In the latest instalment of our series, Scotland's larder, we discuss what life is really like down on the farm with Aylett Roan from Roan's Dairy in Dumfries and Galloway.

Aylett describes her daily routine of running the family business, Roan’s dairy, as a bit like firefighting with “one panic after another.”

She is married to Stuart, who comes from a sixth-generation farming family and they live on Barnbarroch farm near Dalbeattie in  Dumfries and Galloway with their two sons Fraser and Fergus.

You can trace previous generations of the family back to 1898 and, Aylett said, “one way or another there has always been a dairy herd here.”

The farm is now home to around 120 pedigree Holstein cows as well as around 600 ewes and a further 60 cattle who are raised as a mixed beef herd, which include Limousin, Aberdeen Angus, Charolais and belted Galloways.

Aylett tells us that, “dairy cows basically need lush grass and don’t walk far, so the rest of the land needs other beasts to nibble it down.”

There are also two collies, Nap (who is blind and retired) and the upstart young working dog named Lad.

Roan's Dairy Aylett

Down on the farm

Aylett is a Melrose lass originally, but she now enjoys the challenges of running the family enterprise along with her husband Stuart and his brother Steven, and his wife Tracey.

The brothers both have their own separate farms, Steven farms nearby at Boreland of Colvend, with his wife Tracey and their children, Andrew and Lucy with another 180 dairy cows.

The fantastic four all have their unique roles

Aylett said it often always feels as if “I’m doing too many things at once. I’m the all-rounder or wonder woman in disguise. Whatever needs to be done, I’m there.

Stuart is Mr Fix it, he is able to fix anything and a great problem solver and logistics guy.

Steven is the ‘cow whisperer’ he is very much involved with breeding and showing side of the things, whilst Tracey is the creative one and our social media guru, she takes an idea and actually makes it happen.

We all complement each other, we have to make it work.”

Daring to be different

Scotland’s climate may provide the perfect weather for growing grass for dairy cattle, and it is fair to say that the small scale milk industry has been decimated over recent years. Many producers give up entirely, but here at Roan’s dairy they decided to go it alone and have gone from strength to strength.

Aylett explains, “Stuart has always been determined that he wanted to become independent”  while she was always concerned the workload for this would be too much.

However when milk prices dropped to 20p per litre, the farm couldn’t operate effectively and they couldn’t see a sustainable future, or make investments.

Then their milk supply contract was pulled, so there was no other option and the four took the plunge in September 2015.

The cow’s milk is processed offsite but comes back to the farm for them to sell. Initially, they had thought that they would only be supplying trade and businesses, “but it turned out all of a sudden, we looked at the numbers and they weren’t coming up.”

Aylett said, “we thought, what are we going to do?” the answer was to sell direct to the doorstep and as Aylett says, “the rest is history.”

How, now, brown cow?

Each cow has its own unique characteristics, and each has a name and unique number they are known by, “Carol, for instance, is a bit like me basically a fat lazy cow “Aylett said.

“All the food she eats turns to fat but she stands out from the herd, but she comes over and makes sure you know she’s there.

There is another cow with extra long legs, number 74 she is short and dumpy and 21 bites your bottom if you ignore her and don’t give her a scratch. They are like children.”

Plus the bulls are given monikers like; Eruption, Malice, Elvis, and the cow’s names are a combination of dam and sire.

The herd, in general, are placid, that is in part to the  two hi-tech milking robots, which allow each individual cow access to be milked as many times as they want, a sort of DIY dairy.

The farm has also made the decision to raise all their excess dairy calves for beef, Aylett explains she’s pleased that “they get to experience a happy life.”

The cattle live a pampered life, out to pasture first thing at 6.30am in the morning, but with cosy beds, cow brushes ad lib feeding and lots of silage in the winter.

They have a free choice when they come back inside, which can be can be mid-afternoon or evening but there are always a few stragglers.

Roan’s dairy offers doorstep deliveries direct to locals.

