Jade and Josh Connolly took on Marsh Farm in Riddlesden to live a lifestyle which gave them more time as a family.
With two young daughters, Josh, who previously worked offshore as a saturation diver, said he had always seen farming and gamekeeping as “appealing jobs”.
“I wanted to work from home to be around for our daughters Murphi and Ludi. The money for diving was great, but you can’t buy back time. Jade and I both love the outdoors, having animals and doing things on our own.
“We thought about what we could do and although we had no specific training or qualifications, caring for animals is something that comes quite naturally to both of us.”
The couple took on the seven-acre Marsh Farm and it was when Josh stumbled across the idea of goat's milk soap that artisan brand Tilda’s Tribe was born.
“I can’t even recall where I saw it now, but we started making soap together with our neighbour who had the goats.
“Right from the start I wanted it to be a natural product with no chemicals and we soon realised it was good. We had customers complimenting us.”
The Connollys' herd is predominantly made up of Anglo Nubian goats which produce creamy milk. They are known for their ‘Roman’ nose and long drooping ears.
“The goats are really important to us and we like Anglo Nubians,” Josh said.
“Their appeal is their character. They are a bit more docile than other breeds, which means they are easier to handle, and they are really strong milkers. But we do have other breeds too.”
To help build the business’ sustainability, Josh and Jade have started to breed their own stock on a small scale and it is in honour of their first-born kid the business is named.
“We bought three in-kid goats and the first goat born on the farm we called Tilda. We are now looking forward to having our first home-bred kids later this year.
“Although I’d never had any experience in this way before I feel quite comfortable around new life and just seem to know what to do.
“In fact I was slightly gutted when Tilda was born as I missed her birth. She arrived in between my routine checks. I made sure I didn’t leave at all for the others.”
Josh said his days now revolve totally around the herd, the farm and the soap, and he said he couldn’t be happier.
“When I’m not pouring the goat’s milk into moulds for the soap and then cutting and curing or milking the goats twice a day, I’m out in the fields catching up with fence repairs and trimming the goats’ feet.
“It’s a brilliant life. Tiring, but brilliant and we have made it all happen largely on our own.”
The couple produce the soap in batches of 48 bars, making between six and eight batches a day. They have turned what was once a cattery into a small factory where they process the milk.
The soap is a natural product with goat’s milk being used instead of the water. The popularity of goat's milk has grown in recent years as the milk is known to help relieve skin complaints such as eczema and psoriasis.
“The soap business and having the goats is so positive,” said Jade.
“All of our time is now taken up making sure we produce enough to fulfil our orders and looking after our small goat herd.”
The couple first started selling their soap unpackaged at markets before developing the branding and product design. The business has grown and they now sell wholesale to farm shops and online.
“We are in over 40 farm shops including Fodder in Harrogate and Keelham Farm Shop in Skipton where we started. It has all just grown organically and even Holland & Barrett are now interested.”
The couple said they have plans to expand their goat numbers but are cautious about categorising themselves as professional goat farmers.
Josh said it was important to them to keep the herd free range and in their natural environment.
“We are nowhere near becoming a full-scale goat dairy farm and I never want us to go into intensive farming. Ideally our aim would be to get to between 20-30 goats.
“We are currently milking eight and we do it by hand, however we are planning to buy a small-scale electric milker and have all of the milk going into a tank in future.”
Jade looks after the Tilda’s Tribe social media and said she sees the connection with their herd and customers as a vital part of their marketing.
“I love putting videos of the goats up on our digital platforms and our customers really like to see them.”
Jade said when the couple bought Marsh Farm their vision was to breed animals and live off the land with their daughters, aged four and five.
The goat’s milk soap was a happy accident which has developed into a business that is paying its way.
“I don’t know whether we would have come this far so quickly without the Covid restrictions of this past year.
“All we could do was concentrate on selling as much soap as we can and although we lost out on gift shops being shut, we have more than made up for sales through farm shops and online business.”