Dairy staff recruitment tips & tricks

It’s staff recruitment time for dairy farmers across the country. A well-planned recruitment and selection process is crucial to finding the right people for your team.

Our consultant Rachel Durie offers up a few tips and tricks to help you find the right candidates.

Start Early
This is especially true if you’re looking for a new contract milker or sharemilker. If you’ve got a position on a large farm (600+ cows), you’d ideally want to start before Christmas. But for smaller units, February/March is still a good time. In general, the longer you leave it, the smaller the pool gets and the less ‘A grade’ candidates there are to choose from. If you’re recruiting for a new farm manager or 2IC, start advertising early in the year if you want to attract the cream of the crop. Farm assistants and herd managers typically won’t know whether they’re staying or looking for a new job until their employers (often contract milkers) know if they’re moving to a new job or not. So, you still have time to recruit someone new. 

Advertise in the right place
FarmSource is a good place to advertise and is where most people look. Think about how you can make your ad stand out from the crowd. What makes your farm business appealing? Why should someone work for you? Putting the word out on social media and leveraging your own farming networks can also be a great way to find the right person. 

Interview by phone & check referees
Narrow down your pool of applicants before showing them around your farm by completing a phone interview and doing reference checks. You should chat to at least TWO previous employers (not friends!). Ask referees plenty of verification questions, such as the role the applicant had, the farm address, when they were employed, what the farm contour is like etc. That way, you know you are talking to a legitimate employer. Applicants should include these specific details in their CV. 

Don’t be put off by bad spelling
Things like bad spelling and grammar in a CV can be off-putting. But don’t write off applicants just based on their CV alone. If it looks like they have good previous experience, the right attitude, solid know-how and want to upskill, they may still be suitable. Give them a call. 

No luck? Re-advertise!
If you don’t find anyone suitable from your first recruitment drive, re-advertise. New people are likely to now be available. 

Know your farm numbers
Make sure you have a good idea of what the budget looks like from a contract milker or sharemilker’s perspective. Is the rate you’re offering fair? Will it attract good candidates?

Do an on-farm visit If you’re recruiting for a contract milker or sharemilker and you’re having trouble deciding between the last couple of applicants, ask to visit the farm they are on. This will give you a good idea of how they operate and see first-hand their pasture management skills, feeding regime, level of farm maintenance and general tidiness. 

Written questions
For any management level positions, it is worth providing a technical questionnaire to find out what their skill level is. This may include working out feeding allocations and grazing rounds. You could also ask them to provide comments on how to achieve set farm objectives (e.g. low SCC or compact calving) and indications of how they would remunerate staff. While this won’t necessarily determine who you employ, it may indicate areas where your successful candidate may need further guidance. 

If you want to talk through recruitment and selection ideas for your farm, give Rachel Durie a call on 027 847 8232.


Lee Matheson

Managing Director
Principal Consultant

B.Appl.Sc (Hons), FNZIPIM (Reg)

Lee came to agribusiness consultancy via the unlikely pathway of a suburban Wellington upbringing, an Honours degree in plant science and a six-year career in the financial markets. In his role as the firm’s MD, Lee doesn’t get out on-farm as much as he used to but makes the most of it when he does. While having swapped the paddock for the boardroom, Lee continues to provide advice in the areas of farm business strategy, farm system innovation, corporate governance, investment analysis and economic research.

Outside of Perrin Ag, Lee loves to spend his time coaching rugby, watching his three kids play sport and gardening with his wife Haidee.

“I love the challenge of empowering people in our primary sectors and the excitement of seeing clients achieving their aspirations. If we can encourage farmers to engage with their consumers, take a more active involvement in their supply chains and view their businesses through a wider lens, then I think our industries have a great future.”

Michael Booth

Consultant

Mike brings a wealth of agri-tech and dairy systems expertise to Perrin Ag. After graduating with a Bachelor of AgriCommerce from Massey, he started his career with DairyNZ as a consulting officer where he ran discussion groups and managed farm supervision.

He left DairyNZ to travel the world but within a few months Covid hit, the borders closed, and Mike and his wife Nikita returned home. Back in New Zealand, he took up a role managing DairyNZ’s monitor farms on the Hauraki Plains before joining Halter.

After finishing his OE, he returned home to live in Papamoa and joined the Perrin Ag team in February 2024.

“I’m not someone who likes to sit still and I like to be continually learning. I saw an opportunity with Perrin Ag. As a business their ethos is about continuous improvement and learning. There are always new and better ways of doing things and we need to be at the forefront of that for our clients.”

