by George Looby, DVM
Billy goats are the butt of many farm-related jokes, but without their services, many enterprises using goats and their by-products would quietly disappear from the scene. Bucks are usually relegated to the farthest corner of the farm, but here at Kingdom Kids Family Farm, they are housed in a barn (aptly named Man Cave), located directly behind the main barn. For those unfamiliar with goats, bucks emit a unique odor during the breeding season which most people rank somewhere between unacceptable to intolerable. This characteristic stands in stark contrast to the product produced by farm owner Michelle Lyon and her partner Sue Barry. Since 2011, they have been manufacturing cosmetic soap using goat milk as a critical ingredient.
Michelle and Sue characterize themselves as two crazy goat ladies whose love of these mischievous animals has become a rapidly growing business. Marketed under the name Sparrow Soaps, they have quietly expanded their line to many retail outlets in southern New England and beyond.
Michelle and her family have been on their 85-acre farm in East Killingly, CT for just two years, and in that time have settled themselves into a productive routine. The farm is mostly wooded, so all of the hay is purchased. The Lyons have taken advantage of one natural characteristic of goats — their natural preference to browse available vegetation. In the time the Lyons have been on the farm, their herd has cleared a fair amount of previously marginal land.
The breed Michelle has chosen to supply the milk for her operation is the Nigerian. At this time, the total number of Nigerian goats in this country is not large, though they are growing in popularity. The Livestock Conservancy — until very recently known as the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy — considers them rare. The USDA has classified the Nigerian as a livestock dairy goat, which makes them eligible for 4-H and FFA projects. The Nigerians’ small size and good personality make them ideal for children and those who have limited experience with goats.
The Nigerian can produce two or more quarts of milk per day. Their milk is higher in butterfat and protein than most other dairy goat breeds. Their reproductive cycle allows for breeding throughout the year — a definite advantage for the owner who needs a year-round supply of milk.
The Lyon herd presently consists of about 25 head, with four does milking at the present time. As the current string nears the end of its lactation, another group of fresh does should be ready to take their place. The average length of a lactation is three to four months, during which time it is possible to get up to 125 gallons from an exceptional animal. For a mature doe weighing perhaps 75 pounds, this is an excellent level of production. Milking is done twice daily by hand. At this time the primary focus is on spring and fall freshening.
For the purposes of making soap, goat milk can be frozen until it is manufactured into soap. This allows the soap to made when other farm activities are less demanding. Each batch of soap is hand-made with goats milk, vegetable oils and essential or fragrance oils.
Partner Sue Barry’s farm is known as Misty Highland Farm, and is also located in East Killingly, CT. Sue also has herd of Nigerian goats, but she has taken her breeding program to a different level by crossing different breeds to develop animals that capture the best characteristics of each of the parent breeds.
In 2000, Sue and her husband Ray purchased the 10-acre farm, which is partially wooded with the remainder open. In 2005 they purchased five Nigerian does, which perhaps unknowingly laid the groundwork for that which was yet to come. Not long after acquiring these foundation animals, Sue took a 4-H course on soap making at UConn. At that point she was hooked. During this early period she gave away her surplus product to friends and family, but soon it became apparent that this approach had its limitations.
Sue met Michelle in 2009, when Michelle purchased a Nigerian doe from her. This relationship soon blossomed into business partnership as the demand for product began to outstrip Sue’s ability to produce it single handedly.
One of Sue’s crosses is a three-way cross that hopefully will meet the meet the expectations Sue has for her replacements — excellent temperment, high production, long lactations and longevity. One cross being evaluated at this time is a Nigerian/Nubian/Lamancha. The Lamancha is is best known for its distinctive short ears. A foundation animal in the herd is a Nubian/Oberhasil cross who has proven to be an outstanding addition, a good milker with a long lactation and an easy kidder. She was bred to a Nigerian buck which resulted in two does. One of which was retained, and has done well.
Sparrow soaps is another example of the extreme diversity of Connecticut agriculture, which is limited only by the imagination, ambition and dedication of those who chose to take on tasks that had been thought to be far-fetched, impractical or too difficult. Sue and Michelle are outstanding examples of what can be done if the will to succeed is there.
Sparrow Soap and how it grew
by George Looby, DVM