This job is sometimes referred to by alternative titles
Farm workers help farmers with a variety of tasks, including raising and caring for livestock, repairs and maintenance, tractor work, and other farming activities.
Farm workers usually earn between
$40K-$53K per year
Source: Federated Farmers/Rabobank 'Farm Employee Remuneration Survey', 2014.
Current job prospects
How many people are doing this job?
Source: Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, '2003-2012 Occupation Data' (prepared for Careers New Zealand), 2012.
Pay for farm workers varies depending on experience, location, the size of the farm worked on, and level of responsibility.
- Dairy farm workers earn between $40,000 and $47,000 a year.
- Shepherds on sheep and beef farms usually earn between $47,000 and $51,000 a year.
- Tractor drivers on mixed crop and livestock farms usually earn between $46,000 and $53,000 a year.
Other benefits offered to farm workers as part of a salary package may include:
- free or subsidised accommodation or housing
- free or subsidised power, phone, food, milk or meat
- transport or petrol allowances
- training and education
- production and performance bonuses.
The value of these other benefits varies greatly, but typically ranges between $1,000 and $4,000 a year.
Source: Federated Farmers/Rabobank 'Farm Employee Remuneration Survey', 2014.
- MoreBusiness.com website - use this calculator to convert pay and salary information
- Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment website - information about minimum pay rates
(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the figures and diagrams in our job information)
What you will do
Farm workers may do some or all of the following:
- shift or herd stock between paddocks
- drench and dip animals, and administer medicines to keep them healthy
- operate farm machines, such as tractors, to cultivate, fertilise, spray and harvest grain and other crops
- provide animals with food and water
- attend to animals while they are sick or giving birth
- collect, sort and pack animal products such as eggs or wool
- clean, maintain and repair buildings, yards and fences
- operate and maintain farm machinery such as tractors and wool-pressing machines.
Skills and knowledge
Farm workers need to have:
- knowledge of different farming methods
- good knowledge of the animals they are dealing with, including life and breeding cycles
- knowledge of how to use and care for farm equipment and machinery
- practical skills for tasks such as fencing
- driving skills to get around the farm on motorbikes, tractors or farm utility vehicles.
- may work long and irregular hours depending on the season and the type of farm they work on. They may also work evenings and weekends during busy times such as lambing
- work outdoors as well as in sheds and barns
- work in all weather conditions
- usually live on or near the farm where they are employed.
What's the job really like?
Kim During - Pig Farm Worker
Taking up an opportunity to work at a pig breeding unit introduced Kim During to a job she loves. Now she doesn't want to do anything else.
What do you like about your job?
"The pigs are the best thing about it. It's unbelievable how smart they are. We've got a few sows on the farm that won't let you leave the paddock until you give them a pat. And the piglets, they're awesome because they're just so cute."
What's a typical day on a pig farm like?
"First thing in the morning we check on the farrowing [birthing] huts to see if there are any new litters, and as we're feeding the sows we'll sort out the piglets and clean out the huts. Then we feed the other pigs on the farm.
"Other times we might be doing maintenance, shifting pigs from one paddock to another, or vaccinating them.”
What would you say to people thinking about getting into farming?
"You should try it because it's nothing like what people expect. I've trained greyhounds and worked in bars and hotels, and this is by far the best job I've ever had. I plan on sticking with it for a long time. Plus, I know I'm going somewhere with this. I would like to be managing this place in the future, or own my own pig farm. It's a great job."
Watch the video above to see what it's like working on a sheep and beef farm - 5.45 mins. (Video courtesy of Primary ITO)
Clinton: To get a feel for high country sheep and beef farming, Mike’s come to the Māori Trust farms at Te Hape and Waipa in the King Country. Wayne Fraser who’s a farm manager will be showing Mike the ropes. So what skills does a new entrant to the industry need?
Wayne: Listening skills, communication skills. The two biggest things. If they can listen and communicate then we’ll get on well. They'll learn a lot faster. G’day! Mike is it? Yeah, Wayne. Have you had any experience with farming?
Michael: A little bit.
Wayne: A little bit? Oh well we’ll see if we can get out there and get your boots dirty.
Clinton: First job – drafting, where the sheep are run through a race and separated out. The really dirty sheep, which need to be cleaned up, are separated from the rest.
Wayne: Are you up to the challenge?
Michael: I’ll give it a shot!
Wayne: OK then cool. I'll get out of the road. I'll get wasted. Don’t lean your head across, because another sheep will come directly in behind and take you out. They do hurt.
