By Pamela Dozois
A young boy’s desire for a pet goat sent his family for a ride on a long, winding learning curve that has ended with a business operated by 12-year-old Jack Dowhower and his 9-year-old brother, James.
Jack and James have started a little company, The Brothers – Farm Fresh, making goat’s milk soap, but not without a lot of family time and effort.
Last year Jack asked his parents for a goat, and not just any goat, but a specific one that wasn’t easy to find. He hadn’t considered making soap or starting a soap business. He just wanted a goat.
“If you want a goat, Jack, you have to join 4-H,” said Beth Dowhower, the boys’ mother. “We knew nothing about goats at the time.”
“My son was adamant about wanting only a black goat with white floppy ears. We looked all over, called a whole bunch of breeders and couldn’t find one anywhere. Last year was not a good season for baby goats. We did find one, but it was a male, and we didn’t want a buck because they have an odor that is less than pleasing,” she said.
“We eventually found one and Jack named her Luna. We didn’t know at the time that goats need buddies. Goats are generally very social animals; they get bored and lonely when alone. So we found a friend for Luna and named her Sage. She will be James’ goat when he is old enough to join 4-H.”
“My husband, Andy, built a beautiful redwood pen for them in our tiny back yard. Unfortunately, this particular breed, called Nubian, are quite demanding. Just like little human babies, they let their needs be known, loudly,” she continued. “As soon as they’d see us in the house, they’d start screaming for attention.
“The goats were so loud we thought they may disturb our neighbors, so we decided to take them over to Grandma’s. Now they are in a pasture along with a horse. The beautiful pen has been turned into a chicken coop.”
After acquiring the goats, Dowhower learned that dairy goats were not raised for sale at the 4-H yearly auction. Nubian goats are bred just for dairy, she explained. The milk has a high butter fat content and Nubian goats are great producers of milk.
However, their two goats are dry yearlings, so they don’t produce milk at the moment. They will begin to produce next year, after they are sent out for breeding in October. Until then, the boys get the goat’s milk locally.
4-H clubs hold many yearly fundraisers, and they boys felt they could make and sell goat’s milk soap. So Jack learned how to make it from one of his 4-H leaders.
“I was taking copious notes as the leader was showing Jack and one other student how to make the soap,” she said. “I took a bar home and loved it so much we decided to start our own little business,” Dowhower said.
“I’m learning more about blood lines, so we are looking for another female goat to show at American Dairy Goat Association (ADGA) national shows, beyond what we’re doing with 4-H,” she added. “We will be traveling up north to Willits, California … to see if there is a goat there who is of show quality.”
The boys seem to have struck gold with their small-batch, hand-made soaps. They set up a little table in front of Santa Ynez Feed and Mill just before Mother’s Day and made almost $100.
“James has turned out to be quite a sales person, while Jack is more of a creative hands-on person, making the soap — with my help, of course,” Dowhower said.
“Each soap bar has a different recipe, which Jack oversees. He also names each of the soaps. Once made, the soap bars have to cure for six weeks, until they are ready to be sold. Our prices are very reasonable, $5 a bar; $3 for wholesale.”
“What was exciting for us is that the owner of Lucky Hen Larder in Santa Ynez bought our soap for her store. That was our first big sale,” she said proudly. “Then the boys sold a quantity to Plenty Boutique in Santa Ynez and then they filled their second order to Blair Fox Cellars in Los Olivos.”
The boys are saving their money for a big purchase down the road, or for college, or vet bills.
“The money goes into a large Mason jar at the moment, but I plan on opening an account at the bank for them,” she said. “They are learning how to save their money and not squander it on toys or impulse purchases.”
“We are slowly starting to take bigger step towards merchandising on-line, starting a website and eventually becoming involved in social media,” she said. “It’s another learning curve.”
“Making soap is fun for us,” said Dowhower. “I didn’t think it would be so addictive and so educational. It’s a great experience for my boys. Their soap won Best in Show … at the 4-H Exhibit Day on May 18. It was their first time entering the show. So we have decided we are going to enter our soap at the Santa Barbara County Fair.
“All of this is new to us,” she said. “It is definitely a learning experience, and we’ve had some technical failures, like when we added some rose oil into the mix and the whole batch seized up and had to be disposed of. But it is great fun for me and the boys. And we’re really proud of them.”
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