Having enjoyed sampling all of the wonderful products from Les Belles Bouclettes last month, I was very interested in learning more about the farm and the sweet animals that live there. Therefore, Isabelle (of From Goats to Soaps) has graciously taken the time to invite us into her family farm!
I hope you enjoy this little field trip to Canada! Make sure to check out the heartwarming stories of little Coeur and Cashmere below!
What led to the start of Ferme Bonne Mine and Les Belles Bouclettes?
In October 2001, my husband Jacques and I, (Isabelle) left France with our 3 children (Dominique, Denis and Sophie) to come to Canada. First, we lived in a city. But we always dreamed of space and nature. We were looking for a home with lots of space, especially after the birth of our 4th child Fanny. In 2006 we found this old dairy farm on 51 acres in Vankleek Hill, between Montreal and Ottawa. We really fell in love with it. We never imagined having a little farm all our own! After doing research on what kind of animals we could raise we started to breed llamas and alpacas, mainly for their fibre.
Isabelle and her family
And that was how our adventure with Ferme Bonne Mine began. (Bonne Mine translates as Looks Good or Looks Healthy, a very good thing for a farm.). We tried also to grow and sell our fruits and vegetables but our preference was to work with animals and their fibre. We are addicted to wool but in our experience sheep needed too much care and were not my favourite animals, so we looked for other fibre animals. And we discovered the Angora goats. Angora goats grow mohair fleeces, a wonderful and special luxury fibre. After a few years we found that the alpacas were wilder and didn’t interact well with us. On the other hand the goats proved to be entertaining, fun, and full of surprises. We sold our alpacas (although we kept several seasons worth of fleeces from them) and llamas ( just kept 2 as guardians for our herd). Then we began planning and building our goat herd. We added some Boer bucks (boer is a breed of goat) to raise good goats for meat production. Now we have Angora goats for mohair and goats for meat on the farm. We also have free range chickens, which provide beautiful fresh eggs.
Ferme Bonne Mine
SOON AFTER we began Les Belles Bouclettes, our online farm boutique. Its name means the beautiful locks. The locks are the mohair locks that our fabulous goats grow. (Mohair fleeces grow in locks, a topic discussed in detail in our blog post The Diamond Fibre Part I.) In our online boutique we sell our fibre products.
When we began to work with our alpacas’ and llamas’ fibre I met my wonderful and so talented friend Grey Dove, who makes all our bath products and does some creative and beautiful knitting and felting. (I do not knit much so having her look at and work with our yarn is a help.) And it’s with real pleasure that we work together and exchange ideas. We are really happy to include her products with ours. And now that we have goat’s milk we also have her soap made with the milk from our own goats.
What led you to goats?
After having angora goats on the farm for a short time we had really fallen in love with them. We interact well with them and they prove to be entertaining, fun, and full of surprises. It’s a real pleasure to hear the sound of the kids (baby goats) and their mothers (does) calling to each other, especially at night. Or its fun to watch a full grown goat attempting to climb a tree (to eat its leaves). Seeing the kids running and climbing rocks in the pasture, even climbing on the back of their guardian llama just feels good. And it is a treat to watch them running from the back of the pasture when they hear the sound of their grain being poured. It’s a real pleasure to see and interact with them everyday, and watch them as they grow. And then there is their mohair fleeces! Mohair is such a beautiful, soft lustrous fibre. It can keep heat in, wick away moisture and hold dyes with outstanding results. It has many amazing properties and is economical for a luxury fibre. It’s a real pleasure to work with, and we are always looking for different ideas to expand our line of fibre products. Something else we like about goats is that we can sell them easily as pets. We can also sell some for meat which is why we added boer bucks to our herd. And if one day we don’t want to send their fleeces to the mill anymore we can always sell it to the wool growers co-operative. Raising goats gives us different ways of making the farm profitable.
Spinning the yarn
Can you explain what happens during a typical day on the farm?
Depending on the season, we have different tasks on the farm. Usually in the morning I do the chores by myself and in the evening Fanny helps me. (Our oldest children have left the nest now.) During winter all the animals are in the barn. In the morning around 6 A.M. I start my chores. First, if necessary I milk my goat(s) (until January-February after that they will have a break (be dried off) before giving birth again). I give them all hay and fill their water bowls and troughs. I bring hay in my wheelbarrow to fill the hay feeders outside.
At noon I check if everybody is fine and give them more hay or water if necessary.
Then in the evening around 6 P.M. we milk the goat(s), feed everybody with hay and grain, replace the water and add more straw to their pens if necessary.
Once a week, we clean 2-3 pens and put new straw in them, so our animals feel clean and comfortable.
Then in spring as soon as the weather is warm enough, we put the animals outside to graze in the pasture. Some of them (such as the yearlings and bucks) are in a pasture with a shelter, they won’t go back to the barn until the first frost. We give them grain and fresh water once a day. Moms and kids are in an open barn so they can go in and out as they wish. Like in winter, we milk the goat(s), give bottles to the kid(s) if necessary, then feed them their grain and fresh water twice a day.
Every two months we have to move them to different pastures for them to have
nice grass to eat. (It is easy for a pasture to be over grazed and for the grass to be damaged, so rotating pastures regularly is very important.)
We clean the open barn once a week.
During the day, (when my day job is finished), we might have to skirt fleeces, cut hay, repair fences or pens, vaccinate our animals, trim their hooves, package orders for shipping, prepare products for sale, update our website and blog and/or anything else that needs to be looked after.
Everyone seems to be friends…:-)
What is your favorite part about running your own farm?
