Home' NZ Dairy Farmer : January 2013 Contents The Dairyman JANUARY 2013 5
THE dynamic growth of dairying has
been a lifesaver for the New Zealand
economy but such rapid expansion has
stretched the industry to its limits, with a
desperate shortage of young people with
enough practical experience and stock han-
dling skills to go around.
South Otago dairy farmer Stephen Booth,
of Paretai, travels thousands of kilometres
every year and visits dozens of dairy farms
in his role as a field officer and classifier of
dairy cows for Holstein Friesian New
Mr Booth is a fourth generation dairy
farmer on both sides of his family, which
has a long association with the Holstein
He was elected to the organisation's gov-
erning council in his early 20s and has
returned to work as a field officer to share
his industry skills.
"As grassland farmers, New Zealand
farmers are at the peak of being able to tell
you down to the last kilogram the amount of
dry matter in their pastures, but as far as
stock skills go, we're probably closer to the
middle of the road," Mr Booth told The
Dairym an recently.
He believes the decline in practical stock
handling skills is a combination of the fast
growth of dairying, fewer people being
recruited from traditional farming back-
grounds and fewer agricultural courses
being taught in secondary schools until stu-
dents move on to specialist tertiary agricul-
tural institutions like Telford or Lincoln
Mr Booth said the average herd size in
the South Island had increased markedly in
recent years to 600 cows, now well ahead of
the North Island average of 370 cows.
Southland had overtaken Taranaki in cow
numbers and now grazed 10 per cent of the
national dairy herd.
He said dairy farmers today were running
multi-million dollar businesses and were
looking for highly skilled and motivated
"A lot of our young people now choosing
agriculture as a career are not coming off
family farms, so they don't have a lot of
natural stock skills learnt on farms," Mr
"We're getting young people who are
willing to learn, hard working and capable,
but unless they have a lot of time invested in
them on AgITO courses, generally their
training is not specific enough or targeted
enough," he said.
Working around large animals was a
steep learning curve for anyone unfamiliar
with stock and virtually required one-on-
one training from an experienced stock han-
Because of the size and scale of modern
dairy farms and the growth in herd size in
the South Island in particular, farm man-
agers did not always have the time or
money to put into training younger staff.
Some staff were being asked to perform
unfamiliar stock handling tasks with the
barest minimum levels of experience and
that was only a small part of the overall
skills they needed to work on a dairy farm.
"If you don't have confidence handling
large animals, stock pick up on that very
quickly with a risk of injury," he said.
"It needs an experienced person just to
teach people the basic skills of guiding ani-
mals through a gateway, putting them
through a drafting race or separating a lame
animal from a mob."
"You don't just pick those skills up by
reading a text book. You've actually got to
do it to learn it," he said.
Mr Booth said the lack of stock skills in
younger people created an opportunity for
experienced older staff who understood
stock and could handle them in a quiet and
The dairy industry is attracting a lot of
mature women and a few men who may not
want to work full-time, or be physically
capable of working long hours, but are
happy to work part-time milking cows or to
shift or handle stock as required.
They usually fit in easily and fill a huge
gap in stock handling skills, which they are
happy to pass on to younger staff.
Despite the limitations in stock handling
experience of newcomers to the industry -
both migrant workers and young Kiwis - Mr
Booth said there was still plenty of scope
for fast learners to progress rapidly in the
"They're the ones we want in our indus-
try. They are motivated and will drive the
dairy industry forward in the next genera-
Dynamic growth exposes skill shortage
"You don't just pick (stock handling)
skills up by reading a text book. You've
actually got to do it to learn it," says
Holstein Friesian New Zealand field
officer Stephen Booth, of Paretai in
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