As the dairy industry continues to evolve and farm businesses become larger, there are many opportunities for those interested in agriculture to forge a successful and rewarding career. There is a diverse range of careers available in the dairy industry in areas such as animal management, feed and nutrition, farm business management, plant production and environmental sustainability.
The Australian dairy industry directly employs over 42,000 people. Attracting, retaining and developing people continues to be the priority for the industry, with an additional 800 employees needed on Australian dairy farms by 2023.
The number of farmers employing people has increased by 25% from 2005 to 2017, with 86% of farms now employing people on-farm.
In addition to attracting new entrants, the dairy industry must retain and develop people in the industry to secure the skilled workforce required, and reduce both lost opportunity and direct costs associated with turnover.
The dairy industry has long recognised that people are the fundamental driver of farm business success - being able to attract the right people, manage them effectively and provide career and wealth creation opportunities is essential for the long-term success of the industry.
Dairy Australia has a number of resources to help plan a dairy career and explore learning opportunities to develop skills and capability.
The Stepping Stones career planning resource kit is an overview of dairy career paths and opportunities on-farm which is widely used across education and extension activities. It contains information on how to progress and navigate on-farm roles, including real-life stories of people working in the industry.
The resource has a career plan for employers and employees to set goals and discuss development opportunities together.
The Stepping Stones resource kit is available on The People in Dairy website.
Learning and development opportunities
Learning opportunities for schools
Dairy Australia’s Cows Create Careers (farm module) provides young people with an opportunity to learn more about what a career in dairy can offer and helps develop knowledge, skills and capabilities while at high school.
Cows Create Careers has been delivered to more than 116,000 high school students over 15 years.
More than 500 farmers and industry advocates volunteer their time in the program to connect and support schools and teachers and engage with students about the dairy industry.
To find out more about school programs, contact a local regional team.
Case study: High school students get hands-on dairy education
South Australian dairy farmers Ros and Gary Zweck have been involved in Dairy Australia’s Cows Create Careers since it began, helping to implement the project in their community.
The program has given more than 15,000 high school students across Australia a firsthand understanding of the opportunities available to them through a career in dairy.
Dairy farmers play an active role in supporting the program by supplying dairy calves to schools as part of their agriculture programs, encouraging high school students to care for real animals and boost their interest in the industry.
The Zwecks have been farming for 35 years and recognise the industry-wide benefits of the school-based project and its focus on future generations of farmers.
After hearing from a friend who teaches agriculture at Balaklava High School, Ros actively championed the program in the mid-north region.
“We want to encourage future generations to become involved in agriculture and more specifically dairy, because it's difficult to get people involved in the dairy industry,” Ros said.
“When I first came to this region there were more than 70 dairy farms and there's now 14 left, so we try to promote the dairy industry as much as we can.”
The Zwecks supply calves to Clare High School, Balaklava High School, Horizon Christian School and Kadina High School.
“Even though we are in a rural area, a lot of the students live in the town and don't have access or don't have the opportunity to become involved with farming or farm animals,” Ros said.
“They relish the opportunity to have a hands-on experience.”
Benefits for students
Clare High School agriculture teacher Lesley Squires believes Cows Create Careers is a positive project for all students.
“It's the year 10 students who look after the calves throughout the project,” she said.
“The rest of the school visits the calves and can interact with them so they get to know a bit more about dairy calves which they don’t really get the chance to see otherwise.
“We've also got a kindergarten and childcare centre next door so they come over to see the calves as well.”
Lesley believes the project gives the students responsibility while building their teamwork skills, as they work in groups to care for the calves.
She continues to encourage her students to think about the range of options presented by a career in dairy after the conclusion of the program.
Visiting a dairy farm
After completing the project, the students are given the opportunity to visit the Zwecks’ dairy farm to learn more about milking and milk storage.
“It gives them the opportunity to understand more about the ongoing process of the day-to-day operation of dairy farming,” Ros said.
One student enjoyed the experience so much that he asked the Zwecks if he could complete work experience on their farm, which the Zwecks found very rewarding.
Two year 12 students from Kadina High School have since asked the Zwecks if they could continue to care for their calves after completing Cows Create Careers to conduct a research project on bought in feed.
“That was a real highlight for me and those calves came back very well fed,” Ros said.
Learning opportunities for the dairy workforce
Dairy Australia provides a range of extension learning activities for farmers and their employees to develop skills and capability in specific technical areas of expertise. These activities are delivered through the regional teams and are tailored to all levels of experience.
Contact a local regional team to register for a course.
Animal health and fertility
- Healthy Hooves: Explore identifying, treating and preventing lameness in a four-hour hands-on workshop facilitated by an experienced veterinarian.
- Rearing Healthy Calves: Learn the how-tos of successful calf rearing including calving, calf rearing and growing dairy heifers during this workshop.
- Heifers on Target: Well-grown heifers are more likely to realise their full potential for milk production and recover their rearing costs earlier. Develop knowledge and skills in heifer management during this half-day discussion module.
