Farming in New Zealand will probably be different from what you are used to. This guide will help you prepare for your new life working on a New Zealand dairy farm.
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An employer version of this guide can be downloaded:
Employer guide (PDF, 5MB)
The New Zealand dairy sector values migrant workers. No matter how long you stay in New Zealand, it is important that you enjoy your time working here.
It can take time to adjust to living and working in a new country. It is also important to have the information and support you and your family need, even if you are here on a temporary visa.
Farming in New Zealand will probably be different from what you are used to. New Zealand farms may be large and can be in areas where not many people live. You will also have to deal with the challenges of learning to use different farm equipment, living in a new culture (often called ‘culture shock’), speaking and understanding New Zealand English, making new friends, and becoming a part of your new community.
Milk is big business in New Zealand and it is New Zealand’s top export earner. There are 4.8 million dairy cows in New Zealand. That is more than the number of people living in New Zealand.
The average dairy farm has 402 cows, but many farms are a lot bigger with some farms having more than 1,500 cows.
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 make hay and silage, lay drains, build and mend fences, sow grass and crops, fix mechanical equipment, safely and skillfully handle powerful machines, and drive motorbikes and quad bikes, do welding and engineering, help cows give birth, test soil, and much more.
It requires a lot of hard work, skills, intelligence, and common sense.
Your attitude is really important
Dairy farmers are looking for people who are keen to learn new things and who have a ‘can-do’ attitude (willing to try new and different types of work).
On a small farm you will work alongside the farm owner, and 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.
At the start, there will be someone to supervise you while you gain skills and work experience. Once you have been on the farm for 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.
It is okay to ask questions if you are unsure of what to do. Bosses prefer you to ask questions to make sure the job gets done right.
Early morning starts
You will be getting out of bed very early in the morning because farms start milking by 5am. Most farms will also milk the cows in the afternoon around 3pm.
During the busy times of the year, like calving, you will be working longer hours.
Your employment agreement should give you a good idea of the hours you will work and the breaks you are legally entitled to.
Looking after yourself
As well as looking after cows, you also need to look after yourself. One big difference – especially if you come from a tropical country – is New Zealand’s weather. It can be difficult to get used to our cool and wet climate. Take a close look at the table below to help you understand how the weather changes over the year. That table also tells you about how the types of work done on a farm change over the year.
It is very important to keep warm. Warm clothing and lots of layers of clothing are essential. Wear the right materials, such as wool, polypropylene, and waterproof clothing. Do not wear cotton in winter. This is because when cotton gets wet, it stays wet for a long time, making you cold. Eat warm meals to give you the energy you need for work, and get plenty of rest so that you can do a good job.
Your employer needs to provide protective clothing and equipment for you. This includes wet weather gear and gumboots.
Healthcare & accidents
You may not be eligible for publicly funded healthcare in New Zealand.
The New Zealand Government strongly recommends that people in New Zealand who are not eligible for publicly funded health services need to have comprehensive travel insurance, including health insurance.
However, if you get injured you can apply for help from the Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC). It does not matter whether the injury happened at work, during sport or recreation, at home or on the road or if you or someone else caused the accident.
Your first point of contact in the New Zealand health system will probably be a general practicioner (GP), also known as your family doctor. It is important to choose and register with a local GP as soon as you can.
Your employer needs to provide protective clothing and equipment for you.
High visibility jacket
Working outdoors all year
Most dairy farms are in the countryside and the cows 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 to what you are used to. It is seasonal with a distinct summer and winter, and 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.
Temperatures can also depend on whether you are near the mountains (where it tends to be colder) or near the sea (where it tends to be warmer). New Zealand weather can also change very quickly, meaning you need to be prepared for any weather changes when you leave the house in the morning.
A year on a dairy farm
June - August
Usually the wettest season. It can also be very cold with frost, snow and ice. Temperatures normally range from 5-15 °C (41-45 °F) during the day. Cold winds can make it feel much colder. In the middle of winter there are only 9-10 hours of sunlight a day.
