the yule log toasting each other’s health and happiness with a big ol’ glass of rum-spiked Moosenog.

Over in northern Sweden at the Johanssan farm, three moose — Gullan, Haelga and Juna — produce the milk that is transformed into one of the priciest cheeses on the planet.

At $500 a pound, you won’t find the moose cheese at your local IGA, but you will find it at upscale hotels and restaurants in Sweden.

But could increased global demand, moderate moose-husbandry success and gourmet nordic cheese be an answer for Maine’s own dairy industry business and its 296 dairy farmers who have been hit by tough economic times and market conditions?

“I don’t think we are going to find many of Maine’s cattle dairy farmers saying this is the salvation,” Bickford said. “It’s definitely what you would call a niche market [and] I suppose if someone wants to be adventurous and dabble in something new … but I can’t imagine you are going to find many who do.”

Domesticating the wild woodland ungulate is just the first step, Bickford pointed out.

Next comes ensuring steady milk production, something normally done through breeding.

“Is the next thing a moose stud service?” she asked. “In the industry we use artificial insemination and now you’d be talking a whole different train of thought with moose.”

As far as Ann Rivers, director of Acadia Wildlife Foundation in Town Hill, is concerned, it’s a train that should be permanently derailed.

“No, this is a terrible idea,” Rivers said Wednesday of the UN’s notion of moose milk production. “What an awful thing to take an animal that is suited to be in the wild and domesticate it. … Cows have been [giving milk] for a long time very well, so let them keep doing it.”

Never mind the ethical considerations, according to Rivers, any attempt at milking Maine’s largest mammal is just plain foolish and downright dangerous.

“They kick,” she said. “A moose that does not want to be someplace is enormously dangerous.”

Neither Rivers nor Bickford sees a bright future for Maine moose milk anytime soon, if ever, though Bickford did say she has been wrong before.

“I remember when someone started raising red deer in Ashland for the antler velvet,” she said. “At the time I thought that was pretty unique, but people bought it, so maybe the next great innovative thing is the Department of Agriculture teaming up with inland fisheries to domesticate part of our moose population.”

Rivers, on the other hand, had some strong advice for Bennett and his fellow report authors who advocate moose milk.

“If you really want to get something different, try milking a bear, perhaps,” she said.

Julia Bayly of Fort Kent is an award-winning writer and photographer who writes part time for Bangor Daily News. Her column appears here every other Friday. She can be reached by email at jbayly@bangordailynews.com.

http://bangordailynews.com/2013/11/28/living/maine-may-not-be-ready-for-moose-milk/ printed on July 22, 2014