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Dairy Herd Manager

Kaiwhakahaere Māpu Kau

Alternative titles for this job

Dairy herd managers run daily dairy farming operations such as feeding and milking cows, monitoring animal health and environmental management.


Assistant dairy herd managers usually earn

$48K-$88K per year

Experienced dairy herd managers usually earn

$51K-$90K per year

Source: Federated Farmers/Rabobank, 2018.

Job opportunities

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


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

  • Assistant dairy herd managers usually earn between $48,000 and $88,000 a year.
  • Experienced dairy herd managers can earn between $51,000 and $90,000.

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 herd managers may do some or all of the following:

  • plan and manage the feeding of cows
  • milk cows and manage junior and relief staff in milking sheds
  • manage the health, reproduction and welfare of calves and cows 
  • monitor effluent spreader systems
  • general maintenance such as fencing, spraying weeds and pest control
  • keep records of a farm's environmental impact
  • follow health and safety and wellbeing procedures.

Skills and knowledge

Dairy herd 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
  • knowledge of sustainable environmental management practices.

Working conditions

Dairy herd 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 herd manager video

Matt Dawson talks about his career in the dairy industry – 3.19 mins. (Video courtesy of NZDIA)

Matt Dawson: Hi, my name's Matt. I'm 21 and I'm married to my beautiful wife Taylor. I'm currently 2IC for Henri Pennings on NZ Dairy lease, and together with his son Isaac we run this 620 cow operation in Hawton Downs, Hamilton.

It began across the road on my dad's 350 cow farm. When I was little I learnt how to rear calves, drive tractors and drive motorbikes. When I turned 13, I began relief milking and I was often found on the weekends in the local sheds.

I look up to my dad a lot and ever since a young age I always wanted to be like him. So when I was 16 I left school to begin my career in the dairy industry.

I have five years' experience – three years as a farm assistant, one year as a herd manager, and one year as a 2IC. Next season my wife and I are returning to my dad's farm to start our first lower order sharemilking job.

From the day I left school, I enrolled with Primary ITO and I've completed all of their courses up to Level 5 production management, which I completed last year. At the moment I'm currently working my way through the Level 5 agribusiness diploma and I aim to have it completed in the next three years.

Over the next five years I plan to build my equity by purchasing empty cows, winter milking them, getting them in calf, and then selling them on for a profit. After five years of lower order sharemilking, we would like to move onto a larger scale contract milking job with the end goal in 10 years to be able to enter an equity partnership.

One of the things that I love the most about farming is that everyday is different. I get the opportunity to use so many different skills – ranging from practical skills to management skills to budgeting skills.

I'm very passionate about growing grass and I always do my best when it comes to pasture management. The reason I love pasture management so much is because I like seeing fully fed, high-producing cows. The key things I look for is always grazing at the third leaf stage and hitting that 1500-1600 residual. I love working for Henri because we both share the same passion for farming and for cows.

Another area that I'm passionate about is effluent and nutrient management – which goes hand and hand with growing grass. I believe we, as an industry, need to be using best practice procedures to ensure that we can be sustainable for future generations. I always ensure that my application rates and my application timings are correct to make sure that I'm utilising my nutrients wisely.

When I'm not busy farming you can often find me out and about. I play indoor netball socially with a group of friends and I'm a leader at my local youth group. I enjoy camping and fishing with my wife, and if I'm lucky in winter I like to get down to Mt Ruapehu to do some snowboarding.

My ultimate goal is to become the best dairy farmer in the country – providing benchmarking and proving that sustainability and best practice is able to be achieved on every farm in New Zealand.

Entry requirements

There are no specific requirements to become a dairy herd 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. 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. 


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. 

On-the-job training

Dairy herd managers may choose to study towards a qualification while working, and attend farming discussion groups.

Secondary education

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

Personal requirements

Dairy herd managers 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 as part of a team
  • good at communicating with and managing people.

Useful experience

Useful experience for dairy herd managers includes:

  • any farm work
  • working with animals 
  • rural retail or sales roles.

Physical requirements

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

Find out more about training

Go Dairy
0800 4 324 7969 - -
Primary ITO
0800 20 80 20 - -
Check out related courses

What are the chances of getting a job?

High demand for experienced dairy herd managers

Chances of getting a job as a dairy herd manager 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 herd managers from overseas to work in New Zealand.

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

Types of employers and working arrangements varied

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

Large farming businesses often employ dairy herd managers.


  • DairyNZ, 'QuickStats About Dairying - New Zealand', January 2019, (
  • Federated Farmers, 'Farming Salaries 2018: Remuneration Summary Report 2017/2018', accessed November 2019, (
  • GoDairy, 'Dairy Farming - Find Out How To Make Your Career Happen', accessed December 2019, (
  • LIC/DairyNZ, 'New Zealand Dairy Statistics 2017-18', accessed December 2019, (
  • Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, 'Farmers and Farm Managers Occupation Outlook', accessed November 2019, (
  • 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 herd managers may progress to other roles in the dairy industry such as:

A dairy herd manager feeding calves milk

Dairy herd managers run daily dairy farming operations such as feeding cows or calves (Photo: DairyNZ)

Last updated 7 November 2023