Looking after yourself
Wear layers of clothing. Wear clothes made out of materials such as wool, polypropylene, and waterproof clothing. Don't wear cotton - once it is wet it stays wet for a long time, making you cold. Wearing a wool hat helps to conserve body heat. Eat warm meals to give you the energy you need.
July - September is calving time. It is a busy time and because it gets cold, looking after the cows and their calves is very important.
September - November
The temperatures start getting warmer and the grass starts to grow fast. There is still plenty of rain.
Looking after yourself
Although the mornings can still be cold, the days can get quite warm. It is best to wear layers of clothing that can be removed as it warms up.
October - December is the time when the cows are giving the most milk. It is also the time when mating and artificial breeding (AB) starts, the grass is turned into hay or silage, and turnips are planted for the cows to eat later in the season.
December - February
It gets warmer - from 20-30 °C (68-86 °F) in the day. It normally rains less. The sun can be very strong and can make your skin burn within 10 minutes. The sun is hottest between 11am and 4pm. In mid-summer there are 15 - 16 hours of sunlight in the day.
Looking after yourself
The New Zealand sun can burn your skin in 10 minutes so it is very important to wear sunscreen and lip balm (SPF 30+) and wear sunglasses and a sun hat. Try to wear light clothing that covers your skin.
In summer the milking continues, as do activities such as making hay, caring for the animals, and planting crops.
March - May
Temperatures start to get cooler and there is plenty of rain.
Looking after yourself
Although mornings can still be cold, the days can get quite warm. It is best to wear layers of clothing.
April - May is when milking stops (dry-off). A time for repairs to fencing, drainage, irrigation systems, and equipment. Trees may be planted.
Tips from migrants
- Get as much information as you can before you come
- Be ready for long busy days
- You will need to learn a lot very quickly. We had to learn to safely drive tractors, motorbikes, and quad bikes as well as learn to build fences, understand animal behaviour, how to grow the best grass, and much, much more
- Speak to your employer if you think you need more training in any aspect of your work – learning new skills and knowledge is important in this industry, so ask about attending farm courses and training.
New Zealand employment law and your rights
Available in 14 languages
Information on your minimum employment rights is available in 14 languages.
You are protected by the minimum entitlements in law.
You are entitled to a current written employment agreement, signed by your employer and by you and a copy of the agreement for you to keep. An employment agreement records the terms and conditions of your work with your boss.
The minimum wage
The adult minimum wage rates apply for employees aged 16 or over. They are reviewed every year.
In general, money cannot be deducted from your pay unless you agree to it, in writing, although some deductions (like PAYE tax) are required by law and do not require written consent.
Payslips and record keeping
Your employer must keep an accurate record of your time worked, payments and holiday and leave entitlement. Your employer must give you this information if you ask for it.
90-day trial period
It is important that you know New Zealand employers can offer a 90-day trial period to employees. Employees must be paid during this trial period.
Any trial period that you agree to with an employer must be agreed to as part of your written employment agreement. This agreement must be signed by both you and your employer before you start work. There can be a trial period only if the employee has not worked for that employer before.
If you are dismissed during your 90-day trial period you may be eligible to apply for a visitor visa for up to three months duration to give you time to find another job, or to leave New Zealand. You do not need to accept a 90-day trial period if you do not want to. Talk to your employer if you have any concerns about the 90-day trial.
You are entitled to at least four weeks of paid annual holidays once you have completed a year of employment. You can take at least two weeks together if you want. You cannot be forced to cash up any leave.
If you have a fixed-term employment agreement of less than a year you can agree to have 8% of your gross earnings added to your regular pay instead of receiving it when you end your employment or take holidays.
In addition to annual holidays, you are also entitled to public holidays (also known as statutory holidays). Where a public holiday falls on a day you would normally work you are entitled to have the day off work and be paid as if you had worked it. If you work on a public holiday you are entitled to receive 'time and a half' or 1.5 times your daily pay, for the hours you worked that day.
