Thursday, May 2, 2013

Why Only A Small Number Of People Will Consider Working On A Dairy Farm

There are 60 new dairy conversions going into Canterbury this year. In This video I discuss how this equates to an extra 250 dairy staff been required, and why most "townies" won't even consider a job on a dairy farm.

I'm surprised by the extra staff required, but the numbers seem to be logical.

Please comment if you feel I have got something wrong.


60 new dairy conversions in Canterbury for 2013 season

Hey, well I want to talk about dairy farm employment issues. So staffing, of all the issues that the dairy industry face, finding people to milk the cows is the biggest issue. So I was talking to a cow shed manufacturer. He said there's 60 dairy conversions going into Canterbury this year; and those are new dairy conversions. 

60 conversions x 750 cows (cant avg) = 45,000 extra cows into Canterbury 2013

Now the average herd size in Canterbury is 750 cows, so 60 times 750 equals 45,000 extra cows coming into Canterbury this year alone. That's not including Southland or the rest of the South Island; 45, 000 new cows into Canterbury. 

1 employee : 180 Cows. 45,000 cows / 180 = 250 new dairy jobs required

Now, there’s a rule of thumb, that you need around 180 cows to one labour unit. So 45,000 divided by 180 equals 250 new jobs. So that's actually really good news. We hear a lot about job closures and job losses, but the dairy industry has been charging away for a good part of a decade. Adding a heck of a lot of new jobs to the economy every year.

Where are these extra employees going to come from?

The problem is where are all the people to come from to milk these extra cows? Now traditionally for the last ten years at least, dairy farmers have been employing Filipinos and Brazilians and other international employees to fill the gap.

I was talking to a guy and I said to him - or he said to me, why can't the dairy industry attract all these people from town? And I said because of working condition. Its the hours of work. And people who have read my blog will know what I think about that . And he said, "I don't" -- he didn't except that anyway. He said, "No, no there's are plenty people who will go and work those different hours." And he mentioned people who joined the army and go on fishing trawlers and all sorts of things. So I had a little think about things and I have came up with a theory.

So if we draw a standard old bell curve, I would say that the people who fit into there, these are your 40 hour a week people. That's a majority of the population. A big chunk of people fit in there. People who go to work on a dairy farm are smaller, with much less of a number of people. And I am going to call it 60 plus hours. 

How many "townies" would apply for a "town" Job, if the hours were 4am to 5pm, 9 days on 3 days off?

Now, I'll tell you why I think that. I, as I said before I employ people myself and I run an ad in the paper that says " Customer Service Rep Monday to Friday, 9 AM til 5 PM," and we get heaps of response. And I can be quite picky of who we employ.

But if I put an ad in the paper and said "Customer Service Rep required, 4 AM to 5 PM, 9 days on, 3 days off," they wouldn't even bother applying. Its just totally unacceptable to them, they just couldn't even imagine starting at four in the morning, working all the way to five o'clock in the afternoon and doing that for nine days in a row, then give you three days off.

Its just not - they're not even going to considered it. So these are the people here who wouldn't even consider that. 

Now the number of people who will consider that are much less, a much lower number of people I'd say, about half the of number of people would consider that. 

No surprise, Dairy Farmers struggle to attract and retain staff

And it's absolutely no surprise to me at all that dairy farmer's cant find staff because there's better options. They can go building and start at seven in the morning or eight in the morning.

Dairy industry must provide 40-45 hour weeks

So I believe if the diary industry want to get serious about actually solving their staffing issues, I think they need to move the conditions over to the centre here. So the dairy farm staff need to start working 40-45 hour weeks, and regular weekends off, not just rostered days off. 

In the next video I'm gonna talk about what it would look like for a dairy farmer to transition their staff from sort of the 60 plus hours per week over to the 40 plus and what its gonna cost them. 

And I guarantee you right now, if the dairy industry could do that the majority of the staffing issues will just go away. ...


  1. Good post. You are right. Pay and conditions.
    The accepted path via sharemilking is now not so clear.
    Off farm owners and corporates seem to use lesser assumptions.
    All the $ was borrowed, and went to buying land, little funding for staff issues.

  2. Hi Glen,
    I talked to a banking official just a week or two back who was working on approx only 30 new farm conversions to dairy in Canterbury, and 20-30 new sheds going up on existing dairy farms to rationalise, replace etc. Not only does the actual number of new farms effect staffing requirements it potentially could have a material effect of national milk production next year.
    David Lee-Jones

  3. Hi David & Anonymous
    Thanks for your comments.

    Yes I have heard a few different figures thrown around for new conversions in the past month ranging from 40 to 60.
    I was speaking to a local milking machine dealer, they are putting in 60 new cowshed across NZ this year. 50 of those are new conversions and 10 are upgrades to existing dairy farms.

    I suppose, the fact is whether it is 40, 50 or 60 new conversions, That still equates to a lot of new jobs being created and I suppose more Filipinos need to staff them.


  4. Hey Glen, your comments regarding hours worked and pay are a fair comment.

    However as a farmer we have tried to offer trainee staff a 40 hour week at min wage (28,600 per year) and they turn it down because they want to earn more money than their mates in town - longer hours of 55hrs/week = $39000+), and they have no travel costs to work, no buying lunches, no expensive rents = more money in their pocket.

    At the end of the day most of us are fair to our staff, it just depends on what people want out of life.

    1. Hi
      Yep I think you raise a really good point. I suppose everybody is looking for different things. Many people love to work and don't mind long hours. I personally work about 70 hours per week.

      I suppose we also have a problem where some people want to do less hours and get lots of money too. You can't have it both ways!

      Thanks for the comment.