Dairy Farmer

Kaiahuwhenua Miraka Kau

Alternative titles for this job

Dairy farmers plan and manage milk production by cows, maintain pasture and monitor environmental impacts on farms.

Pay

Dairy farm assistants and herd managers usually earn

$42K-$90K per year

Dairy farm managers and operations managers usually earn

$63K-$160K per year

Source: Federated Farmers/Rabobank, 2018.

Job opportunities

Chances of getting a job as a dairy farmer are good due to a shortage of workers and high demand for their services.

Pay

Pay for dairy farmers and dairy farm managers varies depending on experience and responsibilities, and the profitability of the farm.

  • Dairy farm assistants usually earn between $42,000 and $80,000 a year.
  • Assistant dairy herd managers usually earn from $48,000 to $88,000.
  • Dairy herd managers usually earn from $51,000 to $90,000.
  • Dairy farm managers usually earn from $63,000 to $160,000.
  • Operations managers in charge of large or multiple dairy farms can earn from $66,000 to $160,000. 

Sharemilkers' and farm owners' pay

The earning potential of sharemilkers (who may own herds and supply herds or equipment in exchange for a percentage of milk company payouts), and managers (who arrange profit-sharing with farm owners) can be high, but may change from year to year.

The amount they earn depends on how much milk their cows produce and milk company payouts, which vary depending on global market conditions.

Other benefits

Dairy farmers are often supplied with free power, telephone, and meals. These extras usually add up to around $5,000 a year. Accommodation is also available on most farms, sometimes at subsidised rates. 

Source: Federated Farmers/Rabobank, 'Farming Salaries 2018', 2017/2018.

(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our pay information)

What you will do

Dairy farmers may do some or all of the following:

  • milk cows and collect milk using milking equipment
  • plan and manage the amount and type of food cows eat
  • manage cow health, reproduction and calf-rearing
  • carry out general maintenance such as fencing, spraying weeds and pest control
  • keep financial and farming records
  • maintain equipment and farm vehicles
  • employ and train people to work on the farm 
  • work with vets, farm advisers and other contractors
  • keep up to date with new farm technology, and ways to make the dairy farm more environmentally sustainable.

Skills and knowledge

Dairy farmers need to have:

  • good animal-handling skills and an understanding of animal welfare
  • an understanding of pasture management
  • knowledge of the milking process
  • an awareness of milk company standards and safe practices on the farm
  • the ability to drive, operate and maintain farm machinery
  • business and accounting skills
  • knowledge of sustainable environmental management practices.

Working conditions

Dairy farmers:

  • usually start early in the morning, and work until late afternoon
  • may work long hours during peak times, and often work six days a week
  • work on farms and in milking sheds
  • work outside in all weather conditions, and may work in dusty, dirty, wet, and noisy locations
  • may visit other farms or attend agricultural field days.

What's the job really like?

Dairy farmer video

Matthew and Samantha talk about their passion and plans for their career in dairy farming – 2.05 mins. (Video courtesy of Ministry for Primary Industries)

Matthew: I was born onto a farm and the vast majority of my extended family all farm. I always spent holidays at aunties’ farms and stations and all that – it was always where I wanted to be.

Probably the best thing about dairying for me and why I chose dairying above anything else is there’s a direct, very achievable pathway through it.

There’s probably 10 or 15 steps there that are all very achievable for someone within 5 to 10 years.

Samantha: I did vet nursing and then from there I studied rural animal vet nursing.

The idea behind it was because this way it helps me understand what’s going on on the farm and I’m a lot more help to Matthew.

I can dag cows and all that kind of stuff, so it just helps us get a bit further ahead and it looks really good on our CV.

Matthew: To be a farmer, I think the most important thing is passion. You’ve got to love it. You don’t have to be born into it, I know quite a few mates who have come out of Auckland who are dairy farmers now and they love it.

It’s just that passion side of things. You’re never going to know unless you try it.

Samantha: I didn’t think I would. I was studying architecture, straightening my hair for milking, all that kind of stuff – and here I am, doing it.

Matthew: You’ll know within a very short period of time whether you want to do it or not.

I know I had found what I wanted to do because I’d probably do it for free. Maybe not quite, but pretty close.

It provides such a great life for us, that I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Samantha: It’s not work either, it’s a lifestyle.

Matthew: As I got into the industry it was still farming, not really considered a business. As I’ve grown into it, it’s a very professional industry now. We record everything now: animal remedies, animal health, when effluent is applied, how it’s applied, where it’s applied.

It’s not good business to have nitrogen or whatever leaching out of the system because we could be utilising that to grow grass.

Samantha: We’re going to get there, we’ll have 2,000 cows one day, we’ll have our own farm one day – even if it’s a small farm, we’ll still have it.

Matthew: Sam wants our own land so she can build her dream house and I can build my dream farm.

Entry requirements

There are no specific entry requirements to become a dairy farmer, but training will help you with your career. A relevant training course in agriculture, dairy farming, agribusiness, or farm management is recommended.

Most dairy farmers offer their employees training through the Primary Industry Training Organisation (Primary ITO), which offers apprenticeships. 

Dairy farmers will often train inexperienced people if they have a can-do attitude and willingness to learn. 

Pre-employment training 

Pre-employment training options include internships, work experience and short courses available through private training organisations and polytechnics.