- Transition Cow Management: Learn how to develop a structured transition cow management nutrition program to help increase milk production and returns per cow.
- Cups On Cups Off: Learn hands-on methods for preventing, treating and controlling mastitis in the dairy herd during this two-day practical course.
- Cool Cows: Develop the capability to effectively identify, manage and prevent heat stress in the herd during this three-hour discussion module.
- Euthanase Livestock: Learn how to safely, effectively and humanely euthanase livestock in accordance with industry standards and animal welfare laws during this one-day course.
Feed and nutrition
- Feeding Pastures for Profit: Develop the knowledge and skills to achieve a profitable balance between home-grown feed harvest and supplement use during this course delivered as a two-day workshop, followed by six on-farm days and one individual consultancy visit.
- TopFodder: This two-day workshop covers the science of silage including harvesting, innoculants, storing and feeding.
- Nutrition Fundamentals: Build an understanding of nutrition management for farm productivity and herd health in this workshop.
- Advanced Nutrition in Action: The goal of ANIA is to enable farmers to improve herd nutrition practices on-farm by providing them with technical knowledge, problem solving and strategic planning skills and tools to develop and implement appropriate nutrition-related management strategies.
Land, water and carbon management
- Fert$mart: Develop knowledge and skills during this course to effectively plan soil and fertiliser management for maximising home-grown feed yield.
Farm business management
- Our Farm Our Plan: Build the knowledge and skills to clarify long-term business goals and identify actions needed to manage uncertainty and risk. This module is delivered as group workshops with follow up personalised one-on-one consultancy sessions over a 12-month period.
- Farm Business Fundamentals: Knowledge and skills to implement farm financial practices in farm business delivered over two four-hour sessions.
- Dairy Farm Business Analysis: Develop an understanding of and capability to analyse farm business performance using tools such as DairyBase during this workshop delivered over three four-hour sessions.
- Good Business Governance: Suitable for larger dairy businesses, this two-day workshop covers business governance, strategic planning, business transition, risk and human resource management.
People and capability
- Stepping Up, Stepping Back: Develop knowledge and understanding of succession planning during this one-day workshop with an experienced dairy industry consultant.
- Diploma of Human Resource Management: Increase knowledge and capability in human resources, understanding and managing people to their full potential through completion of this accredited course tailored specifically to dairy. The next program is planned for 2021.
- Farm Safety: Start a farm safety system or improve an existing system using the Farm Safety Starter Kit or Farm Safety Manual in a half-day workshop.
- DairyPath: A mentoring program focused on young people in the industry, providing career guidance and support in helping them develop a career in dairy. The next program will be held in 2021. For more information on the program, visit The People in Dairy website or contact a local Young Dairy Network.
Case study: DairyPath opens new opportunities for young Murray Dairy region farmer
Northern Victorian dairy farmer Jessie Weaver said the DairyPath program changed her life by connecting her with a range of new opportunities in the wider dairy industry.
The 25-year-old farmhand took on a role milking cows part-time at a 250-cow farm in New South Wales during her university studies.
As her passion for dairy grew through her work on-farm, Jessie took a break from her studies to focus on farming full-time, eventually moving to Undera, Victoria, to work on a 1,200-cow farm.
While Jessie was sure about her love for dairy farming, she felt less certain about how to turn ambition into reality.
“I had no plan for the future before DairyPath,” she said.
“I had no idea what the opportunities were in the industry beyond milking cows."
DairyPath provided Jessie with an opportunity to build her skills, and better understand the range of opportunities and career pathways available to her in the dairy industry.
By participating in the program, Jessie was able to create a five-year plan, setting her sights on either commencing share farming or commencing an agribusiness degree by 2021.
“Through DairyPath, I am so much more confident and so much more enthusiastic about getting out of the bed in the morning,” Jessie said.
“I now have goals, I know where I’m going and I have the motivation and drive to get there.”
Case study: Bega dairy farm lessee strengthens industry involvement through DairyPath
Bega, New South Wales, lessee Ashleigh Rood found the confidence to become a leader in her local dairy community through Dairy Australia’s DairyPath program.
The 29-year-old started her dairy journey in 2011 when she met her husband Michael, then a herd manager for a 2,000 cow dairy farm in central-west NSW.
Ashleigh and Michael soon set their sights on owning their own farm.
“I started to ask how we could do this ourselves – how do we as young people come into the industry and forge our way forward?,” Ashleigh said.
It was not long until Ashleigh would have the opportunity to begin her own farming operation, as she and her husband entered into a lease agreement in 2012 and began to milk their own cows.
After getting familiar with the practical realities of running her own farm, Ashleigh began seeking opportunities to move forward and plan for her future in the dairy industry.
“I love what I do and the industry is challenging. You always need to be seeking opportunities moving forward,” Ashleigh said.
Ashleigh applied to participate in DairyPath for the chance to strengthen her involvement in the industry.
