Entering the barn three at a time, the goats obediently leap up on their milking stands and dive right in to the bowls of feed waiting for them. They stand docile and quiet as Autumn sits down at the business end of each goat with her stainless steel pail and milking stool.
It’s a morning routine that everyone knows: Autumn, her goats – and even Fang the cat, who takes his station underneath the udders, waiting for Autumn to squirt the first pulls into his whiskery face.
Milking the goats is, of course, the first stage in making goat milk soap, a one-time hobby that Autumn has made into a successful source of income. Her Down Home Soap Works products have quickly become a hot item in Carroll and Haralson counties, and she has plans to increase her daily production and reach out to boutique stores across the metro area.
Store-bought soap, Autumn says, is nothing more than a “chemical bar” from which all the glycerins have been removed. Among its many uses, glycerin is used to make lotions and other skin moisturizers, and most commercial soap makers take it out so it can be sold separately.
“What you’re getting at the store is a detergent bar that’s harsh on your skin,” she says. Her soaps, on the other hand, still contain their glycerin “so your skin feels so much better. You don’t have to worry about it drying your skin out.”
Autumn, who has been raising award-winning goats for years, is allergic to such kinds of soap. She first discovered goat-milk soap when she was at an exhibition, and when she tried some at home she was amazed at its benefits. She then decided to try to make some for herself. It was, she says, a learning experience.
“I couldn’t get it the way I wanted it. And it took me a couple of years to tweak it and make it right.”
When she did perfect the process, she began making it in small batches for herself and her family. Then she made larger batches for friends. And now she is making even larger batches for a growing group of fans. “We’ve been making soap like crazy,” she says.
Experts say goat milk has proteins which contain essential amino acids as well as vitamins and minerals. When dissolved into lye and mixed with the kinds of organic oils that Autumn uses, the result is a scented bar of soap that is practically designed at the molecular level to moisturize and soften skin.
Autumn lives on the edge of Carroll County, on Bell Road just south of Interstate 20. It is an old farming community, and the farm on which she, her husband J.J. and children Raven and Mason live has been in J.J.’s family for years. It is full of animals – dogs, cats, turkeys, miniature donkeys, hogs – and of course, the herd of 17 dairy does and two bucks.
Although each goat is a registered prize-winner, they are not coddled and treated as pets. This is, after all, a farm – or, more precisely, a factory for raising dairy goats that literally pay their own way in life. The money she makes
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from selling soap, Autumn spends on caring for the animals and exhibiting them across the South.
Younger does – those which have not yet “freshened,” or started producing milk after kidding – are kept segregated from the aggressive milkers, or “herd queens.” The does are bred in the fall and Autumn expects the new kids to appear in the first weeks of February.
Autumn raises several breeds, including LaMancha, Anglo-Nubian and Toggenburg. The latter is the oldest breed of goat and therefore fit most people’s idea of what a goat should look like. LaManchas, on the other hand, look very odd since their ears lack external “sound-catcher” cartilage that most animals have.
Each breed produces milk with various characteristics and levels of butter fat, but for purposes of soap-making any goat’s milk will do, so long as it is pure and organic, Autumn says.
She makes the milk in her kitchen, mixing lye with milk so that it dissolves in a process called saponification. After oils are mixed in, the product “kind of looks like pudding,” and is then poured into molds which look like long bread boxes. The soap then cures over a period of three weeks, and then is packaged for sale.
The soaps have a variety of fragrances, including kudzu, and are sold at Glenda’s Notions and Gifts in Buchanan, The Farmer’s Cupboard in Carrollton, and through Down Home Soap Works’ website.
Right now, Autumn says, she is content with how her business is doing but recognizes that her products have been gaining in popularity.
“I make soap every day,” she says. “I make four batches a day. And I’ve ordered molds that will be here shortly and we’ll be making six batches a day.”