It has been a gradual, but consistent, turnover of growth at Knockraich Farm and now the business is able to sustain all of the family’s involvment.
Erika Hay visits husband and wife team Robert and Katy Rogers to find out more.
Thirty years ago, if anyone had told Katy Rodger her name would become a premium brand synonymous with quality dairy products, she would, she says, simply not have believed them.
Katy and husband Robert were busy at that time bringing up their young family at Knockraich Farm in the charming village of Fintry at the foot of the Campsie hills, about 40 minutes from Glasgow.
Their days were taken up with milking cows and Katy had set-up a hairdressing salon in a cottage next to the farmhouse.
It was a few years later they decided to try to add value to their milk by setting up Katy Rodger’s Ice Cream. This successful business was sold six years later when Katy’s interior design business was established.
She says: “Making ice cream was a job, whereas interior design was, and still is, my passion.” She was trained by the Queen’s curtain makers, and with a background of sewing, there was no shortage of private clients looking for her help and ideas.
The Rodgers have made the most of the traditional farm steading, with the yard outside the house turned into a pretty garden area where visitors can sit outside the cafe and enjoy a coffee. But there has been no compromise to the cattle buildings and the latest investment to the farm is a robotic milking system, which will be installed next month.
At the moment the cows are milked in an 8:16 dairymaster parlour, which Robert plans to keep because of the handy yoking system if he needs to catch or treat a cow. However, the robot will be situated nearby and, having done all the research, Robert is convinced he will get more than the extra three litres per cow promised by the installation company, which should pay off the robot in less than eight years.
Once the cows are used to the robot, Robert hopes it will free up a little more of his time to concentrate on other farm projects, which include an apple tree orchard, party venue and of course the creamery.
Katy says: “I thought I was finished with making ice cream, but when we opened the cafe about eight years ago everyone kept asking for ice cream, so we decided to start again.”
However, by the time they got through all the red tape, built the creamery and installed the equipment, Katy felt the market for ice cream was poor, with too many other people producing it in the area.
Robert, in the meantime, continued to run the 32-hectare (80-acre) farm and milk the 60 Friesians, while helping to develop and support Katy’s ideas and ventures.
With both daughters now married, living on the farm and working in the business, Robert is surprised the farm sustains the number of people involved.
“I would never have believed this small farm could support three families.” Son Ian is a vet, married to Susan who is also a vet, and lives in nearby Stirling.
A further 24ha (60 acres) is rented near Kippen for grazing of youngstock. About 16ha (45 acres) of grass is down to first cut silage, about 25 second cut and sometimes Robert gets 10 or so acres for a third cut, depending on the season. The farm sits at 60-82 metres (200-270ft), but has a high annual rainfall of between 70 and 80 inches.
Robert has remained with British Friesians for their substance and durability – although he has tried Holsteins and Montbeliardes but has developed a good market for both his Friesian bull calves and Limousin cross Friesian heifers.
He says: “I think there is too much Holstein in the beef herd, there is a good demand for my cattle and the difference between selling an 18 to 20-month store Friesian steer compared to a Holstein is about £300.”
He uses Aberdeen-Angus and Limousin bulls on the heifers and sells the steers as stores, but he calves some of the cross heifers and sells them with calves at foot.
For the last four years they have gone to the same buyer who likes the fact they are so quiet and easy to handle; a result, Robert believes, of being bucket-fed as calves.
The cows yield an average of 7,000 litres, but it is the lifetime yield which matters to Robert, with some cows in their eighth lactation.
Protein averages 3.4 per cent and butterfat 4.3 per cent and since last year the milk has been sold to local processor Graham’s Dairies.
To create a bigger market she began producing cheese, but struggled to market it and in desperation started making yoghurt. This marked a turning point as daughter Helena, who manages and co-ordinates the various aspects of the business, entered Katy Rodger’s Yogurts into the Scotland Food and Drink Awards in 2012, where, to their huge surprise, it won the Product of the Year award.
Katy says: “The next morning, we had enquiries from all the major supermarkets wanting to stock our yoghurts. We chose Waitrose and Aldi and have not looked back since.”
Each batch of yoghurt is hand-made; the fruit is cooked in-house and only as much sugar added as absolutely necessary.
“Although our yoghurts are made with whole milk, they carry the same number of calories as low-fat yoghurts.” She starts the ball rolling every morning in the creamery at 3.45am, before full-time creamery worker Robert McLaren arrives at 9am, who is helped by two part-time girls.
The same attention to detail goes into the production of frozen yoghurt and ice cream, which is mostly sold in their own cafe and in Peter’s Yard Bakery Cafe in Edinburgh, but the Katy Rodger Crowdie (a soft cheese) and creme fraiche have become ‘must have’ items for nearly all the top chefs and restaurants in Scotland. Andrew Fairlie’s at Gleneagles, Martin Wishart and the Three Chimneys in Skye, all use the products.
“The chefs appreciate what we are doing, they want Scottish, they want local and they want the very best.
“The Commonwealth Games and Ryder Cup have also been great this year and allowed us, and other Scottish producers, to showcase our products to a global audience.”
This family does not rest on its laurels for long. Katy admits she has the creative brain and comes up with most of the ideas, but Helena has the business brain and elder daughter, Catherine, puts things into practice where she is in charge of the cafe and produces all the baking herself. Ian also has an input and it was him who came up with the idea of an apple orchard.
Katy explains: “This is a five-year project, we had the orchard and kitchen garden designed by award-winning designer Arabella Lennox-Boyd and now, after four years, it is really taking shape.”
Ian comes home regularly and looks after the 700 trees and the plan is to produce apple juice and cider from next year, plus it will be a lovely area for visitors to spend time after a coffee or a browse round the interiors showroom. A full-time gardener has also been employed, which Katy admits is a real luxury.
Katy Rodger Interiors enjoys a huge amount of repeat business and Katy had recently visited a client with whom she has been working for eight years. She still makes a lot of the curtains and soft furnishings herself, although she has a full-time person working on that side of the business. As with the food products, everything is hand-made and she has taken orders from England and as far away as Florida.
Recently, to make way for a new shed, an old round topped shed was dismantled and rebuilt on a new site.
With Katy’s imagination and vision and son-in-law joiner Drew Johnston’s ability to translate Katy’s ideas into practice they have created a rustic venue with a lot of character and space – so much so it was the venue for Catherine’s wedding to Robert Taylor at the beginning of September this year.
Katy and Robert are modest about their achievements; an entrepreneurial couple, who have come a long way in 30 years but as Katy says: “We could never have envisaged this, but we have grown organically, we have done it all ourselves and everything fits. The best thing is working together as a family and we never have disagreements or fall out.”