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HomeDairyWorking on an 800-cow dairy farm in New Zealand
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Working on an 800-cow dairy farm in New Zealand

I hail from a small dairy farm in Castlefinn outside Co. Donegal, writes 22-year-old Robert Patterson.

I studied a foundation degree in agriculture from Greenmount Agricultural College and hold an honours degree in agricultural science from Letterkenny IT.

I left Ireland on September 1st, with two of my classmates, to work on a dairy farm in New Zealand and will return in February.

The major differences I find between New Zealand and home are the scale and cow-type. Everything is on a massive scale here and it can take a while to get your head around what’s going on.

In terms of cow-type, Jersey-cross cows lead the way in New Zealand. These cows are very small and hardy when compared to the pedigree Holsteins cows we have at home. The milk price is paid per kg of milk solids which makes the farmers strive for a high fat and protein content in their milk.

What really stands out here are the pivots – it is impossible to miss these large irrigators that span the width of the massive fields in New Zealand.

Dairy farm assistant

I am working for a contract milker called Oliver Quigley. Oliver is originally from Nenagh, County Tipperary and has been in New Zealand with his wife and children since 2013. He has been a great help to me with patience while I have got used to the large herd size and he has educated me on the system that is being operated.

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The farm I am working on is located just outside a town called Methven which has a strong connection of Irish workers who are employed by neighbouring contractor business or other dairy farms.

The farm itself has got 800 cows and the cows are mainly Kiwi-crosses. The ambition is to produce as high a kg of milk solids as possible from grass along with some palm kernel.

My main responsibilities as a dairy farm assistant are milking, measuring grass and feeding calves. I have enjoyed measuring grass as this is something I feel that can be improved on our farm at home.

If I could turn back time, I would arrive earlier to experience the whole calving season as I only really experienced the last month of it.

Travelling might not be for everyone, but at my age, I believe everyone should give it a go as it is good to break out of your comfort zone and get involved in something different.

Home will be there when you go back and you might look at your home farm differently, with a fresh perspective, when you return.


My plans for the future are to increase our cow numbers at home so the enterprise can support both me and my father. I hope to make a living from dairy farming. I would like to stay at home farming, but I am glad I went to college to attain a honours degree as a back-up as we will be depending on mostly rented ground to milk from.

I am unsure if I will travel again but I definitely would not rule it out completely.

Are you working or have you worked on a farm or for an agricultural contractor overseas? Would you like to share your experience with our readers? If so, email – [email protected]

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