Word of mouth

During the summer months, Tracey and Aylett would normally be spreading the word about Roan’s dairy, at local shows and events in their award-winning Udder Bar (a converted horsebox) which dispenses tasty milkshakes and information about the business, but due to Covid it will not be making appearances any time soon.

They are passionate about educating the public about where their milk comes from. Aylett said, we also promote the brand on social media, “You can watch Mrs Moo the cow, in our tik tok videos.

Aylett says ” I have friends that ask is that really you? but I like to think it’s more like Stig from Top gear.”

The family business supplies a wide range of customers from, families, single people young old. Aylett said, “it totally varies but the link is that they support us, and like to know where their milk is coming from.”

They have a catchy slogan “fresher than the udders” which sums up the lighthearted style of the business.

As most of their custom comes from word of mouth, Aylett said, “We try to deliver anywhere within 55 miles of the farms as far as Newton Stewart, Port Wiliam, Annan, Thornhill and Gretna.”

They sell both full-fat milk, semi and skimmed milk, and cream, both double and single and flavoured milk but they also provide local eggs from Nith Valley local yoghurt made by Rowan Glen in Newton Stewart.

 

Roan’s dairies range of products were expanded during lockdown when they worked tirelessly around the clock to supply people with necessities, like potatoes and toilet paper to ensure customers didn’t go without.

Aylett explains ” we were already set up, providing a service and people couldn’t get out. We didn’t just supply existing customers we’d rather go without sleep to make sure everyone had access to something. We just had to get on with it. ”

Country Life

Roan's Dairy Aylett

Aylett’s grandparents were farmers, but not her parents, and at age 11 she got to help out at lambing nearby and she said “basically I never left, every waking moment you’d find me on the farm.”

After school, she studied agriculture where she learned about a variety of different types of farming. The one thing she was determined was not to work on a dairy farm, but then she ended up marrying Stuart.

She laughs and said, “both brothers headed East to get their wives.”

Aylett has also landed the farms with a starring role in This Farming Life Season 2 which, she said: “was amazing, but a bit weird”.

It all started with an email enquiry about the farm diversification and after a casting video or two they were all in front of the cameras. Aylett is glad they got involved ” lots of things have come from it, it was something different.”

The Roan’s have also had success in Scotland Business Awards – Dumfries & Galloway Best Customer Service Retail Business 2017, Runner up in the Rural Enterprise category at The Scottish Rural Awards 2017, Dumfries & Galloway Life Awards 2016, Finalist in the Producer of the Year, Dumfries & Galloway Life Awards 2015, Special Commendation in the Producer of the Year.

Mooving forward

Roan's Dairy Aylett

The family are keen to build in longevity to the business with scope to expand and have introduced an online ordering system and a refillable milk station vending machine at the family-run, Cragieknowes Golf course and tearoom. You just bring your own container or buy one of their branded glass bottles and pay for what you fill.

They are also planning to have their own bottling plant in operation by September.

Aylett is honest and said “working with family can be hard, the pros are flexibility and a common goal everyone is on the same page but cons are you don’t leave it at the desk, it goes to bed with you or to the dinner table and it is 24/7”

“Some days are infuriating, but at the end of the day, it is worth it, all the time not spent with the kids”

As an important part of the local economy, Aylett said, ” our employees rely on our family business, we are all part of the same team.”

The long term future looks bright, as both Aylett and Stuart’s son, Fraser and Tracey and Steven’s eldest Andrew, are keen to carry on the family farming tradition.

Roan's Dairy Aylett

(L-R) Tracey Roan, Lucy, Andrew, Steven Roan, Derek Roan, Kathleen Roan, Stuart Roan, Fergus, Fraser, Aylett Roan – Photograph: Daniel Taylor

 

 

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About The Author

Catriona Thomson

Catriona picture edits The Scotsman magazine and Scotland On Sunday, aswell as reviewing restaurants for Scotland on Sunday and writing for Scotsman Food and Drink.

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