Goats' milk soap gets national recognition
A small herd of goats would like to change that.
Nicole Opie of Janesville is the proud and doting owner of five small goats that live on a farmette west of the city in Janesville Township. Two of the goats, Swiss Alpines named Symphony and Little Peanut, are milking goats and the power behind Opie's Goats, a brand of soap that's getting national recognition.
The others are Maggie and Louise—two young females who aren't yet milking—and Charlie—a neutered male who's just around for the company.
In less than a year, Opie's product line has gone from "zero" to "coast to coast." Opie gives credit to the quality of her goats' milk and the growing interest among consumers in supporting "micro-agriculture," she said.
Opie, who works full time at Grainger in e-mail marketing, launched her organic soap line in February 2010.
The business grew out of Opie's skills in marketing and public relations, as well as her lifelong love of "dabbling in chemistry."
"I've been able to put all those interests together into a tangible business," Opie said.
The whole "goat thing" started when Opie began drinking raw milk. She won't say where she bought it because Wisconsin prohibits the sale of raw milk on farms, but she swears by raw milk's health benefits. Opie has allergies, she said.
Since she switched to raw milk—as opposed to pasteurized milk bought at a store—Opie's health has been excellent, she said.
After a time, she wondered if it would be cheaper to buy a goat, she said.
At first, Opie happily ignored ordinances and kept her goats in the city of Janesville. In fact, little Louise was potty trained and lived in the house with Opie. At least she did until she jumped over the couch and onto the kitchen counter, where she slid hard enough to push everything to the floor.
"Rule No. 1: Don't keep them in the house," Opie said.
Today, the goats live in a pasture and a cozy barn with a pony and a dozen chickens. One difficult thing about owning goats is building enclosures that will hold them, Opie said.
They are natural problem solvers and good at opening gates, she said.
Goats also are entertaining and have curious personalities, Opie said.
"They're like dogs with bad manners," she said.
More people in the world drink goat milk than cow milk, and goat meat is the most commonly eaten meat in the world, she said.
That's partly because goats are small and easier to handle than cattle, Opie said.
"Goats are very easily scaleable," she said. "You want more milk, you get another goat. You get enough but don't have to throw any away."
To the milk from her own goats, Opie adds spices such as cinnamon or turmeric that have health benefits, she said. Half of each 4-ounce bar of soap is milk, she said.
A gallon of milk makes more than 60 bars. In summer, each goat produces more than a gallon of milk a day, Opie said. She freezes much of it for use later.
One of her soap recipes includes wild blackberries from the Janesville Township farm where her goats live, she said.
She does not add fragrances or colors, she said.
Each batch of soap must cure for two weeks before it is ready to cut.
Successfully making and selling soap requires business savvy and dedication, Opie said. It also takes a lot of pavement pounding, she said.
"Soap is a commodity, but it's a very brand-driven business," she said.
Opie's first sales were to boutiques and neighborhood organic stores in New York and California. Now, she's "backfilling" and selling soap locally at farmers markets and stores such as Woodman's and Basics, she said.
She also sells soap online, although she won't sell or ship directly to consumers in communities where she sells to retailers, she said.
Opie mixes each batch of soap by hand in her laundry room.
"My dining room is shipping, receiving and packing," she said.
Still, selling soap coast to coast takes the work of more than one person, she said.
"It takes a village," Opie said.
Her mom wraps bars of soap. Her brother is good at pitching the soap to shoppers at farmers markets and stores, she said. A friend takes turns milking Symphony and Little Peanut so Opie only has to milk once per day.
"It's not a one-person operation," Opie said.