If the public holiday you work is on a day that you would normally work, then you are entitled to another day off on full pay, which is known as an ‘alternative day’ or a ‘day in lieu’.
If a public holiday falls on a Saturday or Sunday, and you do not normally work on those days, you may be able to have a paid holiday on the following Monday or Tuesday. This is called ‘Mondayisation’.
You have the right to ask to transfer a New Zealand public holiday to another working day. Your employer must consider the request in good faith (openly, honestly and fairly). This could be, for example, to celebrate a religious or cultural holiday. Your employer can also ask you to transfer a public holiday. In either case, you and your employer should make a record of the agreement in writing.
You are entitled to five days of paid sick leave each year after you have worked at your job for six months continuously. You can take sick leave when you, your partner or a dependent (like your child or elderly parent) is sick or injured.
If you get sick before you have worked for six months, you can ask your employer if you can take your sick leave in advance. If not, you can ask to use some of your annual leave. If you have no annual leave,
you can ask to take unpaid leave.
You are entitled to three days’ paid leave because of the death of an immediate family member (known as bereavement leave) after you have worked at your job for six months continuously. This includes the death of your spouse or partner, parent, child, sibling, grandparent, grandchild or your spouse or partner’s parent. If there is more than one death at a time, you can take three days’ leave for each person who has died. You can also take up to one day’s bereavement leave for a death outside your immediate family, depending on your relationship with them.
Most employees are entitled to sick and bereavement leave, including those whose work is not continuous.
If you have questions or need more information on employment relations, pay, holidays, and health and safety go to the Employment New Zealand website or contact the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment contact centre on 0800 20 90 20. Ask for “Language Line” if you want an interpreter.
Make sure you keep yourself safe
Your employer must provide you with a safe workplace with the right training, supervision, and equipment. There are many hazards on the farm and injuries are commonly caused by:
- accidents on vehicles, such as quad bikes, motorbikes, and tractors
- lifting heavy objects
- slips, trips and falls, often around the dairy milking shed.
When you start work, your employer must tell you what to do in an emergency (such as a fire or chemical spill) and where emergency equipment and/or first aid kits are kept. Your employer must also tell you how to report any hazard, accident or near miss.
If you don’t have enough information, training or knowledge to carry out a task, tell your employer.
The law also says you must do all you can to be safe when working. For example, your employer must give you training to ride a quad bike safely and you must wear a safety helmet. Employers and workers may be prosecuted if there is an accident and the law has not been followed.
Your employer must tell you about any hazards on the farm and do everything they can to make sure you are not hurt at work. This might include putting guards around dangerous machinery, or providing you with training, supervision or safety equipment. Your employer is responsible for providing you with appropriate safety equipment such as helmets and ear muffs. The law also says you must do all you can to be safe when working. For example, your employer must give you training on how to ride a quad bike safely and you must wear a safety helmet. Employers and workers may be prosecuted if there is an accident and the law has not been followed.
Your employer must tell you what to do in an emergency (such as a fire or chemical spill), where emergency equipment and/or first aid kits are kept and how to use them. Your employer must also tell you how to report any hazard, accident or near miss.
In an emergency dial 111.
It is free to call 111 from any telephone, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Ask for the service you need: police, fire or ambulance. In most places in New Zealand there is a cost for the ambulance service.
Many farms have their own “on farm” training when you start work. They may have an induction programme and offer development opportunities. The best way to find out about these is to ask your employer or manager. There may be a cost for the training so be sure to ask who pays for it. Also ask whether the time to do the training is included in your work hours or is in your own time. You can study or attend training that has been authorised by your employer, as part of your employment, without impact on your visa conditions.
The Primary ITO (New Zealand’s largest industry training organisation) offers agriculture training in all aspects of dairy farming. From qualifications in dairy breeding, health and husbandry, feeding and pastures, through to management level qualifications in production management and a national diploma in agribusiness management. They also offer short courses in milk quality and effluent management
Not everyone works like New Zealanders
Everyone works in different ways. You will need to get used to the way New Zealanders work. You may also have to work with people from other countries. But first, think about how you work.
