A day on the farm

Dairy Farmers have over 170 skills


Farmers need to be skilled in a wide range of areas to run profitable and sustainable farm businesses.

Managing a dairy farm is so much more than just overseeing the milking process. Dairy farming is a highly technical business venture and contributes greatly to the Australian economy. Due to environmental issues and demand for increased productivity and efficiency, farmers have made many changes to their farm management practices, including soil testing, fodder conservation, supplementary feeding, improved animal genetics, artificial insemination programs, the use of new milking technology, and the widespread use of computers to record and monitor herd performance. These changes have created the need for a more highly trained, qualified and skilled dairy farming workforce.


There are 172 broad skills (1) that dairy farmers require, across 11 specialist areas:

  • Fencing;
  • Natural resources;
  • Working with machinery;
  • Occupational health and safety;
  • Feeding livestock, pastures and soil;
  • Irrigation and water;
  • Working with chemicals;
  • Working with animals;
  • Milk harvesting and quality assurance;
  • Business management; and,
  • Human resources.

The 172 skills are the following:

  1. Observe pasture, pests, weeds and report to supervisor
  2. Operate basic feeding equipment (tractors, frontend loader, bale feeders etc.)
  3. Operate basic equipment (tractors, cultivation and harvesting plant)
  4. Use hygienic practices when feeding calves
  5. Monitor and maintenance of fodder stores & report to supervisor (silos & silage storage)
  6. Report grazing surplus /deficit
  7. How pasture and crops are linked to feeding
  8. Basic nutrition
  9. Monitor & review performance of production systems (productivity, quality etc.)
  10. Trouble shoot issues, institute remedies, apply continuous improvement and report to manager
  11. Liaise and gather ideas outside the farm, in the industry and challenge the status quo
  12. Set standard operating procedures for plant and equipment
  13. Determine future infrastructure requirements and inform farm owner
  14. Develop and implement NRM plan for the farm (nutrients, biodiversity, salinity etc.)
  15. Assist with animal handling for AI, treatment etc.
  16. Recognise and report sick animals
  17. Recognise and report clinical mastitis
  18. Recognise cows on heat and record numbers
  19. Operational maintenance of routine equipment (tractors, ATV, motor bikes, feeding equipment)
  20. Operate equipment (tractors, cultivation and harvesting plant) unsupervised
  21. Implement milking QA procedures
  22. Setup shed for milking
  23. Bring in cows from paddock to the milking shed
  24. Milk cows in the shed
  25. Understand how basic milking routine can affect mastitis/milk quality
  26. Ability to recognise simple faults with milking plant (e.g. split liner, pulsator etc.)
  27. Check paddock infrastructure and carry out minor repairs to fencing & troughs
  28. Check paddock infrastructure and carry out more complex repairs to fencing & troughs
  29. Implement cleaning up procedures
  30. Assist drying off procedures
  31. Operate AV, motorbike
  32. Check troughs and water points and report as appropriate
  33. Understand basic biology of mastitis
  34. Basic level of farming systems comprehension
  35. Recognise basic symptoms of ill-health, monitor herd and report
  36. Carry out minor and routine animal health treatments (drenching, mastitis, delousing etc.)
  37. Stock handling, drafting & operation of stock handling equipment (crush, AI race)
  38. Be able to read medication labels and use correctly
  39. Cows calving and reporting back
  40. Carry out strip-grazing procedures
  41. Check and report stock water
  42. Carry out scheduled cleaning and maintenance procedures (liners, vacuum pump oil etc.)
  43. Monitor irrigation equipment
  44. Sensible and responsible use and care of farm equipment
  45. Communicate to management when a fault occurs
  46. Implement OH&S procedures of business & keep themselves (and others) safe
  47. Record keeping and reporting as per farm procedures (QA manual, OH&S, AI & calving records etc.)
  48. First aid
  49. Use a personal diary and paddock book
  50. Work in teams
  51. Communicate with supervisor & other workers
  52. Set-up milking plant, shed & yards
  53. Milk cows ensuring all systems (milking, feeding, milk storage & cooling etc.) are operating adequately. Record and report faults. Fix minor or routine faults.
  54. Implement cleaning up procedures
  55. Implement milk QA procedures and take action to solve problems
  56. Monitor and implement feeding regimes setup on the farm for all groups of dairy livestock on the farm (calves, heifers, dry, lactating stock and bulls)
  57. Implement feeding regimes setup on the farm for all groups of dairy livestock on the farm (set-up gates, maintain pasture rotation, operate in shed feeding systems, calf feeding etc.)
  58. Understand calf feeding from birth to yearling
  59. Monitor for and treat animal health or production issues in line with farm procedures. Record actions and report to supervisor.
  60. Carry out breeding (AI) work
  61. Heat detection
  62. Implement herd testing procedures & understand herd testing records
  63. Monitor herd for disease and production, record and report issues to supervisor
  64. Carry out animal health treatments (injections etc.) for common problems. Record actions and implement QA procedures.
  65. Carry out farm vaccination programs
  66. Implement farm drying off procedures & record actions (QA procedures)
  67. Carry out basic animal examination and report problems to supervisor
  68. Assist in calving
  69. Identify potential calving problems
  70. Operate feeding equipment unsupervised
  71. Input into basic feeding i.e. hungry cow, slow cows
  72. Carry out irrigation on property
  73. Maintain effective grazing practices (rotation, strip grazing etc.)
  74. Implement farm fertiliser program
  75. Implement farm pest & weed programs
  76. Implement farm irrigation program
  77. Assess pasture, dry matter, allocate pasture
  78. Recognise areas for cropping
  79. Good understanding of farming systems
  80. Operational maintenance of equipment used
  81. Carry out scheduled maintenance procedures for farm equipment and plant
  82. Care for expensive equipment like your own
  83. Recognise and label unsafe equipment
  84. Assess for and report safety risks in the workplace
  85. Maintain record keeping and reporting as per farm procedures
