WORDS: Lesley Apps | IMAGES: Shayne Mostyn Photography
If there was a utopia for goats, Sarah Mostyn’s Windella Farm would be pretty close to it.
Her small tribe of Saanen goats (“the big white ones”) spend most of their time grazing and hanging out in the peaceful surrounds of her Cohuna farm; trotting up to the dairy for a mere 15 minutes of milking before taking the rest of the day off. And that’s for just six months of the year.
When they reach the end of their breeding lives, the “girls” then retire to the creek-side hamlet to “live out their days getting fat in the paddocks”.
“It’s a pretty cushy lifestyle,” Sarah admits.
And if these lucky goats are the star producers on Windella Farm, Sarah is their Hollywood agent, taking the notoriously stubborn animals down a track that has seen their skincare by-products elevated from a Cohuna dance class to the fancy shopping precinct of Melbourne’s The Block Arcade.
But like all great business stories, Windella Farm didn’t follow the road map they set out on. In fact, when Sarah and her husband Shayne bought their “little farm” in northern Victoria in 2014 their initial ambition was to raise milking goats to onsell to other farms.
“It was quite difficult to find commercial herds of dairy goats in Australia. It’s not like cattle where you go to sales and pick up 50 head at a time. Goats milk was growing in popularity but you had to seek out individual farms and breeders to buy goats to grow your own herd,” says Sarah.
In the early stages of farming, all the goats' milk being produced at Windella was being used to feed the kids they were breeding. The farm’s true calling came later in the most unlikely of places.
“My dance class teacher asked if we made goats milk soap. I said no but told her I could give it a go.”
And gave it ‘a go’ she did, head first, falling down a “rabbit hole of research” and self-education, resulting in so much soap it became the local currency.
“I started with a kit to learn the process and it just turned into a really addictive hobby. So I started to pay for dance classes in goats milk soap and giving it away to all my friends and family.
“People loved it. They’d never had handmade artisan, natural products at their fingertips before.”
That early encouragement led Sarah to taking her product to local markets, still without any grand expectations for the “hobby”.
“The very first market I ever did, I was still pretty blasé about it. It was during Cohuna’s big festival over Melbourne Cup weekend. I teed up my sister to sit with me because I thought it was going to be so quiet I’d get bored. Well, it was that busy, I didn’t have time to talk to her and had to send my husband home to get more stock. We made $800. All I had to sell at that point was soap.”
The success of the market was all Sarah needed to push her farming business in a new direction. It must be noted that while all of this goat tending and soap making was being established, Sarah, who is an accountant by trade, was still working four to five days a week in an office job and attending to the farm after hours and on weekends.
“I did that for about six years. The soap was really a secondary thing but as the business took off and the drought hit, we downsized our breeding herd to a manageable size and really started to push the business side. It wasn’t until the end of last year where I went completely full time on the farm.”
While Sarah’s accountancy background came in handy, everything else about product production she had to learn on the job. From her early years of making self-designed soap labels on a black and white printer at home to now employing a graphic designer, Sarah has been hands-on every step of the way.
“This year we did a complete rebrand to take it from a market-style looking product and elevate it to a brand that actually matched the quality of the product. It was a huge project but I’m really happy with the results and now have a really beautiful cohesive look that tells the story of Windella Farm.”
Since launching her original goat milk soap, Sarah’s all-natural, eco-friendly range has grown to include several soap combinations and a new skincare range including facial and body oils, face masks and balms.
And besides her online store, it can now be found in stockists around regional Victoria and in Melbourne including Chadstone and the very chic Gewurzhaus stores (hello, The Block Arcade).
“That was probably the peak of excitement when I got to see that. I thought, ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe my products are in this place. How cool it is to put Cohuna on a map?’.”
Still, we can’t end the Windella Farm story here like it’s been a dream run. As most small businesses will verify, these past 18 months of trying to navigate a world wide pandemic hasn’t been easy.
With no markets, or big shows to attend, and the uncertainty of what’s ahead, Sarah’s loyal customer base has been her bedrock.
“I had the best intentions to really get out there and grow the business this year. I had shows booked in Canberra, Adelaide and the Australian Sheep and Wool Show which was all set up and then cancelled the night before.
“From it all, I pulled off one big event and a handful of regional markets which is hard because people want to meet you, hear your story and touch and smell the products.”
Sarah said the financial toil of COVID-19 lockdowns had been devastating but more so the mental strain it put on motivation.
“Our soap takes time to cure so I prepare for events three months out, making stock and doing all the marketing in the lead up. Only to end up having the rug pulled out so many times. It’s those emotional blows, the loss of control, that really impacts.
“I’ve always been quite an obsessive planner but it has been a struggle because everything is so unsure.”
But Sarah is a farmer and if any industry knows about challenges, it’s this one. Sarah said her current motivator was researching and exploring new ingredients she hasn’t worked with before, while looking to expand the range to include new products. The love and feedback she receives from her customers and the Cohuna community also keeps that fire in her belly burning.
“I’ve always believed you get back what you give out. Doing what I can to be involved in my community helps to lift others up. They want to give you a go and support you back too.”
Windella Farm is a boutique goat dairy located in Cohuna, Victoria, producing Australian eco skincare products backed by nature.
This article was originally published in OAK Magazine Issue 10.