Here are some things people from different cultures say about the way they work. Which of these statements would you say?
Which of these statements do you think a New Zealander would say?
A New Zealander would be more likely to say the statements with asterisks *
What about my English language skills?
New Zealanders have an unusual English accent and can speak very fast. They often use informal language and a lot of slang. You may also hear swearing and shouting on the farm. Don’t be upset by this. It is very common and not usually said as a personal insult. Many New Zealanders have a direct and frank way of speaking.
Ask your workmates to slow down and repeat or explain any words you don’t understand. You will soon find it much easier to follow what they are saying.
To check that you have understood, repeat instructions back to the speaker. For example: “So I move those cows into that next-door paddock, correct?”
Sometimes, when you first start working with your new work colleagues, they may find the way you speak (your accent) a little hard to understand. You can help them by speaking slowly, and making longer pauses between sentences.
- Always ask questions if you don’t understand.
- Look for opportunities to speak English – at work and outside work. The more you speak English the easier it will be for others to understand you.
There are government funded private services available for new migrants who want to improve their English language skills. English language training is often called ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) training.
Communication tools and support
Immigration New Zealand has a free online tool, called Worktalk, designed to help improve communication between employers or managers and new migrant employees from other cultures.
Farm and Māori language
You may hear words at work that you do not understand. Some may be Kiwi (Kiwi is a common word for people who live in New Zealand) expressions or others Māori words. If you hear new words or expressions you do not understand, ask about them.
Here are some examples of some new words that you might hear on a New Zealand farm.
- AB =
- ?Artificial Breeeding (artificial insemination)
- Bike =
- ?Refers usually to four-wheeler motorbike (quad bike)
- Bobby calves =
- ?Young calves sold for slaughter
- Bring a plate =
- ?Bring some food, in a container or on a plate, to share with others
- Chiller =
- ?Refrigeration unit used to cool milk in the vat
- Clover =
- ?Common pasture plant eaten by cows
- Cocky =
- Colostrum =
- ?Cow's first milk - the first 2-3 days after calving
- Condition score =
- ?Condition of stock, particularly important before mating and during and after pregnancy
- Crook =
- ?To be sick or poorly
- Cross-breeds =
- ?New Zealand-style cross between Fresians and Jersey dairy breeds
- Cups =
- ?Suction mechanisms on milking machines
- Going to the dairy =
- ?The corner store or shop that sells milk, bread, newspapers, and groceries is known as a "dairy"
- Draughting =
- ?The separating of some cows generally using a single gate
- Dirt road =
- ?An unsealed road (also gravel road or metal road)
- Drench =
- ?Liquid medication given to animals
- Effluent =
- ?Liquid animal waste
- Empties =
- ?Cows that aren't pregnant
- Forecast =
- ?Future prediction e.g. for the weather
- Grass based system =
- ?Dairy farm relying largely on pastures for feed, with very little supplementary feed
- Hairy =
- ?Young dairy farm worker
- Hard yakka =
- ?Hard work
- Heifer =
- ?Young female cattle (from birth until they become adult cows)
- Herringbone shed =
- ?Automatic milking shed where cows stand in two rows on either side of a "pit" from where the farm workers put on "cups"
- High input system =
- ?Dairy farm using substantial supplementary feed in addition to the grass grown on farm
- In-calf =
- Irrigation =
- ?System for providing water to crops or pasture
- Jump on the bike =
- ?Get on the bike ready to ride it (not jump up and down on the bike)
- Mastitis =
- ?Inflammation of the udder/teats in a milking cow
- Milk solids =
- ?The solid components of milk (fats and proteins) which are used to calculate payment. Measured in kilograms ("kgs")
- Pasture cover =
- ?Amount of feed/grass in the paddock
- Pigtail/Standard =
- ?Plastic coated metal peg used for temporary fences
- Plate meter =
- ?Device to measure grass cover on the farm
- Post and batten =
- ?Fence made of wooden posts with smaller supporting wooden 'battens' in between the posts
- Races =
- ?Fenced walkways so that stock can be moved easily around the farm
- Rotary shed =
- ?Automatic milking shed where cows stand on a rotating platform
- Shoot up the cows =
- ?Drive or ride up to the place where the cows are (Do not shoot the cows!)
