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Have you 'herd?' Goats milk soap is good for your skin

Damascus couple's hobby farm launches a cottage industry offering skin care products


by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: ANNE ENDICOTT - Nigerian Dwarf goats are a desireable breed for hobby farmers because of their small size.

Fair-haired Elsie added to the tribe June 19, when she gave birth to three little ladies and one little man.

The young'uns, however, have not been officially named.

“We usually don’t name the babies because we sell them,” Julie Austin said, laughing. “If they have names, they’re part of the family and really hard to let go of.”

Before anyone calls the authorities about the sale of infants, let’s be clear — Julie is referring to the herd of Nigerian Dwarf goats she and her husband, Ken, raise on their one-acre “hobby farm” in Damascus. Roaming the back 40 are seven female goats, two bucks and the four little ones, along with two pigs and a smattering of chickens.

The Austins’ cottage industry, JK Goats, began as a hankering for a few farm-type animals by a former city-dwelling family, but has evolved into a burgeoning business where the employees pay their own way. by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: ANNE ENDICOTT - Though officially unnamed, Allyson admits to a soft spot for the lone male kid born to Elsie in June.

The Austins, who were longtime East County residents, weren't looking to exchange career clothes for coveralls when they moved to Damascus eight years ago. A corporate security officer for Bank of America and a dental assistant respectively, Ken and Julie were simply seeking to escape proposed big box development near their Centennial neighborhood in southwest Gresham.

“We just wanted to be some place quieter,” Julie said. “When Walmart announced it wanted to build a SuperCenter, we decided we didn’t want the traffic. We certainly weren’t looking to raise goats or have a farm.”

The pair became smitten with the property that contained a 1930s home and gently sloped backyard. Shortly after moving in, Julie announced in jest that the land was perfect for goats and donkeys.

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: ANNE ENDICOTT - Julie and Ken Austin, with Elsie, never intended to raise goats when they bought their one-acre property in Damascus eight years ago. In 2011, the Austins acquired three females, who now provide milk as the foundation of Juilies skin care line of products. “I was half-joking, half-serious,” she said. “But then (16-year-old daughter) Allyson’s friend got chickens and it just started from there.”

The notion to raise goats stemmed from a friend of the couple’s, whose son was on a veterinary mission in Uganda. Julie made a donation to the young man’s cause after learning the money collected would be used to purchase dairy goats for the villagers to raise.

“Since I couldn’t have goats of my own, he told me I could name the two I had donated to,” Julie said. “That’s what started it all really, because he was the one who suggested the smaller Nigerian Dwarf breed. Within a year, it was Ken’s idea to have goats.”

In May 2011, they acquired Elsie, Hazel and Mabel — “the girls,” as they are called. The following July, “the girls” gave birth to JK Goats’ first round of kids.

“We ended up with boy/girl twins from three does,” Julie said. “And all of them had blue eyes.”

After selling the three males, and eventually the sire, the Austins were left with a herd of six females — Mabel, Elsie, Hazel, Ruth, Lillie and Pearl.

“All the girls are named after our grandmothers,” Julie explained.

With the occupants in the barn continuing to multiply, Ken has taken on duties as the “herd master.” He vaccinates the goats, treats them for parasites and worms, and helps “goat expert” Deana Clark disbud the babies (burn their horn buds), tattoo their ears with JK’s herd identification and wether the males (castrate them). by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: ANNE ENDICOTT - A barn near the fenceline in the Austins backyard is home to seven female goats and four little ones born in June. The couple's daughter, Allyson, says she enjoys the goats but draws the line at getting involved when the babies are born.

But it didn’t take Julie long to realize that the goats were more than just delightful backyard companions. She discovered the rich and creamy texture of goat's milk has become a much sought-after base for soap. So in the fall of 2012, Julie produced her first batch of soap with the JK Goats label.

“I gave a lot of it out as Christmas presents, but everybody liked it so well, I started making lotions the following spring,” she said. “I’m working on a baby soap and shaving cream now.”

Julie manufactures anywhere from 45-60 bars of soap each week. She has developed a special blend of natural ingredients to complement the benefits of goat's milk on the skin, using essential oils like avocado and almond to boost its effects in hydration and healing. Her product line, which now includes moisturizing cream, a lotion bar, lip balm, and hand and body lotion, is available in scented and unscented forms. (the Pear Moisturizing Lotion gets a two thumbs up from one newspaper reporter.)

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: ANNE ENDICOTT - Julie researched goats milk soap recipes online before trying her hand with a batch two years ago. She now uses a personal blend of natural ingredients and oils for soaps and moisturizers that hydrate the skin and are especially friendly to those with sensitive skin. Julie caters to a loyal local following, and thanks to the company’s website, JK Goats’ customer base extends into the Midwest and southern United States. But sales aren’t limited to the Internet. The Austins have booth space at several open-air markets during the season, often with the little ones in tow. They’re the biggest attraction, Julie said, and also the best sales force.

Medical issues forced Julie to leave her job in the dental field in 2011. Though she initially was frustrated by an inability to remain in a profession she loved, the move turned out to be rather fortuitous. Her “girls” and a thriving business is her idea good ol’ farm living.

“I was looking for a job once my health issues were resolved until recently,” she said. “Instead, I decided to see about making a good run with this for a while. Things are going so well with t

More info

Meet “the girls” and learn more about JK Goats skin products line by visiting jkgoats.net.

Or check them out up close and personal at the follow open-air markets:

n Milwaukie Sunday Farmers Market, 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., Southeast Main Street and Harrison, through Oct. 26.

n Oregon City Farmers Market, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. every other Saturday, 2051 Kaen Road, off Beavercreek Road, through Oct. 25.

n Summer Market in Sellwood, 3:30-7:30 p.m. Tuesdays, Stone Cottage, 8609 S.E. 17th Ave., Portland, through Oct. 28.

n. Damascus Fresh and Local Market, 3-7 p.m. Thursdays, St. Paul of Damascus Lutheran Church, 24510 S.E. Highway 212, through Sept. 25.he markets this year, but this is a two-man operation, and this is all we can handle right now.”

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