GRAND SALINE — Farming entrepreneur Kristen Tjernlund receives a blaring, pre-dawn wake-up call every morning, but her bedside alarm clock hasn't sounded in years.
About two dozen hungry goats and other farm animals apparently don't want to miss a meal, and leading the charge is a rowdy young kid named Zoe, who wears a diaper and sleeps inside on a low table at the end of her owner's bed.
Spoiled, yes, but for this farmer, it seems there are few things cuter than a silly, floppy-eared goat bleating for its breakfast.
"I always wanted a goat," said Mrs. Tjernlund, 59, who grew up in Long Island, New York. "Every birthday, I asked my parents for a goat, and I was always disappointed."
The farmer wannabe bailed on big city hustle and bustle in the 1990s and headed to Texas with her family to start a new chapter in her life.
Fast forward a couple of decades, and there seems to be few signs of the information technology career she left behind.
Instead of a briefcase and high heels, she opts for comfortable jeans and the opportunity to be her own boss, pouring boundless energy into the sometimes-zany Tjernlund Goat Farm, maker of soap and personal care items.
"It's definitely a long way away from a cubicle," she said, sweeping animal manure out of the stalls. "I don't sit down all day, I'm always busy. At night, I go sit down and watch TV with my goat."
SCIENCE OF SOAP
Mrs. Tjernlund's transformation from writing codes to writing recipes seems to suit her strengths. Both require patience, precise calculations and the willingness to try new things.
"I'm always experimenting," she said with a grin.
The odyssey from tech into full-time farming began in 2009, when Mrs. Tjernlund and husband, Donald, bid farewell to suburban life in Flower Mound, to try something a bit more rural and off the beaten path.
Their new slice of paradise is in Grand Saline, estimated population 3,266, on a 12-acre parcel that's home to not only Mrs. Tjernlund's beloved goats, but also several rescue animals: a few dogs, a cat, a horse, four laying hens and a cocky rooster named Elvis.
It is here that Mrs. Tjernlund seems to be in her element, enjoying her goat friends and creating products that highlight the nutritional benefits of their milk, rich in vitamins and minerals.
"This is who I am," she said above the whine of a commercial mixer. "This is where I feel at home."
She makes about 15 types of soap and a line of moisturizing creams in her kitchen, using friends as test subjects and recipes designed by her son, a chemist.
In her spare time, she tinkers with lip balms, cuticle cream and hair conditioners.
The brand features earthy blends, such as lemongrass, peppermint and honeysuckle.
"Each bar weighs between 4 and 5 ounces and contains at least 25 percent goat milk," she said. "If I use any scent at all, it's essential oils."
The couple milks about four goats at a time, collecting about 1.5 gallons a day to cook with and freeze for future use in Tjernlund Goat Farm merchandise.
Personal care products from Tjernlund Goat Farm are available through the website Etsy and area markets, including Canton, McKinney and Rose City Farmers Market.
"I usually make something every day, usually one or two batches of soap," she said. "It's very good for people with skin problems. People seem to like it."
A FAMILY CIRCUS
Mrs. Tjernlund's good-natured husband, originally from Minnesota, appreciates his wife's happy adventures and boundless energy.
He works as a service technician in medical research, but makes time to help out around the farm, doing everything from milking and mowing to tinkering with tractors.
"It's a lot more work than I thought we'd be doing, but it's a lot of fun," he said.
The couple said they rarely vacation, because they enjoy being home with their comical brood.
"Where am I going to go? I live in paradise," Tjernlund, 61, said, joking that one of his favorite hobbies is mowing. "It's like I tell her, my face hurts when I'm done, because I'm grinning the whole time."
The couple's exploits in the goat business took an unexpected twist in November when one of their kids was born with critical medical issues.
"Zoe was what you call a floppy baby," Mrs. Tjernlund said. "They usually die, but she made it."
Floppy baby syndrome is characterized by low muscle tone.
The couple refused to give up on the tiny newborn, born in November, tending to her every need. They tried not to get emotionally attached, but the goat soon had a name and a place in their hearts.
"I guess we had her inside too long," Mrs. Tjernlund said. "She thinks I'm her mother and the dogs are her siblings. She sleeps inside at night and sits and watches TV with us."
Eight months later, the pampered pet is leading a dog's life, only better: Zoe gets her own bowl of pretzels for late night snacking and a red rose with breakfast.
A tiny feral piglet the couple found in a creek bottom also grew up on the farm, but unlike the goat, she wasn't allowed indoors.
"Taz " grew into a gentle 250-pound giant on the back patio, snoring on a Batman sleeping bag and lounging in a watering trough to stay cool up until her death last year, the family said.
"She was a little scary looking, but very affectionate," she said. "She used to scream at the back door wanting food … we kind of miss having her around."