September 9, 2023 at 8:00 a.m.
Caprine Farming

A business birthed by accident

Tautges uses goat milk for soap, finds needed income

By AMY KYLLO | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment
Staff Writer

Karen Tautges plays with a goat at Rapha Farms in Greenfield, Minnesota. Tautges started her goat herd with two goats in the Twin Cities suburb of Minnetonka. (PHOTO SUBMITTED)


GREENFIELD, Minn. — What started seven years ago as two goats in the midst of the Twin Cities suburb of Minnetonka has grown into 10,000 bars of goat milk soap sold each year across the nation.

Karen Tautges is the owner of Rapha Farms in Greenfield.

Eight years ago, Tautges’ then 12-year-old daughter Sarah started asking for goats. Sarah is a survivor of childhood brain cancer who sustained a permanent brain injury.

“A lot of the time that I spent raising her was spent trying to do what I could to bring her joy,” Tautges said.

They ended up liking the goats so much that five years ago they moved to the countryside of Greenfield so that they could expand their herd. There, at a 4.5-acre farm that used to have horses, Tautges established a home for her goats.
Tautges’ soap business was forged out of necessity in July 2018. She was at the beginning of a divorce and going through a loss of income, including almost a year without any child support.

“I (asked) God, ‘I need a different income source, and I need it to be reliable,’” Tautges said. “I was kind of going psycho there.”

A week later, her goat milk’s flavor turned so completely goat-like that her milk customers would not drink it. Not knowing what to do, a Google search told her to make her milk into soap. Her first batch, made from ingredients at the grocery store and an internet recipe, was poured into a cardboard box lined with wax paper and given to family and friends.

“Everyone was like, ‘Karen, this is so good; you need to sell this,’” Tautges said.
In 2019, her soap business became established, and then, the coronavirus pandemic of 2020 gave her an unexpected boost. Tautges was making and selling hand sanitizer from 120-proof Everclear mixed with essential oils and sweet almond oil. With every order of hand sanitizer she shipped, she also sent a sample of her goat milk soap.

Her efforts yielded results beyond her expectations. Today, her goat milk soap is sold all over the nation. Tautges even ships soap to Alaska and Hawaii.
Currently, Tautges owns 13 goats: two wethers, four bucks and seven does. She houses them in the horse barn on her property and milks them in the old tack room. Tautges owns a milking machine, which she purchased when she had issues with her arms with tendonitis from milking, but she usually milks her goats by hand because it is quicker.

A collection of goat milk soap is displayed at Rapha Farms in Greenfield, Minnesota. Karen Tautges makes thousands of bars of goat milk soap each year. (PHOTO SUBMITTED)


The goats are fed alfalfa hay while in milk and grass hay when not. During the summer, the goats graze on pasture. Tautges sources her hay from a neighbor who is a bovine dairy farmer. For bedding, Tautges uses the hay wasted by the goats.

Tautges aims to kid her does in late February or early March. She then milks the goats for two to three months to get enough milk for her soap for the year and then dries them off around the end of May.

The milk to make soap with is stored in three freezers. Tautges makes her soap and other products in the basement level of her home in an area completely reserved for the business.

Tautges sells her soaps in stores, online and through farmers markets in St. Paul, Minneapolis, Plymouth, Maple Grove, Chanhassen, Hopkins and at the Cargill headquarters. Tautges has a group of employees to help run booths at farmers markets. Each employee tracks sales through an app on their phone, and with this data, Tautges keeps them stocked.

A business practice that has been important to her, Tautges said, has been a strict adherence to only putting out quality products, even at the beginning when she was a mom desperate for money.

“I don’t sell something when there’s something wrong with it,” Tautges said. “It’s pretty easy to make a batch of something that has something wrong with it.”
Tautges has received positive verbal feedback from customers. She has heard of chronic bumps clearing up, rashes that have lasted for months going away, her shampoo working as well as an $80 medicated psoriasis shampoo and a customer being able to use her soap instead of medications for eczema.

“I’m just really passionate about trying to help people with skin issues because I know how awful that is,” Tautges said.

Besides her farmers market booth operators, Tautges also employs several high school students part time, and a good friend watches the farm and sends out orders when Tautges is out of town.

Originally, a factor in starting the soap business was to provide Sarah a career which accommodated her brain injury. Sarah worked for Tautges until a year ago when she moved on from the business and recently married.

Since Sarah will not be taking over the business, the 56-year-old business owner is looking for someone to eventually pass the business onto.

“I’m hoping to find somebody, even a family (member), somebody who needs a little bit of help who has the potential to be able to sell my product that could partner with me,” Tautges said. “Ideally, if there was somebody trying to get out of abuse, that’s kind of our focus. We like to try to help lift up young people.”


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