- Silage =
- ?Decomposed grass, stored in plastic covered bales or stacks that is fed to animals
- Smoko =
- ?A short break from work, a rest period (also known as morning tea/afternoon tea)
- Sparky =
- Tape =
- ?Tape for electric fence that divides paddocks
- Tanker track =
- ?metal covered road used by milk tankers to enter/exit the farm and gain access to the cowshed
- The shed =
- ?Usually the milking shed if on a dairy farm
- Two-wheeler =
- ?A two-wheel motorbike
- Ute =
- ?Vehicle with a flat platform
- Vat =
- ?Bulk milk tank
- Vat stand =
- ?Raised concrete pad on which the bulk milk tank is positioned
- Windbreak =
- ?Trees or fencing to stop the wind
- Water trough=
- ?Large container for drinking water for animals
- Young stock =
- ?Replacement heifers (cows)
Here are some examples of Māori words being used in conversations
- Kia ora =
- ?Hi, Hello (general informal greeting)
- Haere mai =
- ?Welcome. Enter
- Hangi =
- ?Food cooked in a traditional earth oven
- Ka pai =
- ?Well done
- Koha =
- ?Gift, present
- Manuhiri =
- ?Guest, visitors
- Tangata whenua =
- ?Original people belonging to a place, local people, hosts
- Tangi =
- ?A ceremonial Māori funeral or wake
- Waiata =
- ?Song or chant
Most workers live on the farm in accommodation provided by their employer. This often means your family and home life, your social life and your work life are mixed together.
Your employer must provide you with accommodation that is in good repair, comfortable, warm, well-equipped, and suitable for the number of people living in it.
Many migrants are used to cooking on open wood fires. Cooking in New Zealand is done using electricity or gas on a hot plate or element or in an oven. Do not cook on an open fire in New Zealand homes.
Most houses for rent in New Zealand are unfurnished but your employer might provide some furniture and equipment for your house on the farm. It’s a good idea to check what will be provided before you leave for New Zealand. You may have to buy:
- beds, tables, chairs, sofa
- pots and pans, plates, dishes, mugs, cutlery
- bed sheets, towels, blankets or quilts, pillows
- cleaning equipment, vacuum cleaner, broom, mop
- television, computer, internet access
Sometimes accommodation is shared with other workers and their families. Check with your employer before so you know what to expect before you arrive.
Fire Safety Tips
- Check your house has working smoke alarms. The Fire Service recommends a long-life photo-photoelectric in every room where someone is sleeping (ask your employer to provide them if there are none).
- Have an escape plan so you know how you will get out of the house if there is a fire.
- Fire is fast and can kill you in less than five minutes.
- Keep looking while you are cooking.
In most farming areas the water supply comes from rain. This means you need to use water wisely especially when there has not been much rainfall. Water is often gathered in large water tanks, it is important to be aware of the water levels in these tanks, so that when levels are low, water can be conserved. This means you may have a set amount of time to have a shower
Dairy farms are often a long way from shops or schools. You may have to walk for half an hour to meet your next-door neighbours. It is easy to feel isolated.
Your employer should be able to help you get around when you first arrive, but eventually you will need to have some transport so you can get into the nearest town to, for instance:
- buy groceries
- play sport
- see the doctor
- socialise with friends
- take part in religious activities
Can you legally drive in NZ?
You need a current driving licence from your home country to drive in New Zealand. You may also need an international driving permit or a translation of your licence if it’s not written in English. If you are in New Zealand for more than a year, you need to get a New Zealand driver licence (you may need to take a written and a practical test).