  86. Work independently and follow farm procedures
  87. Communicate with farm workers and service providers (assist training of staff at a lower level)
  88. Safe work practices
  89. Confidence to speak with management
  90. Experienced in all aspects of conducting milking operations
  91. Fix common faults, recognise and arrange for more specialists to fix more complicated faults.
  92. Responsibility for ensuing milking and QA procedures are adhered to by all milking staff
  93. Supervise milking roster
  94. Ability to manage stressful breakdowns etc.
  95. Input into preventative management
  96. Contact contractors
  97. Understand and implement daily, weekly and monthly checks to avoid mastitis
  98. Question staff, examine animals and farm records to monitor for herd health or production issues.
  99. Oversee husbandry of herd (cows, heifers, calves and bulls). Treat animals and demonstrate common husbandry procedures to staff. Arrange for vet to visit for more complicated problems.
  100. Monitor reproductive performance of the herd and report issues of consequence to farm manager.
  101. Supervise farm herd health program (vaccination, dry off programs etc.)
  102. Supervise breeding program
  103. Monitor available feed reserves and implement a feeding regime for the herd. Set daily grazing rotation and pasture allocations.
  104. Monitor production indices and adjust feeding regime for herd.
  105. Supervise grazing practices and assess them against farm targets. Take action to rectify them if required?
  106. Monitor herd protein, rumination, lameness etc.
  107. Recognition of feeding is 40 – 50 % of costs on farm
  108. Evaluate economies of current and future feeding requirements
  109. Recognise importance of feed budgeting
  110. Recognise importance of water budgeting
  111. Supervise pasture and cropping activities on the farm. Monitor and report on future risks to feed supply to farm manager.
  112. Supervise implementation of fertiliser program
  113. Supervise implementation of pest and weed control program
  114. Be computer literate – spreadsheets, common farm
  115. Supervise implementation of farm irrigation program
  116. Implement farm fodder conservation plan
  117. Link pasture and cropping with feeding to produce live feed budget
  118. Supervise others and ensure maintenance of equipment and plant is undertaken
  119. Operate specialised equipment (set milking controls etc.)
  120. Input into equipment requirements
  121. Design and supervise the implementation of a risk management program for the farm (train staff in recognising and avoiding risks).
  122. Understand and implement farm effluent systems and legislative requirements
  123. Ensure farm record keeping systems are kept current by all staff. Periodically analyse records and report issues / actions to farm manager.
  124. Understand importance of financial budgets, management and dairy software packages
  125. Help design and implement farm procedures/protocols / documents
  126. Clear understanding of farming systems
  127. Supervise others / staff management and training
  128. Communicate with farm workers & external service providers that supply to the farm (within guidelines of farm manger)
  129. Responsibility and decision making required
  130. Know how to deal with conflict situations
  131. Review staff performance with farm hand and seek feedback on farm operations and management
  132. Manage farm production systems (set targets, develop plans and implement them using standard operating procedures) for all farm production systems (milking, animal husbandry, breeding, feeding, pastures, cropping, irrigation, fodder conservation, soil fertility, pests and weed control etc.)
  133. Business planning, manage farm cash flow and financial reporting
  134. Manage farm reporting and legislative requirements (ie QA program, labour, tax etc.)
  135. Develop and manage farm OH&S program
  136. Manage the HR resources (staff, contractors)
  137. Source and facilitate appropriate training for all staff levels
  138. Benchmark and improve production, financial position from previous season
  139. Liaise with owners in way of reports, figure to show a snapshot position of the business
  140. Evaluate staff and staff requirements
  141. Staff management and leadership
  142. Communicate with farm workers and source goods & services external to the business
  143. High level of responsibility and decision making required
  144. Negotiation skills & conflict management
  145. Understand all levels will require hands on work
  146. Monitor and review staff performance with supervisor and farm staff
  147. Establish goals and strategic direction for the farm business
  148. Analysis production performance (Total Quality Management systems & benchmarking external to farm)
  149. Determine most appropriate farming system to meet enterprise goals
  150. Establish enterprise policies
  151. Identify production to feeding requirements and develop a balanced ration feed budget
  152. Set policies on sourcing, use, replacement, servicing of equipment for the enterprise (i.e. leasing, out sourcing etc.).
  153. Planning infrastructure for future farm development.
  154. Develop the longer term strategic goals and plans to build the farm’s environmental assets.
  155. Develop and implement a strategic plan for the growth, sustainability and conclusion of the business
  156. Analysis business performance (Total Quality Management systems & benchmarking with external businesses)
  157. Plan and implement significant changes to the business (new structures, major developments etc.)
  158. Negotiate significant issues / contracts with external organisations (finance, milk supply contracts, large resource purchases etc.)
  159. Succession planning
  160. Plan and implement risk management strategies
  161. Motivate and understand importance of staying in touch with day to day grass roots operations
  162. Develop and implement team management structure
  163. Self motivation, cover staff gaps on call
  164. Identify weaknesses in business and source outside expertise
  165. Taking stock
  166. Business and enterprise leadership (internal and external to business)
  167. Communicate vision for business with farm manager, staff
  168. Big picture thinker with responsibility for whole enterprise
  169. Training plan in place
  170. Time management skills
  171. Business management skills
  172. Ability to recognise weaknesses in oneself and improve or source outside help