THE ART OF SOAP PERFECTION

Wynott Farm continues its long-standing tradition of bringing quality goat products to the area

Story by Brie Ellison

Photos by James Allen

Bianca, Esther and Journey, three does at Wynott Farm, gave birth to seven kids eight hours ago. Now, in the late afternoon sun, the mini-Nubian goats contently chew their cud and walk around their birthing pen. The parents rarely acknowledge the kids screaming and hopping around, occasionally headbutting those they didn’t birth that come to feed.

Bianca, Esther and Journey, along with another mini-Nubian doe, a full-Nubian doe, two full-Nubian bucks and the seven new kids, make up Wynott Farm. Resting on 23 acres in the mountains of Howardsville, Virginia, Wynott Farm continues to hone its primary product: goat soap. Five and a half years ago, after Wynott was started as it’s known today, Bob and Kathy Ramsay — along with their son, Derek — are making a name for themselves, and their goats, in Virginia. By the end of the summer, the Ramsays will have a new barn on their property, allowing them to improve and expand their production process. “We’ll have a dedicated milking section in the barn, and a place to have milk storage,” Kathy said. “We’ll have electricity in the barn, so we’ll have freezers out there to store the milk, and we’ll have a dedicated, pretty large section for the goats and another for hay storage.”

Wynott’s goat soap is made by the Ramsays and is featured in several local stores and farmers markets in the Valley.

Along with the goats, the Ramsays own two mini-Schnauzers, Zoe and Paco; two Karakachan herding dogs, Ethel and Lucy; and an assortment of chickens. The Ramsays’ large, white farmhouse and guest cottage may be a new buy, but the history of Wynott Farm extends beyond the present day and location. In 1967, Bob’s parents moved their family from Severna Park, Maryland, to Missouri, where they bought a 40-acre farm. “All their friends back east kept asking them, ‘Why did you move out to the country and buy a farm?’ And they kept finding themselves saying, ‘Why not?’” Bob said. “And so my dad … drew this little horse with glasses, and he put it on his truck and came up with that spelling, which is W-Y-N-O-T-T.”

After graduating from JMU in 1984, Bob entered the Navy for four years and was stationed at the Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, where he met Kathy — then attending nursing school at the University of Maryland, College Park. The pair married and moved to Harrisonburg. In 1997, with three kids — Derek, Nathan and Stephanie — they relocated to Crozet, Virginia. Bob’s parents had bought an 18-acre plot of land, giving two to Bob and Kathy. Last spring, the Ramsays realized they were going to need more property. “As to how we got started, I’d been to a sort of a farmers market one day and I saw somebody there who sold goat milk,” Bob said, laughing softly. “I left thinking, ‘I could do that and maybe make it more presentable.’ So I came home and kind of off-hand said, ‘Hey, you [want to] try making soap?’” Thus, the “high school science experiments” began. “We had these goats that were kind of like a replacement for our kids when our kids left, and we started milking them,” Kathy said. “After we had our first set of kids, we [found] that we had this glut of milk … and we couldn’t keep up.”

Kathy went online, extensively researching soap calculators that led her to the five key qualities of good soap: bubbliness, cleansing, conditioning, hardness and lather. She developed Wynott’s recipes, which address these characteristics. With their first batch of 20 bars made, wrapped in burlap bags and labeled with a “very rudimentary” photo of one of their goats, they began the process of getting the Wynott name — an ode to Bob’s parents’ Missouri dream — in the community. Kathy told Bob to sell at least five bars at the Crozet Farmers Market. “I remember leaving, thinking, ‘Wow, she really set the bar low, OK, well, maybe I could do that.’ And I sold nine that day,” Bob said as Kathy chuckles. “And I heard people talking about the Charlottesville City Market, and so I went down there, filled out an application to it and we got accepted into the market on a weekly basis.”