First, for sure it is the freedom we have running our own farm (business), making our own decisions. When we started, we found it was a way to add a small revenue to our income while being an incredible healthy life for us and our children. Second, we all love seeing the babies playing together as they discover life. That is a never ending pleasure! Third, making products or trying new ones, especially with my friend Grey Dove is always enjoyable.
And last but not least, when people buy and like our products, we know we can feel proud of our efforts.
What a fun group!
Do you have any fun stories about any of your animals?
Maybe not fun, but we do have wonderful stories to tell about our animals. For example this year we had 2 nice stories.
Coeur’s story: (Coeur means Heart in French.)
In April, a female baby goat, one of a pair of twins, was born. Her mother didn’t want her at all. She even hurt her with her horns. But the baby needed to nurse, and we hoped the mother would accept her after feeding. So first, we tried holding the mother goat to let the little one drink but it didn’t work. As soon as we left the pen the mother chased her. We had to take Coeur away. We milked the mom, because Coeur needed her colostrum. (For three to four days after birth a mother doesn’t give milk but a liquid called colostrum. This is a fluid rich in anti-bodies and very important to the healthy growth of an infant. An infant who does not get to drink its mother’s colostrum will be much weaker and is likelier to be ill in its first months. Doe goats produce colostrum for two days after their kid(s) are born.) We put Coeur in another pen, where we
already had some moms and babies (does and kids),and these goats became her brothers and sisters. They all slept together. So she was never alone, especially important at night when babies and moms usually are together, she always slept with a friend beside her.
The same day we moved Coeur into the big pen, a doe lost her baby when giving birth. We were able to milk this doe and feed Coeur (with a bottle) using this mother’s milk. At the beginning it was 5 times a day, now when she is three and a half months we give her a bottle twice a day. (The bottle we use to feed her was a beer bottle.) Today we have a healthy, happy, little goat, always talking to us. Each day she gets a hug as she doesn’t have a mom talking to or calling her. But this little goat really belongs to her herd and the whole herd is her family. She is also really Fanny’s goat!!
Cashmere was born about the same date as Coeur. Her face was so cute, like she was smiling. A little while after she was born we saw she wasn’t standing up. (Most kids will attempt to get to their feet shortly after being born and will succeed in standing after a very short time.) I took her in my arms and then I saw her 2 front legs were deformed. She was not able to walk. She was lucky and had a good mother. Her mom, Douce, was our most patient doe. (And Douce means soft or gentle, … perfect for this special doe!) We put them alone in a small pen. Then we helped the baby to nurse. A few hours later, she was able to crawl on her knees and to nurse on her own. Most does move away after nursing for a few minutes but not Cashmere’s Mother. She waited until the baby had drunk all the milk she wanted. A few days later, I saw Cashmere trying to walk in the pen with her 2 twisted legs; then again a few days after, she was running in the pen, and jumping on the back of her mom. It was so wonderful to see! So, we moved them into a bigger pen with other does and kids. Cashmere played with the other babies and of course was exhausted after that but it was good for her to be with other kids. One nice thing we saw was how the other moms treated her. Usually the does don’t like other kids around them and will give them a head butt, but we never saw any doe give Cashmere a head butt, it was as if they knew she had a problem and they had to be careful with her.
A few weeks later everybody is in the pasture and she is running and jumping on her mom or the guardian llamas just like the other kids. Now, her 2 legs are almost straight. One of them is a little angled (she is like a ballerina in second position), what an amazing change in a few months. Special Cashmere !!
What are your future plans for both the farm and your product line?
Our biggest future plan is for me to work full time on the farm. This is why we expanded our fibre product line and added meat goats to our herd. There is a good market for goat meat. We are very proud to offer healthy animals who had a wonderful happy life on our farm. We want to focus on selling both fibre and meat products, and on building up our herd. We now have 60 goats and our goal is to double that number.
Concerning our product line, we are working hard with our friend Grey Dove to offer a wide variety of products. In addition to products made using our fibre we also sell her soaps made with our milk, eggs, and more. We also are happy to be selling complimentary products (bubble baths and body powder for example) some of them use our fibre, and others just go well with the rest of the line. We are happy to listen to our customers and will try to make future plans and product adjustments based on what they are most interested in finding in our boutique.
Busy working on the farm
In a year or two, we would also like to offer tours of our farm. We would like a farm visit to include descriptions of the fibre’s journey from being a fleece (raw fibre) through being spun into yarn and made into knitted and/or felted items. We would like to expand some of these ideas into fibre related workshops.
And of course, there would be our on site boutique where people could actually see, handle and smell the products we have for sale. We wish everyone could feel our yarn and smell the soaps and bath products, but we do our best to describe them with a lot of detail and so far everyone who has shopped with us online has loved what they received. So we will continue developing and expanding the website, and bring as many of the farm experiences as possible (tours and workshops) to our online customers and blog readers.
Kids being kids! 🙂
Les Belles Bouclettes has also teamed up with four designers, three knitwear and one crochet designer who are all working with Les Belles Bouclettes’ yarns to create unique patterns using specific yarns. Starting this coming Thursday, we’ll be doing a series of posts in the next two three weeks introducing each designer and giving sneak-peaks of the patterns they are working on. To say the least we are really excited about this, and hope to have more patterns designed for next year. The patterns will be available for sale from Les Belles Bouclettes, on their own and in kits (with the yarn).
In addition to their new patterns, Isabelle and Grey Dove are also launching a new line of Farm Fresh soaps, in scents ranging from egg to cucumber to carrot and lavender! They all sound fabulous!
I absolutely love reading and learning about women who follow their passions, and Isabelle and Grey Dove certainly fall into that category.
I hope that you have enjoyed this little trip to a farm where friendship, love, and dedication are a part of everything they do!