Dairy Farm Manager
Kaiwhakahaere Pāmu Kau
Dairy farm managers manage farming operations and staff for dairy farm owners.
Dairy farm managers usually earn
$63K-$120K per year
Dairy operations managers usually earn
$65K-$160K per year
Source: Federated Farmers/Rabobank, 2018
Pay for dairy farm managers depends on experience, level of responsibility and farm earnings.
- New dairy farm managers usually earn between $63,000 and $71,000 a year.
- Experienced dairy farm managers can earn between $71,000 and $120,000.
- Dairy operations managers earn an average of $80,000 a year, and can earn up to $160,000 a year.
Source: Federated Farmers/Rabobank, 'Farm Employee Remuneration Survey', 2018.
(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our pay information)
What you will do
Dairy farm managers may do some or all of the following:
- organise herd tests
- plan and manage the food cows eat
- manage the health, breeding and mating of cattle, and the raising of calves
- carry out general maintenance such as fencing and spraying weeds
- keep financial and farming records, and organise the farm business plan
- maintain equipment and farm vehicles
- employ and train people to work on the farm
- interact 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 dairy farm more environmentally sustainable.
Skills and knowledge
Dairy farm managers need to have:
- good animal-handling skills and an understanding of animal welfare and health issues
- an understanding of pasture management
- knowledge of the milking process
- knowledge of milk company standards and safe farming practices
- the ability to drive, operate and maintain farm machinery
- business and accounting skills
- an understanding of sustainable environmental management practices.
Dairy farm managers:
- 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 farm manager video
Ella Wharmby talks about her dairy farming career in Matamata - 3.33 mins (Video courtesy of GlobalHQ)
As a farmer, you're also a part-time vet, part-time agronomist part-time soil scientist, part-time fencer, tractor driver, there’s a bit of everything.
I've never once woken up in the morning and thought ‘oh god here we go again’. It's really satisfying.
I'm Ella Wharmby. I'm a dairy farmer here just outside of Matamata.
This farm is 340 hectares, 240 of witches and milking platform, about 10 hectares in fenced off wetland, and 10 hectares in trees.
There's no feed pad here. It's mostly pasture-based. We have all young stock on farm. We rear all of them. There's about 680 cows peak-milk and we produce on average 250,000 kg of milk solid a year.
I’m 2IC on this farm at the moment and there's two herd managers. It's a really good environment here and I really enjoy my work. I've always had a love for production of food and outdoors. Agscience was one of the degrees I just thought ‘well can't really go past it’.
As part of the course I had to do practical work on a farm. The woman I worked for was just amazing. The farm was beautiful. I didn't know pretty much anything to do with dairy farming at all.
There's a big learning curve especially in the first couple of weeks when you've never milked a cow or you've never sprayed weeds or you've never driven a quad bike. But pretty much straightaway you become a valuable member of the team because there's always another set of hands that are needed.
For me one of the hardest things about farming in general is when you have livestock they say you have dead stock as well. I think the first time was probably the hardest when I first had to deal with a dead cow. I was quite emotional over the whole thing. I might have even cried a little bit about it because you do get attached to them. And it's not just because they're what actually provides the milk, the product, but they become part of your everyday life. It's like almost having a pet in some people's cases, like your scratchy cows or your friendly cows. They're all jealous, eh 97.
I think it's really important to be empathetic towards the animals. If I lose that then I won't be doing my job properly.
I have been really lucky in the opportunities that I've been given so I'm just making sure that when those opportunities arise that I have all of the skills I need to take them on and do as well as I can.
There are no specific requirements to become a dairy farm manager 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. Most dairy farmers 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.
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 dairy industry organisations and companies.
Dairy farm managers may choose to study towards a qualification while working, and attend farming discussion groups.
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.
Dairy farm managers need to be:
- confident and caring with animals
- patient, adaptable, practical and well organised
- 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 as part of a team
- good at communicating with and managing people.
Useful experience for dairy farm managers includes:
- any type of farm or farm management work
- animal-handling work
- driving tractors and using machinery
- engineering work such as welding
- work as a stock and station agent – buying or selling sheep, cattle or deer
- managing others.
Dairy farm managers need to have a good level of fitness as dairy farm work can be physically demanding.
Find out more about training
- 0800 4 324 7969 - email@example.com - www.godairy.co.nz
- Primary Industry Training Organisation
- 0800 20 80 20 - firstname.lastname@example.org - www.primaryito.ac.nz
What are the chances of getting a job?
Experienced dairy farm managers in demand
Chances of getting a job as a dairy farm manager are good due to a shortage of workers and high demand for people with dairy farm management 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 farm managers from overseas to work in New Zealand.
Large industry with career pathway opportunities
Dairy farming is a large industry employing many farm managers.
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 farm managers may work as permanent staff members, or on a profit-sharing contract that includes part-ownership.
Large farming businesses often employ dairy farm managers.
- DairyNZ, ‘Dairy Farm Career Pathways Standard Roles’, accessed December 2019, (www.dairynz.co.nz).
- DairyNZ website, '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).
- Immigration New Zealand, 'Regional Skill Shortage List', 27 May 2019, (www.immigration.govt.nz).
- GoDairy website, accessed November 2019, (godairy.co.nz).
- Littin, G, 'Extra Busy Times On Dairy Farms', 30 July 2014, (www.stuff.co.nz).
- LIC/DairyNZ, 'New Zealand Dairy Statistics 2017-18', accessed December 2019, (www.dairynz.co.nz).
- Stats NZ, '2018 Census', 2019.
(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our job opportunities information)
Progression and specialisations
Dairy farm managers can progress into other management roles such as operations manager. Some
may buy and run their own farms.
Dairy farm managers can specialise in a number of profit-sharing and management roles, such as:
- Dairy Operations Manager
- Operations managers are responsible for meeting farm owners' business goals, and other farm management functions such as ensuring farms meet resource requirements.
- 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
- Farm owners own their own dairy farm and farming business, and may employ staff to run their farming business.
Last updated 7 September 2023