Wynott Farm has had its soaps in a dozen stores. Among them are The Cheese Shop in Stuarts Draft; the Charlottesville Whole Foods; Cranberry’s Grocery & Eatery in Staunton; and Grandma’s Pantry in the Shenandoah Heritage Market. Wynott’s next step? The Wegmans in Charlottesville, where its first order was delivered on April 4. As the Ramsays begin their partnership with Wegmans, they’re content with keeping Wynott a family affair. “He’s the idea man, Mom’s probably the vet of the group … and I’m just the dumb muscle,” Derek says. Bob laughs, but agrees. Derek’s workshop takes up some of the outbuildings, so he lives in the guest cottage. “We try to make [Derek] do all the heavy work,” Bob said. “Here’s the rules for the farm: I come up with all the projects and these two do them.”

With both Kathy and Bob working full-time jobs as a nurse and an auto insurance underwriter, and Derek’s blacksmithing business steadily growing, the family’s daily schedule is busy. During milking season, Bob and Kathy rise at 5 a.m. When they aren’t milking, they allow themselves an extra half-hour of sleep. “So we get up in the morning, get ready for our other jobs, feed the animals, go to our other jobs, come home, milk, feed the animals and wrap soap,” Kathy said. Evenings are reserved for store deliveries and soap wrapping, especially when Kathy’s stressed and behind on wrapping. As for making the actual soaps, she has it down to a science. “To create the soap, we have our recipe that has the types of oils that we use, and each of the oils and butters has different characteristics once the soap is made,” Kathy said.

Bob and Cathy push a boxed wire-cutter through a block of goat soap. The family has been making soap from goat’s milk for two years.

The Ramsays use any combination of cocoa butter, shea butter, olive oil, sunflower oil, rice-bran oil, coconut oil and essential oils to make the scents. “We’ll combine that, and then we mix the goats’ milk and lye together,” Kathy continued. “And then you combine the two mixtures, blend it with a blender and pour it in a mold.” Lye is an acidic solution of either sodium or potassium hydroxide. The first mold sits for 24 hours before its cut into logs. Included in this mold is draff, a by-product from the leftover barley that’s an effective exfoliant. The logs then sit for another 24 hours before the Ramsays cut them into bars. The bars cure for about four to five weeks before they’re sold. Curing allows the soap to dry and harden while a chemical reaction eliminates the leftover lye. “If you used the bar of soap right after it was made, right after we cut it into bars, it would probably wash away in a week,” Derek said.

Bob’s favorite scent is the cedarwood rosemary, Derek’s is the coffee peppermint and Kathy’s is lavender, which is also the best-seller. Using tea-tree oil, this soap has a sharp, minty scent that’s balanced by lavender’s natural calming effect. For personal use, the Ramsays make a “mish-mash” of all the leftover bits, a marbled soap containing different scents. With seven new kids to look after and a partnership with Wegmans, the Ramsays haven’t lost their focus or appreciation for the little things. “In February, it can be bitter, bitter cold,” Kathy said, while holding one of the kids. “And it’s just an extra little concern when we’re kidding in really cold weather. We’ve been so thankful that it was a nice weekend this weekend. Getting them started when it’s not freezing cold is so much easier.” At three weeks old, the kids begin to show strong Nubian characteristics, allowing Bob and Kathy to begin debating which ones to sell and which ones to keep. The most important features are a Roman nose, bell-shaped ears, and well-attached udders for the females. “I like telling the story of our business,” Bob said. “I would love to get into all the Wegmans in Virginia, and we’ll see about beyond after that … I just want to keep enjoying it, every day that we’re doing it.”

Bob, Cathy and Derek Ramsay stand in front of their home on Wynott Farm. The family named their farm after their decision to move out the country. Quite literally for the Ramsays, “Wynott?”

With a hard work ethic instilled since birth, steadfast passion and a lively new group of kids, the Ramsays are excited for the next era of Wynott Farm. Though they aren’t making or losing a profit from their soap sales, the Ramsays are investing in building their barn and brand.

“In two years I can have full retirement, which will be awesome and I can do the business full time,” Bob said. “Mainly, right now, we only make bar soaps. So in a year or two or three, we may venture into some other things, like lip balms … but there’s always that thing about ‘If something’s not broke, don’t fix it.’”