Meet Dorset’s soap star Kirsty Hearne – creator of a thriving cottage industry selling goats’ milk and the soaps she makes from it
Most of us nip to the local shop when we run out of milk. Not Kirsty Hearne – she pops down the garden and milks one of her 13 goats. The result is ‘foamy and makes just the best coffee,’ she says. ‘Raw goat’s milk is great for your gut and full of good bacteria.’
She has seen a huge increase in sales from her garden gate to both locals and holidaymakers. ‘Last winter I had to limit people to five litres each, I just couldn’t keep up with demand. Especially with so many people making their own kefir.’
Her Maycottage milk – and her range of beautiful handmade soaps – began life accidently 14 years ago.
‘I bought a goat and her daughter just for the milk for my family. I was up the pub, chatting to a friend about how we might make some extra money, as you do. I’d heard that you could make soap with goats’ milk and said I was going to have a go.
‘So I started making some and going to craft fairs. I quickly discovered that I was quite creative about dressing the soaps and the stall. I use baskets, flowers and plants to create the cottage-like backdrop of where the soaps come from – it’s a pretty idyllic lifestyle look.”
Kirsty then invested in an online shop. ‘I now post soaps all over the UK – particularly to Scotland. I’ve no idea why the Scots love it so much!’
Her soaps are also sold in shops in Wimborne and Bournemouth.
Now from a single goat, she has a herd and business is booming. ‘I’d been a riding instructor for 30 years and thought this would give me something to do when it’s raining or through the winter. It was just supposed to be a sideline! But it swiftly took over and I actually gave up teaching.’
Her real life cottage home epitomises a genuine cottage industry. She milks all her ‘girls’ by hand, and mornings are always early. Sometimes as early as 4am if Kirsty’s at a rural show or market that day.
Her goats are all registered British Guernseys and Toggenburgs. They enjoy idyllic free ranging with the chickens, and at night they sleep in stables at the bottom of the garden.
They’re given no antibiotics, chemical wormers or vaccinations. ‘I only use homeopathic methods,’ says Kirsty, who’s also trained in Reiki for animals. It seems to be working – she hasn’t needed a vet for three years.
‘My girls have very different characters. There’s a fierce hierarchy and Honeybee, 13 years old and still going strong, is the matriarch. Chilli, my latest addition, is very pesky. She follows me everywhere and is so nosy.’
But don’t goats have a reputation for being a tad petulant? Kirsty says: ‘You can’t make goats do anything they don’t want to. Patience is essential. You need softness, to ask them nicely. If you pull or drag them, they simply dig in their heels and win!’
Every Maycottage soap contains 25 per cent goats’ milk along with a gorgeous variety of natural scents, all concocted by Kirsty. Her neroli orange blossom is proving a favourite this year.
She believes goats’ milk soap is so popular because it’s extremely kind to skin conditions. ‘Eczema, psoriasis, sensitive skin – my soap is incredibly gentle and moisturising. It’s the same pH as your skin and it also contains 30 per cent olive oil which is anti-inflammatory.
Repeat customers tell me that it makes such a difference to their skin issues. It’s not a cure, obviously, but it helps keep the skin in better condition. And my soap doesn’t have all the chemicals that commercial soaps contain.’
Kirsty makes all the soaps at her kitchen table, packaging them in pretty fabric tied with rustic twine. Using the traditional cold-pressed method, soaps are poured into loaf moulds and rested for 48 hours before being carefully cut up and then left in the spare room to cure for four weeks. ‘It used to be my son’s bedroom, so I was glad when he moved out!’ says Kirsty.
‘It can get lonely working from your kitchen table. My other half, Keith, works all day so I can get to 6pm and have only spoken to goats or my dogs all day!’
Quick fire questions:
A-list dinner party guest?
American horse trainer Mark Rashid – Aikido for horsemanship is a big part of his work. It’s about softness, and works with goats as well as horses! He’s one of the most amazing people I’ve ever met.
Book by your bedside?
Curlew Moon by Mary Colwel. It’s about the plight of these beautiful birds and their struggle for survival.