Clinton: It’s a pretty good start to the day, and Mike’s quick to reveal he already knows how to handle sheep.
Wayne: So what we’ll do, to tell its age, we check its teeth. By checking those teeth, that tells me that that’s a lamb. There’s a whole variety of different opportunities out there for young people. There’s sheep and beef, there’s dairy, there’s horticulture.
Clinton: On a farm like this, where might a new entrant start?
Wayne: Dagging, they would have to clean the gear, be able to set the handpieces ready for a day's work dagging. They would learn a skill as we go... You had to pick the dirtiest one! I should be able to fit right in there.Now lift it. Keep that bottom tooth down.
Clinton: Mike soon learns there’s nothing glamorous about farming sheep.
Wayne: He’s going really well, he’s picked up things really fast. A lot faster than I anticipated. Gees Mike you’re a natural there! But after a few thousand you’ll even get better! So how did you enjoy that?
Michael: It was good!
Wayne: I heard you in there. It was a bit hard on your back?
Wayne: You’ve got to toughen up, aye, when you’re out on the farm!
Clinton: For those starting out a qualification in agriculture is recommended, but not essential. The skills can be gained on the job.
Wayne: Come down this end, come over here Mike! When they progress from a junior general hand up to a general hand, in that time frame they would have to do numerous courses from ITO – tractor, chainsaw, ATV courses. As part of the requirement for that person they would have to have those under their belt. I’ve started from the ground up. I started as a tractor boy, now I’m a manager. In my 20-plus years of farming I’ve learnt a range of skills. You become an accountant, a bank manager, a consultant and numerous things.
Clinton: Farm work is extremely varied. You can be managing cattle, dipping, calving, weaning, or fixing a broken fence. Agriculture ITO offers courses in all these areas, right up to management levels. In today’s farming industry there are newcomers, trainees and Modern Apprentices. Brett Young is a King Country farming Modern Apprentice.
Michael: How did you get into the farming?
Brett: I heard about it through other friends that are doing it and they really got a lot out of it so I thought I’d give it a go.
Michael: What’s your background in farming?
Brett: I started shepherding when I left school, and this is my second job since I left school.
Michael: So what’s next for you?
Brett: Probably a management course next year, production management.
Wayne: Show me how you whistle.
Michael: What, that way?
Wayne: Oh we’ve got a lot to work on then. (whistle)
Wayne: That stops the dog (whistle). Just a short, sharp one. Sides (whistle). And the opposite side (whistle). Part of being a shepherd and a farmer is being able to work your dog. So we’re going to have to try to teach you how to whistle.
Clinton: At the end of two days Mike’s had a go at a whole lot of jobs. And he’s certainly made an impression.
Wayne: He’s gone really well, he’s actually a lot more advanced than I thought. He’s done really well, and the beauty about it is he’s willing to be here – that’s the hardest part. I suppose with any job, you’ve got to have the passion to do it. Otherwise you wouldn’t do it.
Michael: I found it really enjoyable. It was good to talk to people that have been in the business for a while and experience different things. So yeah, it was good.
Wayne: Have you ever ridden a horse before?
Wayne: Well I think you might have to start because it’s a long way back to Auckland.
Wayne: Put your steering wheel on. Pull your reins in! Yeah that’s it…Whoa, whoa, whoa. Pull your reins in, pull your reins in.
Clinton: National Certificate in Agriculture courses are offered at several levels. Your interests and career goals will dictate which level of the certificate you need to achieve. Level 2 is an introduction to the industry, takes one year to complete and requires 18 hours of off-farm theory based training.
The outlook for farming is good and the numbers employed are expected to rise. Farming is becoming more specialised to cater for niche market demands, and all farmers now have to adjust farming styles to maximise returns. Michael, no one would even know you’re a city slicker after that performance mate, well done.
There are no specific entry requirements for becoming a farm worker, but many employers prefer to employ farm workers who have completed a pre-employment farming programme, or are working towards a related qualification.
Pre-trade and other qualifications available
You can do pre-trade courses at a polytechnic or private training establishment. These lay the foundation skills for starting an apprenticeship or entering the workforce. Most pre-employment courses are 18 or 26 weeks long.
You can also gain a national certificate through one of the New Zealand agricultural cadet farms (including cadet farms run by a Ngai Tahu/Lincoln University partnership to grow Maori leadership in agriculture). Cadet farms provide a live-in one- to-two-year training programme combining theory and practice that enables cadets to gain 'work ready' skills. Many short courses in practical farm skills, such as fencing and shearing, are also available.
