For the past 4 months I’ve taken a break from travelling to work on a dairy farm. I’m not going to lie, when I first started the job it all seemed a bit overwhelming. Waking up at 3am was tough, I’d never worked with animals before, and I’ll never forget how disgusted and horrified I was during my first few shifts when I saw first hand just how much these cows shit! I would come home every day absolutely filthy! After my first week I was telling people that it was an interesting experience but that I would never work on a dairy farm again.
But of course things change and now I actually enjoy going to work. I have a laugh with my colleagues, really like working with the cows (even when they don’t behave), and believe it or not the shit’s not that bad, it’s just chewed up grass really… So I’m now writing a blog encouraging backpackers to work on dairies! And here’s why:
1) Get your 2nd year visa
As long as the dairy is located in one of the specified regional areas (which most of them are) then you can work on a dairy in order to complete your 88 days of regional work. Most backpackers seem to link ‘2nd year visa’ with ‘badly paid fruit picking jobs’, but it doesn’t have to be that way, there’s lots of industries you can work in, and a dairy farm is a good choice.
2) Hourly rate rather than piece rate
Unlike many fruit picking jobs dairy work is paid hourly. The amount can range from dairy to dairy but usually it starts at around $18/hour. It’s nice not having to constantly calculate what you’re earning per hour, while frantically working as fast as you can.
3) Guaranteed hours
Rain or shine, cows need milked twice a day every single day, even on Christmas. It would take some kind of crazy natural disaster to stop farmers from milking their cows! So because of this is means you’re guaranteed work. Previously to this job I had ski season and orchard jobs where the weather would often effect things. Frost, rain, storms etc would often mean a day off work. And although I used to love waking up to find the mountain was closed for the day, I always regretted it when I received my payslip. With my current job and the guaranteed hours I consistently get around 45 hours per week.
4) You get a local experience
Working on dairy farms will get you off the tourist trail and out to small rural towns that you might never have explored otherwise. I would assume that, like my farm, the majority of dairy farmers are Aussie and so it means you’re working with locals and getting an insight into their world. Learning about how they grew up, hearing their experiences, listening to the words and phrases they use when they speak, they’re the sort of people you’ll remember long after you’ve left the country. Much better than working for foreign fruit picking contractors who just want to rip you off!
5) You’re helping farmers out
It may surprise you to find that Australian school kids aren’t busting to finish school so they can become dairy farmers. In Victoria especially, farmers are struggling to find employees and they’re worried that there’s not enough young people interested in the industry. That’s why backpackers are so useful to them. We may not be a permanent fix but most backpackers are pretty eager to find a good stable job for 3-6months and dairy farmers are happy for the help.
6) A chance to save loads of $$$
Dairy farming is rural, tiring work, often with longish hours. During the week you’ll be so tired you’ll spend your nights chilling out in front of the tv, and then at the weekends you might go out for a bite to eat or a few drinks in the tiny local pub. If like myself, your only reason for having a job is to save money, then this is exactly what you want. There’s really not many temptations around to spend your wages on, and even if there were you’d probably be too tired to bother. So the situation is perfect.
7) Accommodation often provided
Very often accommodation is provided with the job and it’s usually nearby and cheap. In my case my accommodation is $70/week, electricity included, no deposits or bonds. It’s nice and simple, you don’t need to worry about finding somewhere to live, supplying references to rental agencies, or paying electricity companies to connect and disconnect you.
8) It never gets boring
Working on a dairy is a never ending learning curve. It feels like I learn something new almost every day, whether it’s milking skills, something to do with the cows, or the running of the farm. I like asking questions, learning, and understanding things, so for me this job never seems boring, even 5 months on. And as your knowledge increases the job itself just seems more interesting.
9) Time absolutely flies
I can honestly say time has never moved so fast for me. I work two 4.5hour shifts per day and I never know where the time goes. During the shifts I don’t find myself checking the time or counting down the hours, and before I know it days turn into weeks and then months. This will probably be the fastest 6 months of my life.
Unless you come from a farming background in your home country, it’s not very likely you’ve ever done anything quite like dairy farming. Every so often I’ll just think, ‘I’m a dairy farmer’ and laugh. For me it really is a random job, and all my friends back home still find it pretty hilarious. I’m getting to work up close with animals, look after calves, rake around on a quad bike, and constantly learn more about how the industry works which is interesting in itself. It’s definitely an experience I’ll never forget.