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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 contract milkers' pay

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

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
  • plan and manage the feeding of cows
  • 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
  • follow health and safety and wellbeing procedures
  • keep up to date with new farm technology, and ways to make the 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 can work six days a week
  • work on farms and in milking sheds
  • work outside with animals, crops and machinery in all weather conditions

What's the job really like?

Dairy farmer video

Dairy farmers do a range of different jobs within their role - 0.41 mins (Video courtesy of Dairy NZ)

Interviewer: What does your dad do?

Child: My dad’s a builder, a vet, a mechanic, a plumber, an accountant, a tractor driver, a milkman, and an agronomist.

Interviewer: What does your mum do?

Child: Tells dad what to do because she’s the boss.

What’s an agronomist?

Entry requirements

There are no specific requirements to become a dairy farmer as you can gain skills on the job. However, a relevant training course in agriculture, dairy farming, agribusiness or farm management is recommended.

Dairy farmers will often train inexperienced people if they have a can-do attitude and willingness to learn. They may offer their employees training through the Primary Industry Training Organisation (Primary ITO), which oversees apprenticeships.

A business, science or agricultural related certificate, diploma or degree in science, commerce, business or economics will help advance your dairy career. 

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 animals
  • working in mechanical, maintenance or building industries 
  • professional rural roles such as fertiliser sales representative, banker or stock agent.

Physical requirements

Dairy farmers need to have a good level of fitness 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. There are opportunities for skilled workers throughout the dairy farming year, not just at busy times such as calving.

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.

Large industry with career pathway opportunities

Dairy farming is a large industry employing many farm staff in roles ranging from entry-level farm assistant jobs through to herd manager, assistant manager, farm manager, operations manager and farm owner.

The trend for dairy farms to be run as corporate businesses 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.

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 of a farm.

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).
  • 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).
  • 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.

Dairy farmers may also go on to buy their own farm.

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 18 February 2020