September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.

Goats and soap

Neels family turns 4-H dairy goat project into soap-making business
Tricia and Karisa Neels display the soap mold that was created from an old knickknack rack, along with a homemade jig for cutting their soap into bars. The Neels family has been making and selling goat milk soap for the past four years.<br /><!-- 1upcrlf -->PHOTO BY JERRY NELSON
Tricia and Karisa Neels display the soap mold that was created from an old knickknack rack, along with a homemade jig for cutting their soap into bars. The Neels family has been making and selling goat milk soap for the past four years.<br /><!-- 1upcrlf -->PHOTO BY JERRY NELSON

By by Jerry Nelson- | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

SHERMAN, S.D. - Soap has been around for thousands of years. Once a handcrafted, homemade item, soap is now largely an industrial product.
The Neels family is resurrecting the art of crafting soap in small batches, in a farm kitchen. This burgeoning soap-making enterprise began with the purchase of a single goat.
"I got my first goat in 2005," said Tricia Neels. "I was walking around at the county fair when I saw some baby goats. I asked Dad if I could buy one and he said ok, but I would have to take really good care of it. And if I did a good job, we could breed her so that she could have her own babies."
Tricia chose a Toggenburg, a dairy breed and the oldest registered goat breed in the world.
Tricia, 20, and her sister, Karisa, 14, live with their parents, Ron and Monica, on a farm acreage located a few miles north of Sherman, S.D. Ron owns and operates a trucking business and Monica works for a cardboard manufacturer.
True to her word, Tricia took excellent care of her little doe. When that doe had matured, Ron kept his end of the bargain and Tricia's herd of goats began to multiply. She now owns eight Toggenburg nannies.
"In 2006 I began showing dairy goats at the county fair in Luverne, S.D.," said Tricia, who belonged to a 4-H club in Rock County. "I learned that you have to take the kids away from the nannies shortly after they are born and milk the nannies. If you let the kids nurse, it wrecks the conformity of the nannies' udders."
Tricia purchased a goat milking stand and began to milk her goats twice a day.
"It was quite a learning experience," Tricia said. "One of our nannies got mastitis and we didn't know what to do about it, so we consulted with a dairy farmer neighbor. He gave us some advice and we were able to clear the mastitis right up."
"None of us had any prior experience with dairying," Ron said. "The closest I got was when I hauled milk from dairy farms for eight years. I didn't learn much about dairying, but I did make some contacts that were useful."
A problem arose when the milk production from Tricia's goats exceeded the needs of their kids.
"I didn't want to throw the milk away after going through all that work to get it," said Tricia. "So I began to freeze it until we could figure something out."
Their refrigerator's freezer soon filled with goat milk. Two additional chest freezers were obtained and also filled with bags of frozen goat milk.
"I couldn't buy groceries because there was goat milk everywhere," Monica said.
An epiphany came to the Neels family a few years ago when Ron was at home recovering from back surgery.
"We had to do something with the milk and I suggested to Tricia that she could use it to make soap," said Ron.
"I didn't know the first thing about making soap," said Tricia, who is currently pursuing a LPN degree at Southeast Tech in Sioux Falls, S.D. "I did some research and was intrigued. So I ordered some soap-making supplies and we began to experiment."
Their first efforts at soap-making yielded mixed results.
"We went through a lot of trial and error," said Tricia. "One recipe we tried was supposed to smell like honey, but it came out smelling like bacon. Then we thought our soap was too soft, so we began to add more palm oil. Then it wouldn't lather very well, so we added glycerin."
Besides goat's milk, the Neelses' soap contains various kinds of vegetable fat, along with oatmeal.
"We use essential oils instead of fragrances in our soap," said Tricia. "Fragrances contain alcohol, which dries the skin."
After they had perfected their recipes, there was the matter of forming the soap into bars.
"We tried pouring the soap into an enamel cookie sheet, but it took the enamel right off," said Tricia. "We finally took an old knickknack rack that Mom wasn't using and nailed 1- by 4-inch dividers in it to make trays. Then we lined it with nonstick plastic sheeting."
Once the soap has cured into a solid, it's cut into bars with a homemade jig built from used lumber.
The theme of reusing old items can be seen throughout the Neelses' operation. An ancient hog house has been converted into a goat stable and milking facility. Steel bathroom doors and partitions were saved from the dumpster and used as walls for goat pens. Cups salvaged from an worn-out grain leg were repurposed as grain troughs.
"We got a used vacuum pump and a Surge belly bucket to milk our goats last year," said Tricia. "That really cut down on our milking time."
Once the Neelses had perfected their selection of soaps, they launched a marketing effort. Tricia moved this process along by using her goats and soap as an FFA project when she was a high school senior.
"I created brochures as part of my FFA project," Tricia said. "I was very shy, so giving my presentation was difficult for me. But it helped me learn how to speak to the public."
For the past four years, the Neelses have been selling their soap at local craft fairs and flea markets. They have received numerous positive comments about their product.
"Goat milk soap is great for your skin," said Tricia. "We have a customer who had eczema on his face for many years. He began using our soap and the eczema cleared up. It's wonderful to know that we've made a positive difference in someone's life."
After their soap has been cut into bars, Tricia and Karisa shave off the corners.
"It makes the bars so that they'll fit in your hand better," said Karisa.
The soap shavings are then put into small cloth bags that can be used as air fresheners.
"I always have one on the air vent in my truck and people can't believe how nice it smells in there," Ron said.
Tricia and Karisa have won numerous 4-H awards for their goats and their soap.
"Karisa took some soap to the Rock County Fair," Monica said. "But we found out that there wasn't a category for soap. So Karisa carved a flower into a bar of soap and entered it as an art project and got first place!"
"Last year, the girls' goats earned a trip to the Minnesota State Fair," said Ron. "That was quite an experience for our family. We didn't realize there were so many breeds of goats."
Tricia and Karisa's goals include earning enough money to support a Web site where they can promote their soap.
"I've learned a lot from this experience," said Tricia. "I've learned patience and the value of hard work. But above all, I've learned how important my family is to me."
You can view the Neelses' Facebook page at:[[In-content Ad]]


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