Getting involved in your local community
New Zealanders have a reputation for being very friendly, sociable people. There are many ways that you can meet new people in your community:
- Visit your local library – most libraries have community noticeboards with information about when and where local community groups meet including sports, arts and cultural groups. Often there is also information about upcoming events such as shows and fairs. Many of these events and activities are free.
- Talk to other migrants about groups they have joined or how they have got involved in the local community.
- Check out the community noticeboard in your local supermarket. ȓ Talk to your employer about any religious needs you have. They will be able to help you locate your closest church or religious community group.
- Talk to your employer about your interests and hobbies and they can advise you of the best way to get involved in these in your local community.
How much do things cost in New Zealand?
Cost of living
Many migrants are not sure what they need to buy and some people find things quite expensive relative to their pay.
Rent for your accommodation will probably be deducted from your wages as agreed in your employment agreement. You may also need to buy some furniture and equipment for your house if they are not provided by your employer. Out of your wages you will need to pay for:
- heating and electricity for your house
- telephone bill, internet, mobile phone top-up.
- visits to doctors
- insurance (health, car, contents, travel)
- transport and petrol
- immigration costs for you and family members
- sending money to your family in your home country.
The conditions of your visa specify your position, employer, and location of employment. As a temporary worker you can only work within the conditions of your visa.
If you would like to change employers you will need to reapply for a new work visa before you start any new job. You should approach your nearest Immigration New Zealand branch if you want to change any of the conditions stated on your visa. If you change jobs, your employer must also advise Immigration New Zealand.
No one is allowed to threaten you if you change jobs. Nor is anyone allowed to keep your passport or your personal documents.
If you want to live permanently in New Zealand you need to have a residence visa. Some migrant dairy farm workers gain residence through having higher qualifications, gaining more experience and being given a job with more responsibility.
If you choose to use an immigration adviser (private sector) you should use an immigration adviser who has been licensed by the New Zealand Government.
If you are unhappy with the advice or services provided by an immigration adviser, you can make a complaint to the Immigration Advisers Authority.
Bringing family to New Zealand
Immigration New Zealand allows you to sponsor family to New Zealand as long as you meet the conditions.
Your family need to be prepared for living in:
- a rural area
- a different culture
- New Zealand on a temporary basis
It is advisable that you tell your employer if you intend to bring family here. Your employer will need to provide a letter endorsing the visa application.
If family do join you, think about the following:
- Can they speak English?
- Is there a place for them to live?
- What schools will your children go to?
- Can your partner/spouse drive?
- Can they work?
- Can they find a job?
- What social life will they have?
- What public services, like health care, are they eligible for?
- Can they adjust to a new country?
New Zealand law
Newcomers to New Zealand have the same rights and responsibilities as any person living here. You must obey New Zealand law.
Breaking the law can put your visa status, and your family’s status, at risk. Immigration New Zealand can require people who do not have New Zealand citizenship to leave New Zealand if they consider the offence calls into question the migrant’s good character. This can include any criminal offending (such as driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs) and may apply to migrants with permanent residence visas as well as temporary workers, regardless of the reason for your stay, or the needs of your employer.
What other things do I need to know?
Before accepting a job offer think about the following:
- Do you have a written job description that accurately describes the job you are being employed to do?
- Do you know whether the employer has a good reputation for looking after their staff and being fair?
- Does the accommodation you will be living in meet the needs of you and your family?
- Who will you be sharing with?
- What furniture and appliances are provided?
- What heating does it have? Having a heat pump or a solid fuel burner will save you money.
- Do you know what hours and which days of the week you will be working?
- Will you have enough time off to do the other things you and your family would like to do while you are in New Zealand?
- Is the pay going to be enough to meet your own living costs as well as sending money home, if that is what you intend to do?
Support for you in New Zealand
There are some government-funded programmes for migrants and for their employers throughout New Zealand.
This guide was collaboratively developed by the following organisations: