‘The Farm of Belting Ideers’

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Just under 15 minutes from Keith near Glenbarry is Little Rowater farm. This is home to a growing herd of over 100 red deer, a herd of 50 Belted Galloway cattle, some ostriches, emus, sheep and the French family.

I was lucky enough to be invited to visit Little Rowater by Isla French one not so lovely November morning. However, despite the weather I left feeling inspired and amazed at what Isla and her husband, George, have achieved in such a short space of time.

Isla and George bought Little Rowater just over 3 years ago and were so keen to get started that they created a 5 year business plan, applied for a young farmers start up grant, purchased their Belted Galloway cattle, and moved them in before they had even exchanged keys.

On moving into the farm they discovered that they had been lucky enough to be awarded the grant funding they’d applied for, so set to work renovating the house and upgrading the farm with new deer fencing in order to make it a suitable place to home deer as well as their cattle. They completed all of this while also adapting to life with a newborn child.

Over the next three years they achieved their goal of making Little Rowater deer friendly as well as upgrading outbuilding, installing new water troughs, adapting sheds for deer, building a handling facility for the deer, purchasing emus and ostriches and welcoming two further additions to their own family.

Not to be stopped there they have recently started selling their own meat – both from the red deer and Belted Galloway cattle, eggs – full and empty, feathers, antlers and calendars with Isla’s own photos, all directly from the farm as well as at local markets.

They are able to sell eggs all year round as ostriches are summer laying, while emus are winter laying, and with the average ostrich egg being equivalent to 20-24 chicken eggs you can be sure to get a good meal out of them. They also sell the empty shells, which are very thick, and can be used for decorative purposes, Faberge style eggs and lamps. The antlers from the deer can also be used to make lamps, coat hooks etc. In the future Isla and George also hope to produce ostrich meat.

Currently, Isla and George are offering festive venison meat packs, roasting joints, haunch roast, rolled shoulders and venison shanks, so if your still looking for your Christmas lunch then look no further.

In addition to looking after the animals Isla also loves to take photos, which she decided to turn into a calendar. These can be purchased directly from Little Rowater or from Boogie Woogie in Keith.

Even though they have achieved all of this in the last three years, it has long been in the planning and started when Isla was at University. Isla attended SRUC near Aberdeen (SAC back then) where she gained a 1st class honours, and as part of her course she completed a dissertation about Belted Galloway cattle and butchery, with a little help from George, as well as completing another study into deer farming. This was the start of their dream and the point at which they started to learn as much as they could in order to make their dream a reality.

Both Isla, whose namesake is the River Isla, and George grew up on farms, George near the coast and Isla a stones throw from Little Rowater. They both love a challenge and have in the past, been keen hill walkers and runners, and Isla and George have even competed for Scotland in Tug of War. In keeping with this Little Rowater are delighted to be supporting local Scottish Strong Woman, Caitlin Duguid. Caitlin is the World’s 2nd Strongest Natural in the Under 75kg category, and is currently training for Scotland’s Strongest Woman in May.

Although their hearts lie in the farming world they have both worked in different industries, with George still working as a mechanical engineer. This has allowed them to gain experience and knowledge outwith the farming world which in turn has made them stronger individuals and along with their farming background, love of animals and the great outdoors, and their thirst to gain as much knowledge about deer farming as possible, they are now successfully running their own farm.

Their dream has always been to have their own farm where their kids could have the best life possible, as they did as youngsters. As a child on her parents farm, Isla was given her own animals, along with her siblings, which they had to look after and manage. Any money they made from this was saved and Isla has used this towards purchasing the farm. For Isla this ignited her entrepreneurial skill and along with George she has taken this forward with her own children who have been gifted two cows and two sheep each.

Isla and George take great pride in their farm and animals, and raise them to the highest ethical and environmental standard possible. The animals, who are mainly grass fed with additional supplements when required, are given the highest living standards possible and Isla and George strive to improve the farm continually.

They are immensely passionate about what they do, want to continue to improve their business and farm as well as to educate people in food production, and to make local produce more accessible and therefore easier to purchase. In order to achieve this they want to change peoples buying habits with the help of the supermarkets. They fully understand that people lead very busy lives and find it easier to shop under one roof, often in a supermarket. However, if local producers can work with their local supermarkets, between them they could offer a local produce section therefore making it easier and more accessible to purchase locally grown produce. Supermakets could further enhance this with relevant advertising. Another way in which they hope to achieve this is to work with other local producers in order to be able to produce meat and vegetable packs so that customers can collect from just one place. They are currently in the process of working with a local vegetable producer to achieve this, and would also love to take part in a Food Hub, such as the one in Elgin, again making purchasing produce easier and more convenient for the customer.

They also feel people need more education on the farm to fork process, something that could maybe take place in schools more. As part of educating people Isla and George are more than happy to show people around their farm, introduce them to the animals and explain the process to them. People need to understand the impact of buying from other countries compared to buying locally. Grow local, sell local.

In keeping with grow local, sell local they use the closest butchers possible to them, but in the future they would maybe look into having their own butchering facilities on site thus keeping the farm even more environmentally friendly and with a smaller food foodprint.

As part of their new venture of selling produce locally and directly to the customer they have been attending markets and have opened a farm shop on site. The shop is open most weekends and can be opened on request, but please contact Little Rowater to make sure they are open beforehand. They can also arrange a Keith drop off if enough orders are placed.

Little Rowater offer both fresh and frozen products and with their fast freeze service they can offer the best frozen meat possible, as the faster meat is frozen the better.

Isla and George have put everything into the farm and have so many ideas and plans for the future. They have done everything from helping to design their own logo and tag line, to marketing and advertising, renovating the house and putting up new deer fencing, all while raising three young children. They are hugely passionate about the farm and providing accessible local produce for people and it really is the place of ‘Belting Ideers’.

For more information please visit https://www.littlerowater.co.uk/ and https://www.facebook.com/littlerowater/, or alternatively you can email enquiries@littlerowater.co.uk or phone 07791 382 539.

Photos courtesy of Isla French of Little Rowater Farm. Remember you can purchase Little Rowater calendars displaying Isla’s photos.

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