Over the last ten years or so, and around my various “off the farm” work
schedules, I have learned a bit about gardening, preserving food, sewing,
quilting, raising livestock and even the occasional butchering. I
generally take these little projects on during the winter when things slow
down a little and some of the fruits of my labor can, conveniently enough,
serve as Christmas gifts for friends and family.
In the winter of 2002, I decided to try raising a few home milkers, in the form of dairy goats. After much research via the internet
and books on the subject, I chose Nigerian Dwarves because of their small
size and generations of official milk production records. Our small 3+
acres seemed best suited for a miniature dairy goat. I carefully chose 6
does and 3 bucks to start our herd. I intended to sell enough kids every
spring to buy the hay during the summer. I planned to make cheeses
and yogurt for my family with the excess milk.
The fall of 2003 rolled around and as I was investigating goat’s milk
recipes, I found a basic recipe for goat’s milk soap. Wow! Soap! I
had recently began collecting the supplies I would need to make my first
candles and I decided the combination would make excellent Christmas
So, in September of 2003 I made my first batches of goat’s
milk soap. I used recipes which called for lard or tallow, because the
fancy butters and oils simply are not available in small, rural markets. I
anxiously watched as the soap hardened. I was shaking with pride and
anticipation while I unmolded and cut those first bars. I think I checked
those first soaps a half dozen times every day during the three week
curing period. I wrapped the cured soaps in plastic and because I couldn’t
have possibly waited until Christmas to show them off, I gave every single
bar away! Friends and family took the soaps and gave them away at work and
at church. In a very small town, it takes about 20 minutes for the entire
community to know you’re up to something new. Those free bars of soap paid
off for me in a big way. In a week’s time I had orders pouring in. I
thought, “Great! Maybe I can sell enough soap to pay for the supplies I’m
going to need for my Christmas gifts.”
By, the time
I had those orders made, there was a pretty good bit of word-of-mouth
advertising going on. Sometime in October, a lady passing through town
ordered 47 bars for resale in another state. A week after that, the
curator from an area museum asked me to supply their gift shop. The local
newspaper came out to our little farm and we made the front page.
The individual orders for gift sets and gift baskets meant very little
sleep for me during November and December.
As it became clear to me that a little hard work might turn this new hobby
into a profitable business, I began researching the rules and regulations
regarding packaging, labeling and marketing of home made soaps. I also
decided to start looking into a liability insurance policy. Again, the
internet was an invaluable tool for this project. I chose to label my
soaps with plain address labels. I use the computer to print our business
name, location, telephone number and a list of ingredients. I also print,
or handwrite, the name I’ve given that fragrance or style.
I stayed with my simple recipes. The ingredients are readily available to
me and my customers like the products. I have found my market. There are
many soap makers for a customer to choose from. The soaps at craft shows
and on the internet are getting more and more fancy. With more expensive
butters, additives and custom oil combinations. I considered changing my
recipes, dropping the lard and adding herbs or flowers. I may still
develop an herbal line of my own. But right now, my customers are people
who really seem to enjoy the simplicity of my products. I list my
ingredients, in order of the amount used, right on the label. I have never
lost a sale because my labels say “lard” and “lye” right up front. While
there are people who would not feel comfortable using a soap made with
animal by-products, because I use goat’s milk in every bar, there is no
need for me to waste time and resources trying to find a spot in that
Initially, to fill all the new orders and meet the Christmas
deadline I had to invest more money in equipment than I had planned. I was
and still am learning how to make soap. Every new recipe and every custom
order means a little more trial and error. I had to buy more molds to meet
the demand and I bought specialized molds for the custom gift baskets. Also, several botched batches meant losing precious time
some expensive ingredients.
Since I had been buying supplies and materials a little at a time, the
total start-up expenses were spread over a much longer period than they
would have been if I had started making those purchases with the intention
to go into business. Soap making, as a business has been ideal for me. There are several reasons. First, I already have the goats milk, which is
the one ingredient that distinguishes my soap from competition in our
area. Secondly, the “off farm” supplies I need are right down the street
at the local grocery store. Next, the equipment needed can be purchased
inexpensively. For example, my scale, plastic utensils, mixers, blenders,
etc all came from Wal-Mart at prices ranging from .97 to 39.97. The molds
can be purchased as well, but for those first batches, I used old
cardboard boxes, lined with freezer paper. And lastly, I enjoy the work. It’s easy to put in a 16 hour day.
I was sure the business would come to an abrupt halt after Christmas but
that’s not been the case at all. I changed my marketing after the holidays
and started making baskets for birthdays, anniversaries, baby showers and
bridal showers. I have found new suppliers for most of the products and
ingredients I use in order to add more variety and cut expenses. I also
invested in a website. The cost for a website is minimal compared to the
interest it has generated, so far. I am so fortunate to have the
twenty-first century tools to help market my “days past” products.
Now, I am constantly looking for new recipes to try and
products to add to our sales list. We’re making soaps, bath fizzies, lip
balms and several different styles of scented waxes and room fresheners. My mother has taken up candle making and supplies us with coordinating
candles at reasonable prices. I love being at home and doing so much of
what I truly enjoy. I think it must show because the response has been
overwhelming. We now have a business license and the whole family pitches
in to keep the goats cared for and the soap shop well stocked.
Not including the expense of the goats, we invested around $800 in our
soap business this year. From September of 2003 until December 31, 2003,
total sales were a little over $1700. We cleared just under $1000 during
the holiday rush. The goat herd is still our first priority and now our
“girls” are paying for way more than their hay!
My Favorite Soap Recipe
- 1 lb lard Just melted
enough to become liquid
- 3/4 cup fresh goat's
milk partially frozen
- 2 oz lye
- fragrance or essential
oils (to "taste")
First, I put the lard on the stovetop at my very lowest setting.
I recommend using rubber gloves, long sleeves and safety glasses
for every step after this point.
Measure the lye and set it aside. Measure the milk into a glass pyrex measuring cup and slowly add the lye. Adding the lye usually
takes me about 10-15 minutes of slow, constant stirring. (I use a
hard plastic spoon for stirring)
You can just dump the lye into the milk and stir enough to get the
lye dissolved if you aren't worried about the color of your soap. I've done it this way with no problems, but the more slowly you
add your lye, the lighter the color of your soap. Also, if you
allow the lye to heat your milk too quickly, you will get a sort
of burnt/soured milk odor to your soaps.
I watch the lard melting while I stir the lye/milk mixture and
quickly remove the melted lard from the burner as soon as there
are no solid pieces left in the pot.
With such a small batch, I don't bother to check temperatures and
such. When the lye mixture hits the oils, it will saponify. After
the lye is completely dissolved into the milk, I pour the melted
lard into a stainless steel mixing bowl and slowly pour the lye
mixture into the oils, stirring with the plastic spoon. I use a
hand blender (stick mixer) to bring the mixture to trace and then
pour into molds. (if you want to add fragrance oils or soap dyes,
you would add them at the trace and stir them to combine
Let the soap set in the mold for 12-24 hrs, unmold and cut bars. This soap will be cured in about 3 wks.
By making a small batch like this, I can turn out 3-4 different
fragrance/color combinations per day.
I use one of several online lye calculators when I want to change
a batch around. You just type in the type of fat or oil and the
amount and the calculator will tell you how much lye and liquid to