Dairy Farmer Kaiahuwhenua Miraka Kau

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

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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.

Physical Requirements

Dairy farmers need to have a good level of fitness as dairy farm work can be physically demanding.

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.

Personal Qualities

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.


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.


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

Subject Recommendations

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.

For Year 11 to 13 learners, Gateway and trades academies are good ways to gain relevant experience and skills.

Dairy Farmers can earn around $55K-$67K per year.

Chances of getting a job as a Dairy Farmer are good due to a shortage of people interested in this type of work.

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 an average of $55,000 a year.
  • Dairy assistant managers usually earn an average of $66,000.
  • Dairy herd managers usually earn an average of $67,000.
  • Dairy farm managers usually earn an average of $83,000.
  • Operations managers in charge of large or multiple dairy farms earn an average of $103,000. 

As well as their salary, dairy farm workers usually get other benefits such as accommodation, meat and firewood.

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 2022', 2021/2022.

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.
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.

Years Of Training

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.


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.

Dairy Farmer