If you're in farm work then you can work towards a qualification
National certificates in agriculture and equine are available through the Primary Industry Training Organisation (Primary ITO) and farming apprenticeships are also available through the New Zealand Apprenticeships scheme.
Higher qualifications such as a Diploma in Agriculture or Farm Management, or a university degree, are worth considering if you want to become a farm owner or manager.
Tectra runs training courses for wool handlers and pressers new to the industry and who have been working in a woolshed.
A driver's licence is useful, especially a heavy vehicle licence.
- Primary ITO website - information on agricultural training courses
- Tectra website - information about wool courses
- New Zealand Transport Agency website - information on heavy vehicle licences
Although there are no specific secondary educational requirements, it is useful to have at least NCEA Level 2 in subjects such as agriculture, horticulture, workshop technology, maths, English and science.
Farm workers need to be:
- motivated and willing to work hard
- adaptable and efficient
- willing to learn
- good with animals
- able to work well under pressure and as part of a team.
Useful experience for farm workers includes:
- work with livestock or animals
- any type of farm work
- work with machinery
- engineering work such as welding
- forestry work
Farm workers need to be healthy, and have a good level of fitness and stamina, as farm work can be physically demanding.
Find out more about training
- Primary ITO
- 0800 208020 - firstname.lastname@example.org - www.primaryito.ac.nz
- 0800 496 657 - www.tectra.co.nz
What are the chances of getting a job?
Demand for farm workers has increased due to insufficient numbers of new farm workers coming through to replace those leaving the role.
Demand is especially high for farm workers with pre-employment experience and qualifications, and many farmers report they have trouble finding staff. Highly skilled farm workers, such as assistant farm managers, are included on Immigration New Zealand's Immediate Skill Shortage list. This means the Government is actively encouraging assistant farm managers to come and work in New Zealand.
Lots of seasonal vacancies but demand is for skilled workers year round
Demand for farm workers is especially high during peak seasons such as:
- lambing and calving in spring
- harvesting in late summer/autumn
- shearing from October to March.
However, there is increasing recognition of the value of skilled farm workers with hands-on experience and up-to-date farming knowledge who can play a more integral role on farms year round.
Cadet farms offer hands-on training and qualifications
Cadet farms, which are run as commercial sheep and beef farms, offer one-to-two-year agricultural training programmes and can be a good way for young people with little farming experience to get 'work-ready' training and qualifications. If you're interested in getting experience on a cadet farm, do a search for the closest cadet farm to you.
Farm workers mostly employed on privately owned farms
Most farm workers work for private farmers or farm managers.
Other employers include:
- Landcorp, a state-owned enterprise that runs farms throughout the country
- private companies that own many farms and employ workers and other staff to run them.
Most farms employ between one and three farm workers, but large farms can employ 20 or more.
- Federated Farmers, '2014 Farm Employee Remuneration Survey', June 2014, (www.fedfarm.org.nz).
- Immigration New Zealand, 'Immediate Skill Shortage List', 24 March 2014, (www.immigration.govt.nz).
- Ministry for Primary Industries, 'Future capability needs for the primary industries in New Zealand', April 2014.
Progression and specialisations
Farm workers may progress into farm management positions, such as stock/block manager and farm manager, or become self-employed farmers. Others may become farm consultants, sell agricultural products, or work in other areas of the agriculture industry.
Farm workers may specialise in areas such as:
- Cattle Farm Worker
- Cattle farm workers raise and care for beef cattle, and perform routine tasks on beef cattle farms such as feeding, mustering and moving cattle.
- Dairy Farm Worker
- Dairy farm workers raise and care for cows, and perform routine tasks on dairy farms such as herding and milking cattle.
- Pig Farm Worker
- Pig farm workers raise and care for pigs for the production of meat and breeding stock.
- Poultry Farm Worker
- Poultry farm workers raise and care for chickens or other poultry to produce meat, and/or keep hens to produce eggs.
- Sheep Farm Worker
- Sheep farm workers raise and care for sheep and help to prepare them for shearing, crutching, dipping and yarding for sale.
- Stablehands exercise, feed and care for horses at a stable, and keep the stable and the stable yard clean.
- Tractor Driver
- Tractor drivers operate farm machines to cultivate, fertilise, spray and harvest crops and vegetables.
- Wool Handler/Presser
- Wool handlers/pressers regulate the flow of sheep to be shorn, as well as picking up and sorting wool in a shearing shed and pressing it into bales.
Last updated 13 April 2016