Jessica Grabau holds one of her Easter kids — her goats have been kidding since mid-April. GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/SPRING VALLEY TRIBUNE
Jessica Grabau holds one of her Easter kids — her goats have been kidding since mid-April. GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/SPRING VALLEY TRIBUNE
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Jessica Grabau's expanding goat herd is the source of the good, clean fun she accidentally started enjoying several years ago when she got her first goat and began experimenting with making goat milk soap.

"My first goat, I got for a graduation present from my husband when we were dating and I graduated from college the first time," she explained. "That was 13 to 14 years ago, and the first one was just a pet. A few years later, I got a couple more and decided to try raising goats because they're easy keepers."

Now, she has a small herd of goats in a pasture behind her Oak Hill Drive home outside of Spring Valley. She has also expanded her production of soaps and now also makes lotions from natural ingredients.

"This spring, nine are going to kid - we're kidding kind of late this year," said Grabau about her goats. "It already has been crazy, but we're at the official beginning of the kidding season."

Her original fascination with goat-keeping began with a visit to the Minnesota Zoo, where she was engaged by the goats in the petting farm where visitors were able to feed the goats.

"I actually did want a goat for graduation," she said. "I grew up in Wykoff, and my aunts were always calling me 'Ellie Mae' because I was always carrying around animals, stray dogs, anything. The only farm experience I had was spending summers at my grandparents'. It was so fun feeding the goats at the zoo because all it takes is a little food to get them crazy. Another reason to have goats is that since our pasture is so small, we went with much smaller animals...I've always wanted a farm. Little did I know, they'd take over my life."

With a dozen goats in her pasture, "Ellie Mae (Clampett)" Grabau can't envision living in town, especially since she and her husband, Duane, live in the house he grew up in that comes with the pasture that serves as home to the goats that eventually helped Jessica begin her cottage goat soap-making enterprise. She noted that she first made soap when one of her goats had more milk than its kid could drink but that the Grabaus didn't want to use in their kitchen - Jessica decided to purchase a soap-making kit and give goat soaps a go.

"The very first time was very easy. I had a kit that told me how to do it step by step, and everything was pre-measured," she explained. "I started going off on my own after that, and it was very trying. I had some I had to throw out. And at first, my husband didn't want me to make it in the house because of the lye in it, so I made it in the garage. I hadn't originally planned on making soap to sell, but I did a lot more research to come up with some I thought was good enough to try selling or giving away. I got several different books from my basement or the library, and there are blogs that I follow that show how somebody else makes their soaps."

After making more than the couple could possibly use at home in one year, Jessica chose to put several bars on her garage sale, and she was very surprised at how quickly they sold. They were the first things gone that morning, so she thought she should try making some more.

Then she started pouring the soaps - made of coconut oil, castor oil, olive oil, lard, shortening milk, shea butter, rice bran and safflower oil - into molds and adding a few fragrances, such as lavender, apple, oatmeal, milk and honey, sandalwood, and cinnamon oatmeal - and keeping some unscented bars for people who are allergic or sensitive to fragrances, selling them at craft shows and introducing herself and her products to area shopkeepers as she feels it's important to share her soaps.

"I like knowing what goes into soaps and lotions, and if I buy stuff, I can't be sure what's in the ingredients because most of it, I can't even say," she said. "I tried to keep my ingredient list simple."

That's why she also began making lotions.

"My lotions have milk, glycerin, coconut oil, olive oil, beeswax, vitamin E oil, aloe vera and fragrance oil. I started making lotions in the last three to four years. It was very experimental at first because the only recipes I could find online were on a goat-raising website," she said. "The first time I made lotion, I used the aloe vera that you get in the drugstore, and it turned green. I didn't think it would sell, but my aunts liked it. It took a lot of research to put all the ingredients together, but once I'm satisfied that I can put it on my skin, I'm ready to try more."

And while most people might think that women are her primary customers, she observed that men have been very pleased to use her soaps and lotions.

"The soap works really good on hands and doesn't dry your skin out. My husband uses it, and so does a gentleman who works at Kruegel Gas. He said that it cleans his hands really well," said Grabau. "The lotions are really good for dry skin, and in the summer, if you've got a sunburn on your face, they're good because they have so much aloe in them."

Jessica - or "Ellie Mae" - works at the Mayo Clinic, but her weekends are often filled with making suds, and she aspires to be available for her customers to ask questions if her products are on the shelves of area stores or if she's entered them in cooperative craft shows.

"I'm trying to keep it all natural and all local. I have grown up around here, and I'm local. I like to know that I'm selling to people locally, to people I've lived down the block from. I think that's much more satisfying than going big. I really enjoy doing this once I get a routine and things go well." She continued, "My favorite things are ordering new scents and new molds and getting to see the end results, then seeing what people think."

Grabau's soaps and lotions are available at The Salsa Guy in Spring Valley - thanks to her neighbor, Buster Johnson, suggesting that she ask the proprietor to allot her some display space, at Just So Sewing and Crafts in Chatfield, and also at DeWall's Country Crafts in Grand Meadow.

She still has her best sales at the Spring Valley fall craft sale, and she plans to have a booth at the Eliza Jane Sale during Wilder Fest and at Ag Days, too. Eventually, someday, she would love to have her own little store to display her soaps while also doing some crocheting and other crafts.

She looks out her kitchen window, watching as her little milk-producing goat herd wanders from one end of the pasture to the other, the new kids trailing the does.

"It's fun to see their joy for life," she said. "They get so excited about everything."

For more information on Grabau's goat soaps and lotions, log onto www.etsy.com/shop/OakHillSoap, e-mail her at oakhillsoap@hotmail.com, or call (507) 346-2750.