Dairying in the north-east of Scotland has been difficult over the last few years, but Richard Fisher of Invercamey Dairy near Fyvie was determined not to give up his cows.
He has even added value to his business by selling milk direct to the public.
With help from his family, especially sister Marion and dad Alex, the first bottle went out to the public 18 months ago, and despite the challenges of Covid, he is now delivering up to 9,000 bottles per week to doorsteps in Aberdeenshire.
He explained: “We were on a non-aligned contract receiving less than 25p per litre and paying 1.75ppl to get our milk uplifted.
“Cost of production is around 30ppl so we couldn’t afford to continue unless we made some drastic changes.
“I put up a Facebook post asking if people locally would be interested in doorstep deliveries and reached over quarter of a million people – so we took the plunge.”
The farm at Invercamey Dairy is just 250 acres, with 65 predominantly Ayrshire milkers so, with no grant aid, the family had to put in everything they had plus borrow from the bank to set up a pasteurisation and bottling plant.
The total investment, even buying second-hand when they could, came to around £150,000.
They worked with business consultant Trish Winchester, but Richard said it was a very stressful time when the bank would not lend any more money and they were struggling to jump through the hoops and tick all the boxes required by various organisations.
He said: “The original plan was to sell mostly to coffee shops and the hospitality market but with these all being closed for so long, we had to rethink and focus on doorstep deliveries, which meant further investment in three vans.”
Customers are offered whole, semi-skimmed or skimmed milk in glass bottles as well as double cream from Invercamey, but the vans also deliver Rora natural yoghurt and Rennies farm eggs from local producers. Purchases are made through an app or the website.
Dealing directly with consumers has increased the value of his milk to around 140ppl.
However, Richard said processing and delivering was extremely costly, and the rising cost of feed, fertiliser and fuel means he will probably have to increase his prices.
He milks twice a day, while Alex does many of the other jobs on the farm and Marion, who works full-time as a sales executive for an insurance broker, is enthusiastic about the enterprise and steps in whenever she is needed.
She said: “The processing launch was the day before my first insurance exam but due to all sorts of teething problems, we didn’t get started until 10pm, worked until 4.30am and I got up at 6am to go and sit my exam.”
Now there are three van drivers and two staff working on the processing side, but it is still very much a family business and Richard enjoys the personal interaction he has with his customers.
He said: “We could increase the volume on a couple of runs but there is quite a lot of competition for doorstep deliveries up here now.
“I would like to keep providing a personal service to our existing customers and grow the business in other ways.”
They have purchased a churn for making butter and bottles ready for flavoured milk but have not yet had time to explore these options. He also reckons ice-cream would be popular.
Ayrshire cows produce milk with high butterfat and protein, and while the Invercamey milk is pasteurised it is unhomogenised which makes it popular with baristas.
Richard has persuaded a local coffee shop to put in a vending machine which can take 10 litre pails of milk for ease of use. The pails are then returned to Invercamey where
they are sterilised and refilled.
At the moment the cows are on a basic forage diet and all the milk produced is sold direct to the public but there is capacity to increase cow numbers and yields as volume of sales increases.
It has been stressful getting the business up and running, but Richard is already focused on the next step.