FRANKFORT, Maine ― The chorus of animals at Lally Broch Farm sounds like a well rehearsed choir. There are the turkeys and assorted fowl, which gawk around the grounds handling the low notes. And then there are the pups which carry through harmonies with their gentle howls.
But tucked in the barn is the backbone of the whole ensemble: about 40 goats extending their bleats and bahs, seeking attention from the farm’s owner, Sonja Twombly.
While Twombly said she never imagined herself becoming a homesteader or a farmer, she can identify all her goats by their individual sounds, solidifying her notion that the herd is more like a group of pets rather than farm animals.
Further proving that the farm’s inhabitants are more closely aligned with pets is the fact that none of the animals on the farm are raised for meat, meaning that the animals on the farm will live out their days there providing the family with other means of nourishment. However, making a living off of the farm with this ethos takes a bit more time.
“It’s not so much that it’s hard, it’s that it’s not profitable, to be honest that’s where it is. [My husband] could quit his job tomorrow if we wanted to do things that commercial farmers do. It’s not worth it for us to compromise. It will take us a little longer to get there, but we feel that the animals in our care and our own happiness will be worth waiting,” Twombly said.
Twombly and her husband, Sean, have been homesteading for about eight years. Caring for their herd of animals, making products from the goats’ milk and chickens’ eggs, as well as growing enough produce to provide for their family’s needs and provide several farm shares, keeps Twombly and her husband busy, though he works off the farm part time doing construction to supplement their income.
Aside from making cheese and yogurts for her family’s own needs, Twombly uses goat’s milk to make goat’s milk-based soap, which she sells at farmers’ markets and in several stores throughout Maine. Twombly started making goat’s milk soap about seven years ago, fueled by a desire to know what was in her family’s bath products but also as a way to utilize the milk her goats were producing.
“It’s better for us and it’s a way for our goats to actually support themselves,” Twombly said.“We’re a no-kill farm and all the animals that live on the farm need to have some way of paying their rent, and this is how our goats do it.”
A combination of art and science
In nearby Winterport, Shea Rolnick is also supporting her goat habit by making goat’s milk soap. Rolnick is the sole proprietor at Knotty Goat Soapery, formerly Gentle Meadow Goat Farm, which she started about six years ago.
For the last five years, Rolnick has been making goat’s milk soap from the milk she gathers from her herd of goats, which at current standing, includes nine goats.
“I needed to find a way to support my goat habit. I looked into a bunch of different ways to do that, whether it was getting fiber goats, whether [it was] selling milk or making cheese. The thing that I found most interesting and that would for me the best is soap,” Rolnick said.
For Rolnick, the combination of chemistry and artistic taste that goes into making soap was intriguing. “I absolutely love soapmaking. There is a beautiful blend of science and artistry that goes with making soap and I really loved the whole process,” she said.
At it’s core, soapmaking is a scientific process. By blending oils, water or milk, and lye together at specific temperatures, chemical reactions occur, turning the ingredients into a soap mixture.
While both Twombly and Rolnick agree that making soap at home is generally simple, it’s the scientific part that takes some getting used to. Since lye is caustic ― but essential in making soap from scratch ― careful attention must be paid to the temperatures at which the lye mixture is added to the warmed oils because if done incorrectly, the mixture could “volcano,” much like pasta does when it boils over.
But after making a few batches ― carefully following recipe instructions ― the scientific part of soapmaking becomes quite simple, both women say.
Once the science of soap is complete, then comes the art.
“There’s some serious science that goes into it,” Rolnick said. “And then there’s the artistry of finding what scents you like, what colors you want, what textures you want, and how all those things go together, what combinations works and which ones don’t at all.”
Twombly and Rolnick both make soap that consists of all natural ingredients, right down to the essential oils they use to give the soap a scent. However, Twombly and Rolnick differ in the level of finesse they add to their soaps.
Rolnick, says the soaps she makes are relatively simple, but she does use organic materials such as peppermint powder and activated charcoal to give color, along with ingredients like oatmeal and coffee grounds to add texture to some of her bars of soap.
Given that Twombly makes a host of other products, she likes to keep her soapmaking process relatively barebones. She doesn’t add colors, she doesn’t add bits of herbs, but she’s proud of the wholesome bar of soaps she makes for her family and customers.
“I have so many other things that I do, for me keep [soap] simple,” Twombly said. “This is a cold pressed soap, no colors, no dyes, no additives. It’s just a good, honest bar of soap, that’s going to get you smelling good.”