Anita Daggett said the explosion of consumer interest in all-natural and healthful products has really helped her business, but she probably wouldn’t make her goat milk soaps any other way.
“I make products like I would want to use them,” said Daggett, who makes her Bonita Naturals soaps and skin products at her family farm south of Montello in Marquette County.
Daggett has had goats her whole life and used the milk to feed orphan animals, as well as provide dairy products and occasional batches of soap for her husband, Bob, and their two daughters. The girls also showed goats at the Marquette and Columbia county fairs until they went off to college.
The Midwest drought of 2012 and devastating losses to the family’s Christmas tree crop pushed the soap making from hobby to business.
“We lost more than 200,000 trees,” Daggett said. “You can’t come out of that, because it takes nine years for a tree to grow up to be a harvestable Christmas tree.”
Searching for ways to cut costs and supplement their income, Daggett planned to get rid of the goats.
“Of course, (the girls) didn’t want to get rid of them, so I said OK, but they were going to serve another purpose besides our little dabbling into our own consumption,” Daggett said. “I started doing a lot of research, and I found goat’s milk soap was a great alternative, not just for use on our skin, but for a business.”
She investigated recipes and experimented with clays and natural oils to create a line of soaps that would be great for skin health and also pretty. Many of the bars have swirls and creamy dollops of bright, natural color toppings that sometimes look more like frosted slices of cake than bars of soap.
“I guess I kind of like making unique stuff that’s not really out there on the market,” she said. “That’s why mine look different than a lot of the other soap makers. I like something unique and different. It had to be different.”
Goat milk offers many advantages over other ingredients, Daggett said. Its pH is close to that of human skin.
“It’s high in alpha-hydroxy, retinol A, vitamin A, anti-inflammatory products — this is just the goat’s milk alone — and I find that amazing,” she said.
To that, she adds only natural ingredients and ingredients that are known to be beneficial for certain skin conditions. One soap incorporates plantain leaf from her Montello farm, and another with pine tar is especially beneficial for people with eczema and psoriasis.
“I do not use any fragrance oils in my soap, because they’re full of alcohol and chemicals, and that’s contrary to what I want to do,” she said.
The goat herd has been pared down to six milkers — two Nigerian Dwarfs and four LaManchas — plus about a half-dozen other young females. The does were dried off in August, but kidding begins in February, and so does stockpiling of milk.
“We have four huge chest freezers full of goat’s milk that we stockpile ... to get us through to the next year,” Daggett said. “I push hard in March (making soap). The winter, that’s when I make the bulk of it, but I’m actually making soap off and on throughout the whole year. I do my new recipes, and then I kind of judge where the market is going to be and I’m making as I need.”
She estimated she made about 2,500 pounds of soap this past year and will be increasing in the future.
“I’m finding new ways to incorporate different oils that people are asking about for their therapeutic benefits. It’s just going off the chart as far as people finding all-natural ingredients for their health,” she said.
Daggett also makes dog bath soap, lip balm, bug repellent, deodorants, essential oil combos, color-coordinated wedding and baby shower gifts, emu oil products, shaving soap and a soap called “Stink B Gone.”
Products are packaged in very simple thin plastic shrink wrap with tiny holes poked through so the soap can breathe.
“The first thing people do is pick it up and smell it,” she said. “Well, they can smell it, but they’re not contaminating it.”
Daggett’s primary market is the Princeton Flea Market, which started in April and runs this year through Oct. 7, but she also sells at holiday markets in Baraboo, Princeton and Ripon and at Safari Club International shows where her husband, Bob, advertises the family’s elk and whitetail hunting preserve.
“With that, I’ve gained customers around the U.S., so that’s pretty neat too, because that has broadened my market,” Daggett said.
After customers buy at the shows, they often come back for more orders through her website, http://bonitanaturals.com.
Daggett has another retail business handcrafting more than 1,000 Fraser fir wreaths each year for the Christmas holiday. Both businesses are pretty much a one-person operation, although Daggett said her daughters will help when they have time.
She said she could probably grow the soap business even more if she hired employees.
“I’m afraid to, because I don’t ever want the quality to drop, and this I have hands-on,” she said. “I manufacture the product myself. I know what’s going into it. It’s not compromised in any way.”
Daggett said she expects the goats to stay around as she finds more and more fascinating ways to work their milk into her products.
As for Daggett, “I see me staying in it for the long haul.”