Backpackers Being Dairy Farmers for the Day

New Zealand: saying it has a lot of farms is an understatement. Traditionally, we all know New Zealand to have nine sheep to one human. The reality is cows rule the fields in the North Island. As a super popular backpacker job and a generally interesting subject we’d love to know more about, we can’t miss the opportunity to see a dairy farm in the milking season. That’s the plan for today with our awesome hosts, Vanessa, Andrew, and their kids, Euan and Hamish.

After a night of feeling like we were at sea, with the wind rocking the campervan backwards and forwards, we are ready for the stability of the house. Breakfast is served as Vanessa’s own free range eggs on toast then we are on babysitting duty while Andrew and Vanessa have some quick chores to do. Luckily, Euan was begging for Robin to put the latest Star Wars movie on, so we know exactly how we are spending our morning with the boys.

Robin’s rotary rampage

Andrew comes home to gather up his farming apprentice, Robin, for a new task. Robin is going to use a rotary hoe to upturn the bark in the calf shed so it is soft, damp and fresh for Andrew’s new calves well on their way. The petrol-powered machine is a simple thing, with rotating blades digging into the ground and lifting it up, while slowly moving itself forward. However, the rotary hoe is clearing getting the best of Robin, as Robin is shook to the core for the entire 5x8m. What he fails to realise for the majority of the job is that instead of fighting the machine, the rotary hoe works and moves forwards by itself and he just needs to guide it.

Three hours later, Robin returns, his hair damp with sweat, (but still well groomed, don’t you worry). Meanwhile Laura has finally started winning some quiz games, against a 10-year-old. She has finally met the right competition.

The backpacker babysitters

We sit down with Andrew to some soup and congratulate Robin on a job well-done. (Andrew grades 9.5 out of 10)! Before we go dairy farming this afternoon, Andrew has a meeting to go to, so we are looking after Euan and Hamish. Much to Robin’s excitement, they have a huge box of Lego. Robin is straight into it, building a bank, a.k.a. an evil lair, trying to teach the kids some life values, while Laura is making an ever-so-popular cinema complete with cafe and a murder crime scene. Hamish is on brick-finding duty, which is a bit of a task in a Lego box full of sweet wrappers and other none-Lego items. Euan, the Legoverse overlord, has created a colour-matching world of which he shows us a stop-motion video he created on his tablet. (Since when did kids get so high-tech)?!

Clearly being in the warmth for too long, we are now pulling on some sexy overalls and pulling up some gumboots in preparation for seeing how a New Zealand dairy farm works. First, we take a walk in Andrew’s cow field, full of cows soon ready to be calved. Although Andrew’s cows are not in the milking season during these winter months, he does have a farmer friend down the road, Leroy, who has some cows just about to be milked today. We all hop in the car and make our way to see where our milk, cheese, butter, milk powder, etc. comes from.

Robin Vs Rotary Hoe Robin Vs Rotary Hoe
Best portrait shot to date Best portrait shot to date
Robin makes a friend Robin makes a friend
Cheers, New Zealand! Cheers, New Zealand!

Cows feeling embarrassed for us

A large round platform rotates in the middle of a barn with about 50 milking stations. This is the first time both of us are seeing modern-day milking on a pretty large scale (about 370 cows). Leroy is ready, the cows are ready, and the cows begin walking one-by-one into a milking station each. Leroy attaches a suction device to each one of the cow’s teats, then the milking begins. Leroy is super fast an efficient and attaching the suction device to the cow, while its just painful to watch us clumsily try to do the same thing. The cows are even embarrassed for us.

Once the cows are being milked, they tuck into a feeding tough to keep them occupied. Then when the suction device doesn’t suck anymore milk, it automatically detaches from the teats and retracts to the side as to not get in the way of the cows. By this time, the cows will have come to the end of the clockwise rotation. A machine quickly sprays their udders, then the cows back out from the opening, following a path to their designated field. This is an impressively smooth operation.

Having a beer with the calves

There’s hundreds of cows to get through, so we leave milking to the experts and visit the calf shed. Oh my God, they are so cute and clumsy. As we get in the paddock with the calves, they swarm around us trying to suck anything they can suck. It tickles like crazy when they suck our fingers right up the knuckle, but when they feel there is no milk coming out, they move onto other body parts… Laura’s knees seem to represent a cow’s teat, while Robin’s butt cheeks are the calves food of choice.

They are just adorable. It’s crazy to think that in two years’ time they will be on that rotating platform being milked.

Leroy’s young farming apprentice comes over to the calf shed with a bottle of beer for each of us. It doesn’t get more New Zealand than drinking some beer in a calf shed…

Milk to the face

Before we leave, we have to have a go at traditional milking – you know, squeezing the teat so some milk shoots into a wooden bucket running down to the well to fetch a pale of water… Ok, so we are not going that old school. More like, we are squeezing cow’s milk from the teat straight into Robin’s mouth. Squeeze the teat hard enough, and the milk will catch some metres! (That is a sentence we never thought we would write).

Now Robin’s face is covered in milk… The rest of us have a civilised drink of fresh milk from the tank. Still warm, the milk was much richer than what we are used to buying from Pakn’Save.

The final part of the process is opening the gate and letting hundreds of cows run back into the field. We say goodbye to Leroy and jump in the car to go back to our own field, where spend the evening having dinner then falling asleep watching a movie.

Tomorrow, we are swapping farm life for town life by going to the town of Stratford, New Zealand’s Shakespeare-obsessed town. See you then!

Laura and Robin

A smooth dairy farm operation going on here
A smooth dairy farm operation going on here Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

Want more?

Of course you do! We’ve had a true Kiwi experience today. If staying and working on a farm is something you would love to try in New Zealand then check out these articles:

You can also find our local recommendations for the Stratford area on HerePin, as well as daily travel tips on Facebook.

See you tomorrow!

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