“I want to be successful in this industry and I want this to remain a profitable industry,” she said.
Through the program, Ashleigh became chair of her local dairy development group and was asked to speak at a dairy symposium in her hometown of Bega.
“DairyPath has been the catalyst in it all,” she said.
“I do sincerely hope this program continues in the future because it is so, so important for young, aspiring dairy leaders.”
Case study: Lismore young farmer gains invaluable insight through DairyPath
Northern New South Wales up-and-coming dairy farmer Jeremy Miller used Dairy Australia’s DairyPath program to take the next step in his journey to owning his own farm.
With a strong focus on personal development, the 24-year-old saw the program as an opportunity to plan for the future and build his skills.
“I think any young person coming through dairy and wanting to pursue it as a career should have the opportunity to go through DairyPath,” Jeremy said.
“It challenges you and shows you where you want to go by exposing you to different people and teaching you life lessons both professionally and personally.
“You get to know other young people through the program, who for me have become friends for life.”
Driven by his desire for a fast-paced, hands-on work environment, Jeremy began working on a dairy farm during his university studies.
His passion for herd management and love of milking saw him eventually pursue a full-time farmhand role.
“I’m a person who loves to be on the go all the time, and I always need something to do,” Jeremy said.
“Dairy farming always gives you something to do, and there’s never been a dull moment.”
Through DairyPath, Jeremy was able to plan his next steps in the industry, including pursuing a lease or share farm arrangement within the next five years and eventually own his own farm.
The program honed Jeremy’s knowledge of the industry and broadened his contact base, while also teaching him the value of work-life balance.
“The main thing I’ve got out of it is teaching myself to be who I am, not change myself for others, and that life’s not all about work,” he said.
“Dairy farming is always intense and if I want to be in the industry long-term, I need to learn the value of time management and work-life balance.”
- Horizon Scholarship: Enhance professional capability through a Dairy Australia-sponsored Horizon Scholarship.
- Australian Rural Leadership Program: Develop capability as a future dairy industry leader through a Dairy Australia-sponsored ARLP scholarship.
Young Dairy Network
Dairy Australia plays an active role in engaging and building a network of young people who work on farms through the Young Dairy Network (YDN). Through this network, they are provided the opportunity to develop skills and grow their contacts to further their career in dairy.
More than 2,700 young people have been able to connect through the Dairy Australia YDN, providing access to training for both the technical and non-technical aspects of dairy.
How to get involved
Young Dairy Network activities include farm walks, social events, workshops, leadership programs and tours.
Case study: Young Dairy Network gives farmer a pathway to success
Tasmanian dairy farmer Jeremy Page’s management and interpersonal skills have moved forward in leaps and bounds since joining the Young Dairy Network (YDN) two years ago.
The 30-year-old has a passion for the industry – driven by his love of cows – and is now the second-in-charge of a 1,050-cow dairy farm in north-eastern Tasmania.
Coming from outside the dairy industry, Jeremy credits the YDN as the springboard he needed to take the next step in his career.
“I’ve only been involved in dairy farming for four years and I joined because I could see that dairy has a lot to offer,” he said.
“I was very shy before I joined the YDN, but now I can talk to people more confidently and take on new tasks on-farm.”
Jeremy is one of 2,500 young people who have connected across Australia through the YDN, which provides access to training for both the technical and non-technical aspects of dairy.
Key to Jeremy’s development has been taking part in a training and mentoring program offered to Tasmanian YDN members, which builds essential skills in young dairy farmers.
“I learned people skills, how to talk to workers, how to manage my time and how to make sure I know which jobs to prioritise on-farm,” Jeremy said.
“It’s a great program for farmers who are just starting out.”
Now in a farm management position, Jeremy said he feels better able to give clear instructions to his farm team and allocate roles and responsibilities.
Jeremy’s experience in the YDN has been actively supported by his farm owner, who allows him to take leave to attend training events or network with other farmers.
After identifying areas for improvement as part of the mentoring program, Jeremy worked with his farm owner to create a strategy to upskill in pasture management.
“I really wanted to work on pasture management,” he said.
“Since I spoke to my farm owner about it, I’ve been learning more about monitoring pasture growth and managing feed.”
Jeremy’s exceptional progress saw him recently awarded the DairyTas-Cadbury Young Farmer Encouragement Award, recognising the gains he’s made over the past two years.
Jeremy sees the most rewarding aspect of his YDN membership as the opportunity to socialise with other young farmers, who share their experiences, knowledge and tips.
As well as a range of technical events, YDN members are frequently invited to social and community events including laser tag and pizza nights, barefoot bowls, networking and study tours.
Turning to the future, Jeremy has recently accepted a management position at a nearby farm and is creating a six-year action plan to enter share farming and own his own herd.
“I fully recommend joining the YDN. It’s all about connecting with others,” Jeremy said.
“You meet other farmers who give you a lot of help. They’re not afraid of sharing their knowledge of how they got to where they are.”