This guide is for you if you want to work or want to work on a New Zealand dairy farm, for example, farm assistants

  • herd managers
  • cattle graziers.

New Zealand values migrant dairy farm workers. No matter how long you stay in New Zealand, we want you to enjoy your time working here.

Because it can take time to get used to living and working in a new country, it is important that you and your family have the information and support you need, even if you are here on a temporary visa.

Working on a New Zealand dairy farm may be different from what you are used to. New Zealand dairy farms may be larger and more isolated than farms in other countries. You will have to learn to use different farm equipment. How New Zealanders communicate at work will be different too.

This guide will help you understand what it is like to work on a New Zealand dairy farm in New Zealand and where to get advice and support if you need it. It also explains some of the differences you may experience living in New Zealand.

About New Zealand dairy farms

Dairy farming is a big business in New Zealand and it is New Zealand’s top export earner. There are almost as many dairy cows in New Zealand as there are people. The size of dairy farms can vary – the average number of cows per farm is over 400. Some farms can have more than 1,500 cows. Over 40,000 people are employed in the dairy industry (2019) with over 35,000 employed on farms.

About working on New Zealand dairy farms

The New Zealand dairy farm will be different from what you are used to. Because of this, you may need to complete extra training, learn new ways of working or gain further qualifications. Most roles require you to have a driver’s license.

If you are thinking about working on a dairy farm, here are some things you need to know.

You need to be good with animals…and more!

As well as milking cows, you will have to do many other things around the farm. For example, you may have to:

  • monitor cow health and treat unwell animals
  • measure and monitor the amount of grass and supplementary feed available
  • put up temporary fences
  • use tractors and machinery to feed cows
  • help with calving
  • drive a tractor, motorbike or quad bike
  • feed animals.

You may also be asked to fix mechanical equipment, handle powerful machines, or do welding or engineering and understand the importance of meeting environmental policy.

These are just some of the things dairy farm workers do in New Zealand. It requires physical work, skills, intelligence and initiative.

Your attitude is really important

New Zealand dairy farmers are looking for workers who are motivated and have a ‘can-do’ attitude (willing to learn new things and try new ways of working). Due to the weather and changing farm conditions, you will need to be flexible.

When you start work, there will be someone to supervise you while you gain skills and work experience. After a while, you will be expected to make work decisions yourself and to be able to work on your own without being told what to do all the time.

On a small farm, you will often work alongside the farm owner. On a bigger farm, you will work as part of a team. You may have a female employer or “boss” and farm workers may be male or female.

Early mornings

Dairy farming often requires early waking to milk the cows – this could be as early as 5 am. The majority of farms will also milk cows in the afternoon. During the daytime, you can expect to do work on the farm and you will usually be given a couple of hours off as your personal time.

Working outdoors all year

Most New Zealand dairy farms work with cows that live outside all year. So, whatever the weather is like you will have to work outside all year too.

New Zealand’s climate might be quite different from what you are used to. New Zealand’s weather is seasonal with distinct summer and winter. Because we are in the southern hemisphere, our summer is between December and February and our winter is between June and August.

The weather can be very different in different parts of the country. The northern regions are generally warmer than the southern regions – but not always! If you work on a farm near the mountains it will be colder than if you work on a farm near the sea.

New Zealand weather can also change very quickly. If you come from a tropical country it can be difficult to get used to our changeable climate and our cool, wet, and windy weather.

Working with people from different backgrounds

New Zealand’s population is becoming more diverse. You may be working with people from different cultures and/or countries. Learning and understanding how to work with people from different cultural backgrounds, including New Zealand Māori, will be an important part of your job.

Get as much information as you can before you come.

Qualifications and registration

Using overseas qualifications in New Zealand

If you intend to use your overseas qualification to support you to get a job on a New Zealand dairy farm, check that your qualification is recognized by the industry. This is not necessary for most roles but will help your job application.

You may need to have your overseas qualification assessed by Qualifications Recognition Services (QRS) at the New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) to see if it aligns with the New Zealand Qualifications Framework (NZQF).