Born and bred in Taranaki, Jacob is the son of a dairy farmer (mum) and a dry stock farmer (dad).
“As soon as I could reach the cups and put them on a cow, they got me in the sheds working or helping to feed the calves.”
For Jacob, being a dairy worker was less of a career choice and more of a lifestyle, one that he wouldn’t have traded for anything. Being able to grow up and work on a 350-hectare farm, Jacob loved being able to cruise around on his motorbike and enjoyed all that the outdoors had to offer.
“It’s awesome getting out on the farm and just working away with the sun on your back and a warm breeze, there’s no better feeling, I think.”
As he got older, Jacob found that farm life was very isolated, with few people his own age to socialise with. “There’s the Young Farmers Club, which is sort of like a uni club but for young farmers obviously, and we would meet a few times a month, but other than that there was no one really around my age. It was pretty hard being so isolated at times.”
Jacob attended boarding school for his college years, but in the weekends would still work on the farm from 6am to 7pm. Long hours are something you’ve got to get used to if you want to be a dairy worker, Jacob says.
“You’ve got to be hard working and have good time management skills, but in saying this it’s a very rewarding job – it’s very relaxed at times and there’s a lot of perks of the job. If you treat your boss right, they’ll treat you well in return. Often a dairy worker’s Christmas bonus is an entire beast, which is over $1,000 worth of meat!”
With 400 cows, Jacob works alongside two other full-time dairy workers. Power, internet and a house is all paid for and provided as part of their salary. A career as a dairy worker is one that requires a lot of commitment, as most of the time you have to live on the farm with the owner. This is because of the hours you have to work.
“We milk twice a day, usually at around 4am and then again at 3pm so it gives the cows roughly 11 hours to eat, relax and regenerate milk so that we are getting the maximum milk possible during the rounds.”
There’s a lot more that goes into maintaining a dairy farm then just milking though; looking after the grass and ensuring that there is enough for the cows to eat is vital to maximising milk production. You don’t have to be particularly academic to be a dairy worker; however, you do have to have common sense.
“Most of the time you aren’t told what to do, but if you see that there’s a broken fence or a leak somewhere, then it only makes sense to fix it. There’s city smarts and then there’s farm smarts, you’ve got to have the latter.”
Many dairy workers hope to own a farm of their own eventually and Jacob hopes that one day his family will enable him to run his own farm. Although money is a huge requirement in starting a dairy farm, with the cost of land, animals, and equipment etc, there’s also the need to have the knowledge. Dairy work allows you to see the ins and outs of what there is to know about farming from the ground up.
“For anyone aspiring to be a dairy farmer or a dairy worker, I recommend starting from the very bottom and working your way up. The knowledge you gain from the experience is crucial to having a successful farm of your own. There are so many little intricacies to learn before you can start running your own [farm].”
For those keen on the idea, Jacob recommends getting your foot in the door by working as a relief milker for farmers whose workers have taken leave. “That’s the best way to start learning and from then on you can hope to secure a more permanent role and move up the ranks from there. It’s a tough life at times, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”