I have been making soap for nearly 10 years now. It all started when we had a steer butchered at home. We lived on a small property (around eight acres) at the time, and we wanted to grow our own food. Butchering the steer was part of that plan and we have butchered a steer nearly every year since then. When we butcher a steer on our property we have to dispose of all the waste. This meant digging a hole by hand and a rather large hole was required to fit in the head, the legs, and all the fat scraps (we kept the hide and tanned it, but that is another story).
Using Beef Fat to Make Soap
At that time I wondered if there was some use for the fat, because it took up most of the space and seemed like it could be useful. I found out that I could use beef fat to make soap. When beef fat is refined it is called tallow. This is a wonderful ingredient for making soap, as it makes a hard long-lasting bar of soap. It is also very similar to the sebum in our skin, so soaps with an excess of tallow can be less drying than other soaps.
I was very excited when I found out that I could use the beef fat to make soap. This meant that a single beef steer could provide us with the meat we needed for the year, a hide to tan and plenty of soap for us and to gift. Making my own soap with local ingredients has been a cost saving and another skill that reduces our reliance on the outside economy.
Rendering Beef Fat
Rendering the beef fat into tallow for soapmaking is very easy and over the years I have improved my process. I now use a slow cooker to heat the fat. I put the fat thought a mincer (grinder) – but you can also just chop it into small pieces. When the fat is completely melted in the slow cooker, I pour it through a cloth to remove the meat. I then store the rendered tallow in large plastic buckets with lids, as it is stable at room temperature.
When I wanted to learn how to make soap, I found out that an acquaintance was a soap maker and I talked her into giving me a demonstration. It was much easier than I expected. I was especially nervous about using the caustic soda, but after some practice (and with all my safety gear) I became more comfortable. I started with a very simple recipe until I had more confidence to experiment.
Using Natural and Local Ingredients
I read several books and many blog posts about soap making to find a range of local, natural ingredients to use in my soap. I don’t use any synthetic fragrances, colours or preservatives found in many commercial soaps. Making my own soap allows me to control the ingredients and stick to the natural alternatives that I prefer.
A Creative Outlet
For me, soap making is also a creative outlet. I enjoy trying different ingredients to produce different colours. I have a range of different shaped moulds (including hearts, flowers, stars and kangaroos) which I use to make fun designs. With handmade soap, no two soaps are ever the same and the only limitation is your imagination.
There are many reasons why I make my own soap:
- Using up a waste product that also makes wonderful soap
- Increasing skills for self-reliance
- Frugal cost-savings as making my own is cheaper than buying soap
- Controlling the ingredients and selecting the natural products that I prefer
- Using local ingredients with less “miles” to reduce our footprint on the earth
- A creative outlet
If any of those reasons resonate with you, I encourage you to give it a try, as soap making is easier than it sounds and a great skill for anyone living on a homestead or in a rural area with access to animal fat.
Liz Beavis is a small-scale cattle farmer and soap-making beekeeper in rural Queensland, Australia. On her Eight Acres Farm, she sells beef-tallow soaps, honey and beeswax, and is the author of Our Experience with House Cows, A Beginner's Guide to Backyard Chickens and Chicken Tractors, Make Your Own Natural Soap, and the Solar Bore Pump Handbook. Connect with Liz on Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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