Meet Katy Rodger: The Dairy Queen

Writer Sophie Pither meets dairy queen Katy Rodger and learns about the art of farming and how cows, given the right tools, can milk themselves!

Katy Rodger is a stylish woman in fitted trousers and tucked-waist tweed jacket, her short blonde hair fashionably ruffled. She’s just rushed in from a curtain fitting in nearby Dunblane. It’s not quite the image I was expecting for a dairy farmer.

“Oh, I’m not a farmer,” she says, “My husband is the farmer.” Her job title is tricky to pin down. Let’s say something along the lines of Yoghurt, Crowdie, Crème Fraiche and Ice Cream Maker, Manager, Interior Designer, Event Organiser, Café Owner. I ask her about a typical day as the person in charge of a business that farms a 60-strong herd of Friesian dairy cows, makes award-winning dairy produce, operates a busy café and upholstery business, and maintains a kitchen garden. Oh, and hosts weddings and parties here at Knockraich Farm, in Fintry, set in a wildly beautiful valley in central Scotland.

It’s not an old-fashioned nor very traditional farm at all – the way the herd is milked is thoroughly modern. “The cows are milked by robots,” says Katy, “They’re attracted into the milking room with food, and are automatically milked. If they’re greedy, and return for seconds, then a scanner recognises that they’ve already been milked and gently nudges them back out into the field.”

Most amazingly of all, if a cow has been too busy munching grass all day to come in to be milked, her husband Robert, the main farmer, gets a message on his mobile phone, saying exactly which cows still need milking and he can go and lead them inside. It’s a stress-free way to operate the milking system for the cows.

Every day Katy is up at 2am. She begins making yoghurt at 3am, and the batch will be ready to pot at 1pm. Then the whole process is finished at about 4.30pm in the afternoon.

Katy Rodger’s yoghurt-making process is absolutely farm to fork. The milk is transferred manually from the milking shed to the dairy, a few metres away. A culture is added and the process is begun. It’s all packaged and labelled on site. The same goes for Katy’s delicious crowdie – a crumbly creamy Scottish cheese, and her ice cream – which has become a big draw on her Courtyard Café menu, literally across the courtyard, and comes in flavours like cappuccino, or coconut. She also sells crème fraiche, butter, and its byproduct buttermilk. Nothing is artificial – even the berry and rhubarb compotes that are mixed into the yoghurt are homemade by Katy and the family.

The entire Rodger clan are very hands-on, and all live on site. Katy’s daughter Helena runs the logistics of the business. Helena’s husband is a joiner who constructs, mends, and creates things around the farm, most recently extending and refurbishing and fitting a charming outbuilding ‘The Tin Shed’ for weddings and events. Katy’s other daughter Catherine runs the cafe.

“Even the older grandchildren – between 10 and 13 – get involved,” says Katy. “My grandson loves helping with the cows, and goes down every day after school.”

Robert sees to the cows. He is the farmer. His parents bought the 100-acre farm back in 1955, and the family has maintained this small herd of cows since. The whole operation seems to run very symbiotically.

But it’s Katy who expanded the business way beyond the realm of milk producer – and managed to keep the milk side of things viable, creating jobs for everyone. She had already started her home-interiors business (which is actually her passion), but back in 2011, when milk prices began to plummet, she began making ice cream to help keep the farm afloat. However, she soon noticed that the artisan ice-cream market was filling up fast, and so diversified to high-end yoghurt.


Since then she has added crowdie, crème fraiche, butter, and a new fast-seller, good-old cream-on-top non-homogenised milk, sold into refillable glass bottles straight from the urn (available at the Stirling and Milngavie Food Assemblies). One thing led to another, and Katy set up the lovely Courtyard Café, and most recently a wedding venue on the farm, including an old piggery that has become a non-denominational chapel.

Katy’s aren’t any old dairy products. Her yoghurt is renowned all over Scotland. Look on the label of most yoghurt and you’ll find strange thickeners and preservatives – Katy’s plain yoghurt is simply milk and a culture. She thinks the distinctive taste is to do with those pure-bred Friesians. Endorsement of her produce comes from anyone who tries it, including most of Scotland’s best restaurants, such as Cromlix House, Cameron House, The Three Chimneys, Andrew Fairlie’s, and Martin Wishart’s. The list goes on. Since the yoghurt won a series of Scottish Food and Drink accolades in 2012, plus a stash of Great Taste Awards, the business has been flying. The yoghurt is stocked in Waitrose, and Katy now has four distributors taking dairy produce all over the UK.


In terms of where it all comes from – the farm, the original business, nothing stands still there either. Katy says: “We’re not organic, but we use very little medicine or vaccines because we have very good farming practice. We have a pure Friesian grass-fed, outdoor-bred herd, and we never buy in cattle, just rear them here on this small farm. We sell what we don’t use for the dairy to Graham’s the local processor, as well as some direct to the public in our refill station, and through The Food Assembly.”

So, while Katy may not think of herself as a farmer, her energy has certainly brought about a sustainable future for her whole family at Knockraich Farm, all starting with that one simple product, milk, and a whole lot of determination and those amazing robots that milk those cows.

About

Sophie Pither

Sophie Pither

Sophie Pither is a freelance food and travel writer with more than 20 years' experience. She writes for The Sunday Times, Conde Nast Traveller magazine, Olive, and The Guardian, among many other publications. She lives in The Trossachs, in rural central Scotland, and often writes about the area, keen to spread the word about where to find the best Scottish food and drink.

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