Apprenticeships 

Apprentices earn while they learn and develop their skills and career prospects through on-the-job experience over two or three years. Apprenticeships are available through different industry organisations and companies. 

On-the-job training

Dairy farmers may choose to study towards a qualification while in work, or attend farming discussion groups.

Secondary education

No specific secondary education is required for this job, but agricultural and horticultural science, digital technologies, maths, English and business studies to a least NCEA Level 2 are useful.

Personal requirements

Dairy farmers need to be:

  • confident and caring with animals
  • patient, adaptable and practical
  • motivated and able to follow a routine
  • able to show initiative and make decisions
  • well organised, goal-focused and forward-thinking  
  • able to work well independently, and in a team
  • good at communicating and managing.

Useful experience

Useful experience for dairy farmers includes:

  • farm, outdoor, engineering or labouring work
  • working with cows or calves
  • working in mechanical, maintenance or building industries 
  • professional rural roles such as fertiliser sales representative, banker or stock agent
  • membership of a Young Farmers' club. 

Physical requirements

Dairy farmers need to have excellent fitness and good stamina as dairy farm work can be physically demanding.

Find out more about training

GoDairy
0800 4 324 7969 - info@dairynz.co.nz - www.godairynz.co.nz
Primary Industry Training Organisation
0800 20 80 20 - info@primaryito.ac.nz - www.primaryito.ac.nz
Check out related courses

What are the chances of getting a job?

High demand for dairy farmers

Chances of getting a job as a dairy farmer are good because there is a shortage of workers and high demand for people with dairy farming skills.

Dairy cattle farmer appears on Immigration New Zealand's regional skill shortage list. This means the Government is actively encouraging skilled dairy farmers from overseas to work in New Zealand.

Demand highest during calving season

Dairy farms are busiest during the calving season, which is usually between July and October.

However, calving seasons may vary between farms and dairy farmers are in demand throughout the year.

Large occupation with new management opportunities

Dairy farming is a large occupation employing many farm managers. 

The trend of dairy farms becoming corporate means more opportunities for people with management skills. New farm management roles include operation managers, business managers and farm supervisors.

According to the Census, 26,541 dairy cattle farmers worked in New Zealand in 2018.

Government's emissions target may affect dairy job opportunities

Jobs in the dairy industry are likely to be affected by government methane emission level reductions. 

Types of employers and working arrangements varied

Dairy farmers may work for themselves, or as permanent staff members, or on a profit-sharing contract that includes part-ownership.

Sources

  • DairyNZ, 'Economic Survey 2017-18', May 2019, (www.dairynz.co.nz).
  • DairyNZ, ‘Employee’, accessed December 2019, (www.dairynz.co.nz).
  • DairyNZ, 'Employee Career Pathways', accessed December 2019, (www.dairynz.co.nz).
  • DairyNZ, 'QuickStats About Dairying - New Zealand', January 2019, (www.dairynz.co.nz).
  • DairyNZ, 'Submission on Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Bill 2019', 12 July 2019, (www.dairynz.co.nz).
  • Federated Farmers/Rabobank, 'Farming Salaries 2018: Remuneration Summary Report 2017/2018', 2017/2018, (www.fedfarm.org.nz).
  • GoDairy, 'Dairy Farming - Find Out How To Make Your Career Happen', accessed December 2019, (www.godairy.co.nz).
  • Immigration New Zealand, 'Regional Skill Shortage List', 27 May 2019, (www.immigration.govt.nz).
  • Knopp, R, 'marketing and communications advisor', GoDairy NZ, careers.govt.nz interview, November 2019.
  • LIC/DairyNZ, 'New Zealand Dairy Statistics 2017-18', accessed December 2019, (www.dairynz.co.nz).
  • Ministry for Primary Industries, 'People Powered', accessed December 2019, (www.mpi.govt.nz).
  • Stats NZ, ‘2018 Census Data’, 2019, (www.stats.govt.nz). 

(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our job opportunities information)

Progression and specialisations

Most dairy farmers start as farm workers or assistants, and progress into other roles such as herd manager or sharemilker. Some eventually buy and run their own farms.

Dairy farmers may specialise in a number of profit-sharing and management roles, such as:

Dairy Farm Assistant
Dairy farm assistants help farmers with a variety of tasks, including raising and caring for animals, repairs and maintenance, and other farming activities.
Dairy Herd Manager
Dairy herd managers are paid a wage to manage a herd of cows.
Dairy Farm Manager
Dairy farm managers are responsible for the financial and physical performance of the farm in consultation with a farm's owner.
Operations Manager
Operations managers are responsible for meeting farm owners' business goals, and managing farm profits or shares.
Contract Milker
Contract milkers pay for a percentage of the farm costs (without owning the cows) and receive a set reward per kilogram of milk solids.
Sharemilker
Sharemilkers either milk a dairy farmer's cows for a profit share, or own a herd of cows and milk them on an owner's land for a profit share.
Dairy Farm Owner
Dairy farm owners own their own dairy farm and may employ staff to run their farming business.

Other employment and profit-sharing arrangements are available in the dairy farming industry.

Two dairy farmers discussing farming operations and surveying cows

Dairy farmers usually employ and train staff to take care of cows (Photo: DairyNZ)

Last updated 25 January 2020