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Antrim

THEY SAY It’s Good, clean fun

Antrim: LIberty Farm uses goat milk, natural oils and oatmeal in its homemade soap

  • Sheila Nichols of Antrim and her son Michael produced 900 bars of soap this year using milk from their small goat herd.
  • Sheila Nichols of Antrim and her son Michael produced 900 bars of soap this year using milk from their small goat herd.
  • Sheila Nichols of Antrim and her son Michael produced 900 bars of soap this year using milk from their small goat herd.
  • Sheila Nichols of Antrim and her son Michael produced 900 bars of soap this year using milk from their small goat herd.
  • Sheila Nichols of Antrim and her son Michael produced 900 bars of soap this year using milk from their small goat herd.
  • Sheila Nichols of Antrim and her son Michael produced 900 bars of soap this year using milk from their small goat herd.
  • Sheila Nichols of Antrim and her son Michael produced 900 bars of soap this year using milk from their small goat herd.
  • Sheila Nichols of Antrim and her son Michael produced 900 bars of soap this year using milk from their small goat herd.
  • Sheila Nichols of Antrim and her son Michael produced 900 bars of soap this year using milk from their small goat herd.
  • Sheila Nichols of Antrim and her son Michael produced 900 bars of soap this year using milk from their small goat herd.
  • Sheila Nichols of Antrim and her son Michael produced 900 bars of soap this year using milk from their small goat herd.
  • Sheila Nichols of Antrim and her son Michael produced 900 bars of soap this year using milk from their small goat herd.
  • Sheila Nichols of Antrim and her son Michael produced 900 bars of soap this year using milk from their small goat herd.
  • Sheila Nichols of Antrim and her son Michael produced 900 bars of soap this year using milk from their small goat herd.
  • Sheila Nichols of Antrim and her son Michael produced 900 bars of soap this year using milk from their small goat herd.
  • Sheila Nichols of Antrim and her son Michael produced 900 bars of soap this year using milk from their small goat herd.

Making your own soap seems like a throwback from the colonial period. But in the kitchen of Sheila Nichols of Antrim, it’s a practice that’s alive and well. Sitting on her side cabinet are piles of handmade bars of soap. There are perhaps 20 bars there, but that’s just the beginning. During a recent soap-making spree, Nichols and her son, Michael Haley, who produced this year’s batch, completed about 900 bars.

Nichols has been making soap for about six years. And it’s not a coincidence her soap-making started about the time she and her husband, Bill, also decided to try their hand at raising goats — their milk is a main ingredient in the soap.

The owners of Brimstone Woods at Liberty Farm, had for a long time raised chickens, pigs and sheep. They attended a local “chicken swap,” where farmers bring animals and produce to trade and sell among themselves. The Nichols’ had been considering adding a small herd of goats to their menagerie to assist the sheep with clearing fields and turning the soil. So when they came across a small group of four Nigerian Dwarf goats being sold together at the chicken swap, they made a snap decision to purchase all four.

Nigerian Dwarf goats are not high-volume milk producers, so despite having three females to milk, the family only takes in about a quart of milk a day. But that’s plenty for both drinking and cooking with, said Nichols, and they use the milk for creating food products like cheese and fudge. Shortly after acquiring the goats, Nichols learned from a fellow chicken swap-goer, the secret of making her own soap with goat’s milk.

The recipe includes natural oils as an acid, and lye as a base, mixed with goat’s milk, pulverized oatmeal as an exfoliate, spun silk for softness and, of course, goat’s milk, which acts as a moisturizer.

“It’s the same basic way people have been making soap forever,” said Nichols in an interview in her home Thursday.

Nichols uses a cold process to make her soap, which leaves oil on the bars, increasing the moisturizing effects of the soap, whereas most manufactured bars are created with a hot process that burns the oil off. The mixture needs to be closely monitored and stirred constantly during the solidifying process, but then it is poured into molds and left to harden for 24 hours. After that, it’s simply a waiting process, while the chemical reaction of the lye and oils stabilizes — a process that can take five or six weeks of waiting.

“Women used to test it with their tongues,” Nichols explained. “If they touched their tongue to the soap and it burned, it wasn’t ready yet.” Now, said Nichols, most people just use pH strips to test the acidity.

Nichols said the first time she attempted to make soap, she wasn’t intimidated by the intricacy of the process, or put off by the time commitment involved, being a regular crafter and used to devoting time and effort to things. The process didn’t intimidate her, she said — well, that was, until the woman teaching her the process left halfway through the lesson.

Mishaps happen, said Nichols. Some batches of soap take longer to get to a good viscosity to pour into the wooden molds, and impatience can lead to the soap mixture attempting to escape through the joints of the mold. But, even when that happens, it’s best not to panic, she said, since you can always back up a step and try again.

“You never throw out soap,” she said.

The soap is cut into individual bars — Nichols’ bars weigh between about 4 1/ 2 to 5 ounces.

“Some people like it to be really precise. I like that my soap has a little bit of a rustic look,” said Nichols. “I like that they’re not perfectly uniform.”

Since no family could have use for 900 bars of soap, Nichols sells most of her product, both online through her farm’s website and at some local retailers such as Nature’s Green Grocer’s in Peterborough, Tenney Farm and The Wool Room in Antrim as well as Picket Fence in Mont Vernon. Nichols also sells her soap at local farmer’s markets and will be selling soap and other produce from her farm during Greenerborough in Peterborough on May 3.

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ex. 244, or asaari@ledgertranscript.com.

She’s on Twitter @AshleySaari.

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