Abbey Dowd

Consultant

B.Ag.Sc (Hons), MNZIPIM

Abbey joined Perrin Ag in February 2023 as part of the firm’s graduate recruitment programme, Empower.

Abbey grew up surrounded by dairy farms in a close-knit community in South Waikato. She saw first-hand how local farmers supported her community, which is what inspired her to study at Lincoln University.

Growing up in a rural community Abbey has always been impressed by how much local farmers contribute to the community. She wanted to help give back to the industry and play a part in helping our primary sector continue to produce quality food in a sustainable way.

In 2022, Abbey spent the summer as an intern on one of New Zealand’s first commercial deer milking operations. Her Honours project was researching deer milk alongside other more traditional milking operations and assessing the deer milking industry’s future production possibilities.

“Growing up I didn’t live on a farm, but I always knew I wanted to work in the farming sector. I wanted a role where there was a balance between working on and off farm and where I could support farmers to get the best out of their businesses.”

Sam Gray

Consultant

Sam grew up on a dairy farm in the Far North. After graduating from the University of Otago in 2005 with an Honours degree in molecular biotechnology, he spent several years working in medical research in New Zealand and Scotland. Upon returning to New Zealand in 2012, he spent four seasons dairy farming in Northland before purchasing a 56 ha block in Taupо̄, where he was first exposed to farming under a nitrogen cap. Sam joined Perrin Ag in 2023 and brings his strong analytical skills that are grounded by a pragmatic approach to problem solving. Outside of farming and consultancy, you’ll likely find him fly fishing, hunting or snowboarding.

“A lot of farmers feel overwhelmed in the face of a rapidly changing regulatory landscape. I strive to help farmers understand what these environmental regulations mean for their business, and offer practical solutions that allow them to keep doing what they do best, whilst remaining compliant”.

Danni Armstrong

Finance administrator

Danni grew up on a life style block in Atiamuri and spent five seasons as a relief milker in the area. During this time, her full time roles were in various fields including the rental car, health care and marine industries. Danni has had a focus on administrative and accounting duties, but is also proficient in looking after customers especially well, social media and website operation, running a rental car fleet and the associated tasks like training, rosters, H&S and organising repairs! Danni joined Perrin Ag in May 2021, to be part of a business in an industry she is passionate about.

During her spare time Danni can be found reading a book with her cats or out enjoying the walks in Rotorua’s Redwoods.

“What motivates me each day is knowing that I will be challenged with a range of problem solving tasks. I love to see all the figures adding up and knowing that my role makes a difference to the team.”

Duncan Walker

Director
Principal Consultant

B.Appl.Sc, MNZIPIM (Reg)

Coming from a drystock and dairy farming background, Duncan has always been passionate about growing primary sector businesses. Whether it’s pastoral farming, forestry, horticulture or investments outside the farm gate, sustainably optimising business performance is Duncan’s passion. After graduating from Massey University with a Bachelor of Applied Science in Agribusiness, Duncan’s first opportunity to optimise a farm business was by undertaking a dairy conversion. Duncan project managed the conversion and continued to run the dairy farm for a further three years.

Since joining Perrin Ag in 2011 Duncan works with a wide range of clients including those ‘outside the farm gate’. With his strong background in investment analysis, business strategy and project management, Duncan is increasingly working with clients to analyse and integrate horticulture and forestry investments into their farm businesses.

“I enjoy helping clients navigate through the complexities of today’s operational, financial and environmental challenges. Seeing clients achieve their goals is very rewarding”

Lee Matheson

Managing Director
Principal Consultant

B.Appl.Sc (Hons), FNZIPIM (Reg)

Lee came to agribusiness consultancy via the unlikely pathway of a suburban Wellington upbringing, an Honours degree in plant science and a six-year career in the financial markets. In his role as the firm’s MD, Lee doesn’t get out on-farm as much as he used to but makes the most of it when he does. While having swapped the paddock for the boardroom, Lee continues to provide advice in the areas of farm business strategy, farm system innovation, corporate governance, investment analysis and economic research.

Outside of Perrin Ag, Lee loves to spend his time coaching rugby, watching his three kids play sport and gardening with his wife Haidee.

“I love the challenge of empowering people in our primary sectors and the excitement of seeing clients achieving their aspirations.  If we can encourage farmers to engage with their consumers, take a more active involvement in their supply chains and view their businesses through a wider lens, then I think our industries have a great future.”