By Doug Graves
GENOA, Ohio – Shelbie Flegal grew up in tiny Sylvania, an Ohio city with its northern border touching Michigan. Flegal was not raised on a farm, had no connection to 4-H or with FFA. She had no interest in rural living. But a horticulture teacher changed all that.
“I’ve always liked animals but never to a great extent,” Flegal said. “That teacher sparked my interest in animals somehow.”
Flegal became a fulltime firefighter at age 18 and when she was 22, she bought a house in the country, where she began to dabble with chickens. Soon after she got married and settled in Genoa, a village in Ottawa County.
“Once you’ve had land out in the country you don’t want to move back to the city,” she said, “and I didn’t want anything less than an acre.”
She and her husband, John, and their three young children, found a 1.25-acre lot, built a house and began raising chickens and tending to 20 raised-bed gardens. This all came at the time of the pandemic.
“We thought, what could we have on this small plot of land that is manageable that we can provide for ourselves,” she said.
After researching many different farm animals, Flegal stumbled across Nigerian Dwarf Goats. In a short time, she purchased six of those goats.
“They’re popular for their milk as it is super high in butterfat,” Flegal said. “We quickly learned that a 60-pound goat provides six pounds of milk, and with six goats we were getting two gallons of milk each day.”
Shelbie, John, and her mother, Cathy Briggs, felt they had hit the jackpot as they were producing cheese, ice cream and milk – lots of milk.
“We quickly learned you can only drink so much milk,” Flegal said. “We found ourselves with an excess of goat’s milk and were looking for something to do with it. What started out as a small hobby, making soap for friends and family, quickly blossomed into From Goat to Soap.”
“I kind of made fun of it at first because I was like ‘yeah, okay we’ll try this,’ Briggs said. “I was making things, I like trying new things.”
It didn’t take long for their idea to take off.
“We thought, let’s make a couple hundred bars and see how it sells for Christmas,” Flegal said. “We sold 800 bars to friends and family for Christmas. It was crazy and we thought maybe this could turn into something.”
Within the next few months, the pair sold thousands of bars of soap across the country. And the selection of bars sounds enticing: Confetti Citrus, Bulgarian Lavender & Eucalyptus, Honey Oat, Unscented Activated Charcoal, Milk & Honey, Tea Tree, Peppermint, just to name a few.
“We’ve sent soap as far away as Alaska and we have a map on a corkboard and we put pins in places we’ve sent soap, like Florida and Maine,” Flegal said.
They now produce roughly 1,000 bars of soap each month, with a goal of producing 2,500 bars monthly. The hard work has paid off as her bars are now being sold retail at Sautter’s Market in Waterville, Ohio.
“From Goat to Soap is committed to creating high-quality, natural bars of goat’s milk soap with simple ingredients,” Flegal said. “We are focused on growing and locally sourcing as many of our ingredients as possible. Our herd of goats is small and well cared for. They are more than just livestock to us, they are truly beloved pets.”
According to Flegal, the bars are free from parabens, palm oil, artificial colors, micas, fragrance oils, sulfates and preservatives.
“And when we saponify our goat’s milk we do not add water,” she said. “It’s 100 percent goat’s milk. It’s the second ingredient on our ingredient list.”
The Flegals now have 11 goats, with two more residing at a friend’s farm.
“We actually don’t do any packaging as we use compostable or recycled material,” Flegal said. “We try not put any more into the environment than we have to. We used compressed cardboard pulp, similar to egg carton material. We also use non-toxic strapping material as our twine.”
Flegal and Briggs hope their business inspires others to get creative.
“If you find one of those little niches you love, do it and be proud of it and see where it goes,” Briggs said.
The Flegals decided not just to make money, but to give back by donating soap to nonprofits to help raise money for various causes.
“I think giving back should be more important to more people,” Flegal said. “It would make this world a lot better place.”