bfa 2022

Jenny McKerr risked her family’s life savings to launch a farm diversification and change the steer of the business. The first-generation Scottish farmer has achieved great flexibility in her business, adapting to changes as they appear. Danusia Osiowy finds out more.

Jenny McKerr took the biggest gamble of her life when she invested her family’s savings earmarked for a house build to launch a farm diversification in 2018. At the time she was living in a static caravan on their 18-hectare (45-acre) Lanarkshire-based farm with husband Stephen and their three daughters, Catherine, Mirren and Corrie (now aged 11, nine and five, respectively), desperately trying to make ends meet as first-generation livestock farmers. Jenny, who previously managed an abattoir and cutting plant processing 1,000 Scottish cattle each week, says: “After tying up the little cash we had in 80 sheep and 10 suckler cows, we realised after the first year on the farm in 2016 that we had to think differently – trying to follow commercial systems was just not an option for us as we didn’t have the land.


“Too many times people told us we would never make that place work, it is too wee, the buildings were so rundown and the farm desperately needed investment to become productive again. “But this put more fire in our bellies so we decided to delay the house build and open an artisan distillery on-farm.” After retraining from meat industry operations to distilling, Jenny worked with a mentor in the industry over the course of a year who helped her learn the technical aspects, recipe development and legislative requirements. Soon after she launched to market with three gins to celebrate the spirit of Scottish farming along with, what is now, a 30-strong portfolio of gin liqueurs. “The demand locally was phenomenal and customers enjoyed buying directly from the farm and I realised there were more opportunities beyond the distillery as people were willing to experience the farm, purchase gin and enjoy a full day out.” Although lockdown soon followed and buying habits changed, Jenny quickly adapted the business and the distillery switched to sanitiser production to supply the market’s demand, moving the gin sales online, which then trebled in 2020. The success of the diversification coupled with successful application of a Bounce Back Loan from the Government following the pandemic afforded the renovation an old cottage on-site into a luxury self-catering holiday let, with a hot tub, barbecue hut and a sensory gin garnish garden. With 14,000 followers on social media, their route to market has been through engagement, word of mouth and selling directly and the Distiller’s Cottage is almost completely booked for the next 12 months. Recently, the McKerr family opened Steak and Still Farm Shop to sell their Wagyu beef and Scotch lamb, as well as produce from other local producers. Our main ambition was to produce premium native meat and we now run a suckler cross Highland cows, of which some are artificially inseminated to Wagyu to ensure we produce a sensational eating experience with our beef.”


With Jenny confident the demand for local food and drink will continue, she believes there is a huge opportunity for farmers to collaborate to promote food production positively and be part of the solution environmentally. Such is her passion and ‘can-do’ attitude, the successful enterprise won Diversification Innovator of the Year at last year’s British Farming Awards. Described as a dynamic business leader and praised for taking a risk to fulfil a mutual wish to farm in her own right, Jenny is admirably demonstrating an array of diversified enterprises alongside running a small beef and sheep farm. While Stephen works full-time running a fencing business, the couple use evenings and weekends to catch up with livestock work and ongoing farm improvements. Although the couple began with hill sheep, they moved to Scottish Mules and Lleyns with Texel tups and worked closely with SRUC to understand what their land required. “We started a programme of liming, topping, fertilising and established paddocks to implement rotational grazing,” says Jenny. “This meant by year three we moved our sheep enterprise into profitability by finishing lambs instead of selling store. Looking forwards, Jenny is constantly looking for the next good idea and is proud to have proved their critics wrong that they would not be able to reverse the fortune of the farm. “I’m proud of our family’s efforts to breathe life into the farm again. We were faced with a lot of critics who assumed 45 acres could not be run profitably. “We sacrificed our standard of living by downsizing, living simply so we could invest everything we had into the farm and give it a real go. It only took us two years to get into profit, which I think is down to having the right mindset and being able to adapt quickly.


“We don’t hide what we are doing and we openly share our plans for the farm. This honest approach has been welcomed by the community who enjoy being part of the journey. “Going forwards we are looking to collaborate with local hospitality businesses and producers to host foodie events that really connect consumers with farming and good food production.”