Dawn Mathews had always wanted to milk a goat.
One day, she finally got her chance. Though she thought it was “the coolest thing in the world,” she had no idea it would change her life forever.
“We were really afraid,” she says. “We didn’t want to lose our house.”
Keep reading to learn the story of a family, their goats and the home business they grew out of a disaster.
The Mathews Family Goes Goat-Wild
After milking the goat, Mathews “couldn’t stop thinking about it.”
The cost of cow’s milk had risen to $4 a gallon, and with 9- and 7-year-old sons at home, she thought a goat might be the solution.
She told her husband she wanted to get a goat so they could drink its milk and also make cheese.
The only problem? They lived in a subdivision in Granite Falls, North Carolina, on half an acre.
But Mathews knew what she wanted — and forged forward, undeterred by their limited yard space.
She told her friend she wanted to buy one of his goats, and they struck up a unique deal: a month of tae-kwon-do lessons from her husband (one of his odd jobs) as payment.
Soon, they welcomed Buttercup to the family — but goats are herd animals, and she needed a companion.
So Mathews turned to Craigslist and found a great price on a saanen goat: $125. Today, they usually cost $300 to $350, Mathews says.
Buttercup’s new friend Athena quickly became the main milker, giving the family a gallon of milk a day.
Turning a Disaster into a Business
Two weeks after getting Athena, disaster struck: The goats got into the laurel bushes.
Laurels are toxic to goats, and the treatment renders their milk undrinkable for two weeks.
Mathews had to keep milking the goats, and lamented over the wastefulness of it all… Until a friend suggested she make soap.
“I made a batch, and the rest was history,” she says. “People absolutely went crazy over it.”
Emboldened by her success, she invested in her newfound business, spending $250 on soap-making supplies like lard, fragrance oils and lye.
“I was really afraid to do it,” she explains. “We were at a point in our lives where we didn’t have a lot of income coming in, so that money was huge.”
A few months later, she got a booth at a holiday fair and earned more than $1,000.
How She Brings Home the Bacon With Goats
That was the beginning of The Thankful Goat.
Mathews continued to sell at festivals and farmers markets, and eventually expanded her line to include lotions, chapsticks, sugar scrubs and other products.
“I started researching other things and tried my hand at making them,” she says. “I decided I wouldn’t make anything you could buy better in the store. It was either going to be the best thing you could get, or I wouldn’t sell it.”
By her third year in business, Mathews was working about 20 hours per week — and grossing $15,000 a year.
She declined to share current sales figures, but she’s still only working part time.
As for overhead, she spends about $100-$150 a month for the goats’ feed, supplies and medical care. Other expenses include soap-making supplies, marketing and web maintenance.
Her now-teenage sons help with the family business, too; Isaac’s in charge of milking, while Dorian assists with sales. As payment, they get to sell the year’s baby goats and keep the profits.
“It’s been not really just an entrepreneurial journey for us, but for the whole family,” Mathews explains.
She also gets farm help from volunteers with the WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) program.
In exchange for four to six hours of work per day, Mathews provides her WWOOFers with room and board. (Disclaimer: I WWOOFed on Mathews’ farm — she’s a great host and cook!)
“I couldn’t have done it by myself,” she says. “The WWOOF program has been an enormous part of building the business, and also building friendships that are just incredible.”
“Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined we’d host almost 100 kids in four years.”
Eternally Thankful for the Goats
Not only has The Thankful Goat changed her family’s lifestyle and finances, it’s also changed Mathews herself.
“I think it’s given me a lot of patience,” she says. “I’m OK getting out in ankle-deep mud and shoveling poop because I love my goats.”
“I’m OK standing in the kitchen and making product, because I know it’s going to put food on my family’s table,” she adds.
“It doesn’t really matter what I have to do — I’d much rather be doing that and doing it from home and working for myself than for anybody else,” Mathews explains. “It’s just a really awesome life.”
This year, Mathews and her family moved to a 13.5-acre farm. They have nine goats, a llama and dreams of starting an agritourism operation.
And it all started with a single goat.
Your Turn: Would you open a business like this?
Susan Shain, senior writer for The Penny Hoarder, is always seeking adventure on a budget. Visit her blog at susanshain.com, or say hi on Twitter @susan_shain.