Our Grand Adventure to be Goat Farmers
In the summer of 2006, my husband Nate and I were still living in our tiny one room apartment in the heart of Atlanta. We had dreams of making a life in the country, and the timing seemed right to take a leap of faith. I found a small farm for sale online. We drove to Tennessee to see it in person and fell in love. Next thing you know we had quit our jobs, loaded everything we owned into a rental truck and said goodbye to our old life. When we moved to our new farm we had no jobs, no friends, and no clue but we had each other and we were on a grand adventure.
To say there is a learning curve involved in farming would be a huge understatement. We did not know anything. But we learned. Our first spring on the farm, we learned what a “tandom” of dirt is because I ordered one to be delivered for our garden. A tandom is way more dirt than any human being should attempt to move with a shovel. Ever seen a full sized dump truck overflowing with topsoil? That’s a tandom. Our first spring on the farm we also learned neither of us has a green thumb! Next we tried chickens. Our neighbor brought over our first batch of chickens, and they were so cute. I used to sit and watch them scratching and pecking doing their special chicken-y things. We named them after our favorite country singers Merle, Hank, Dolly, and Loretta. We were hooked! The chickens led to the goats and then to more chickens and more goats. And at one point we had rabbits too.
After a couple years, we started getting the hang of things. We were selling eggs and milk, meat from our rabbits and harvesting the occasional vegetable. Wow, we were farming! It was so rewarding being with the animals, especially our goats. We were now breathing fresh air and living the good life on our farm. Soon we began to study ways we could be full-time farmers.
Making a Living with Goat Milk Soaps
We bought our first goats in 2007; twin Nubian does we named Moon and Shine. We brought them home and set them out into our overgrown field. They hid from us immediately. We had to stalk them like big game hunters just to get a glimpse of them. Eventually, they warmed up to us and before too long our goats had become the centerpiece of our farm. More goats followed, all Nubians which is a large dairy breed known for their pendulous ears and high-quality milk. Everything at Tottys Bend Farm began to revolve around our goats. Proper food and shelter, mineral requirements and fencing (of course) were the first steps toward establishing a healthy, productive herd.
After the first baby goats were born, it was time to start milking. Nate built our milk stand, and we converted an outbuilding into what we now use as our milk parlor. We even practiced on a friend’s goat, but nothing prepared us for the real thing. Our goat Shine did not like being milked. The only part she seemed to enjoy was kicking over the milk pail which she waited to do until it was practically full. Moon would fall and roll around on the ground as soon as we tried walking her to the milk room. Goats can be total drama queens. Eventually, we all got the hang of milking. It became routine. And by routine I mean every day– even when it’s 101 degrees outside or when it’s cold and raining or it’s Christmas. Luckily we love our goats to pieces and milking them is time we enjoy together. It’s a chance for us to give them treats and special attention.
With our herd of 20 goats, we were getting quite a bit of milk, so we stared selling it through a herd share program. This gives an opportunity for folks to buy a share of our goat herd in exchange for a portion of the herd’s production and was popular with our customers. We sold all the shares we had and started a waiting list. We enjoyed providing high-quality goat milk to our customers but when we crunched the numbers we were barely breaking even. By 2009, we were floundering with the farm, not knowing what direction we should go in next. That summer our lives were changed forever when a friend gave us a bar of goat milk soap!
I was amazed by how wonderful my super sensitive skin felt after using that bar of goat milk soap! It felt so good that I immediately became obsessed with learning how to make my very own goat milk soap with all the best, natural ingredients. Nate created our test kitchen where we experimented with countless batches of soap, tweaking our recipe until we came up with the one we use today. At first we made goat milk soap just for us. Then we started giving it to friends and family. Everyone loved it! Their reaction encouraged us to introduce our new soap to our herd share customers. Soon, we were selling our goat milk soap at local farmers markets, gift shops and eventually our soaps were picked up by Nashville area Whole Foods stores. Now all of the milk produced on Tottys Bend Farm goes into making our goat milk soap. Now we’ve become a full fledged soap farm with over 30 varieties of goat milk soaps, lotions, and other skin care items. Looking back, I wonder if either of us would have believed what the future had in store. Now there’s little time to reflect on such things these days, and that’s a good thing!
We believe that to live life to its fullest requires taking risks and being flexible. It means assuming responsibility for your happiness and making a commitment not to settle for less. It means paying attention to the little things, accepting help and expressing gratitude. This philosophy is what we bring to our business. We are driven to be the best we can be. We are inspired by other people who do the same. We pride ourselves in caring for our goats and using the highest quality ingredients available so that we can produce the best goat milk soap for our customers.