September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.
"Start with frozen milk," Brian said.
Making goat milk soap is a trade Brian has mastered over the last three years, and one he and his wife, Kärin, never imagined they'd be doing. But then again, they also never thought they'd be milking dairy goats on a 20-acre farm near Milaca, Minn.
"I always wanted to have a farm, since childhood. But Kärin, it was never her dream," Brian said.
"It's hard work, and I don't like hard work," she said, smiling.
The McCanns, with their two children - Mackenzie (20) and Dillon (17) - moved to the Milaca area eight years ago, living in a house across the street from the farm they now own. At that time, Brian was working as a die caster in the Twin Cities and Kärin as an elementary school teacher in Zimmerman, Minn.
"[After we bought the house] this farm came up for sale. I said, 'Wouldn't it have been nice to get the farm?' She said, 'You're crazy,'" Brian said.
When the farm came up for sale again four years later, however, they purchased it. Goats came shortly after, with the purchase of two pygmy goats as pets for Mackenzie in August 2008.
"I started researching goats [after that]," Brian said. "It turns out 70 percent of the world eats goat meat. With a large minority population between here and St. Cloud [Minn.], we thought we could find a niche market selling goat meat."
In March 2009, the McCanns bought four bred Boer (a meat breed) does, which kidded one month later, rapidly growing their herd. Instead of finding a market selling meat, however, they found a market raising breeding stock.
"So we got more selective into breeding stock," Brian said.
When they came across a herd of eight Nubian/Saanen cross does for sale, along with a vacuum pump and belly milker, they decided to try their hand at milking goat.
"We got dairy goats and fell in love with them," Brian said. "Boer goats are nice, but dairy goats are more personable."
Shortly after buying the dairy goats, the company Brian for worked shut down. Instead of looking for a new job off the farm, the McCanns began searching for ways to make their farm profitable.
They started selling raw goat milk at $2 a quart, but USDA regulations on advertising the sales of raw milk made establishing a customer base difficult. As an outlet for the excess goat milk, they purchased dairy bull calves, adding to their herd of Scottish Highland cattle. The idea for making goat milk soap came after Brian read an article on the subject in one of Kärin's magazines.
"When you are unemployed and looking for ways to make money, you look hard. Especially in the winter time, you have a lot of time [to look]," Brian said. "It took a lot of trial and error to make a decent batch of soap ... It's hard to find a good recipe, because once people get a recipe down, they don't want to give it up."
Internet searches were his main avenue for finding information. Brian learned to tweak the recipes, finding the right mix of lye and oils. He also discovered the benefits of consistency and starting with frozen goat milk.
Today Brian makes goat milk soap year-round. The 15 different varieties include a mix of fragrance bars, essential oil bars and fragrance-free bars, some with ground oatmeal and some without.
"I get into a soap-making mode where I will make one batch per day every day for a week or two," Brian said.
Each batch nets around 44 four to five-ounce bars. The bars are individually hand-packaged and labeled by Kärin, with the labels reflecting the McCann family through the Scottish/Irish plaid pattern and a scene from their farm. From there, Kärin - who continues to teach - sells the soap at farmer's markets in Zimmerman, Princeton and Sauk Rapids, Minn., as well as at craft fairs and off the farm. This last year, McCann goat milk soap could also be found in two Twin Cities stores - Digs Studio and Mitrebox Framing Studio - thanks to the efforts of Kärin's brother and sister-in-law, who also helped design the McCanns' label.
"It's the perfect gift," Brian said of the soap. "You take the soap home, it smells awesome and you can use it."
Not only does it smell good, the glycerin and capric-capryllic triglyceride found in goat milk soap are natural moisturizers that help with a variety of skin conditions, such as acne, eczema and psoriasis, Brian said.
The McCanns are currently milking six of their nearly 40 goats, which includes registered Alpine and grade Nubian goats in the dairy herd, Boer goats, two angora goats and the original two pygmy goats. In addition, they raise grass-fed beef and around 600 pastured broiler chickens.
They don't have any plans to increase their dairy goat herd - quality over quantity, Brian said - and have a goal of selling 1,000 bars of soap per year.
"I don't want to be a slave to making goat milk soap. I just want to have a little farm and be happy," Brain said.
Milking goats and making soap - and farming in general - has been a shocking lifestyle change for the McCanns, but its one they wouldn't change, even though it came through Brian losing his job.
"All the things that got us to this point have turned out - in the long run - to be blessings," Kärin said. "It's been a total shift of what's important ... In retrospect, I wish it would have happened sooner, not when the kids were as old as they were. I think it would have been better for them."
For more on the McCanns, visit their Web site: www.mccanngoatfarm.com.