How one woman fell in love with dairy farming

When Daisy Higgs first moved to New Zealand from England more than 15 years ago she never thought she'd end up falling in love with farming.

But now the 25-year-old says she can't imagine another way of life, and she's encouraging other Kiwis to give it a go too.

After developing a love of animals while growing up with her family on a lifestyle block in Taranaki, Higgs decided to major in animal science at Massey University.

However, when she realised there were more jobs in the agriculture sector she shifted her focus, finishing her studies with a major in agriculture and a minor in animal science.

But it was only by chance she wound up working on a farm.

When her partner found a job in Morrinsville, Higgs saw a position in the area advertised by the relative of a university friend. Not ever considering dairy farming as a long-term option, she thought it might give her something to do temporarily while living in the region.

"I was like I'll give this a go and see how it goes, it might be good to have some on-farm experience before I try to tell all these older farmers what to do," she says.

"Then after the first season I loved it and now I'll probably be a dairy farmer for the rest of my life."

And just four years later, Higgs won Waikato Dairy Manager of the Year, and placed third in NZ in the same category. 

Higgs recently moved to a new position at a Fonterra dairy farm in Roto-o-rangi, near Cambridge, where she works as a farm manager, milking 180 cows. 

And though she has now been working on farms for more than four years, Higgs says every day brings something new.

"Obviously there's a lot to learn in the industry, it teaches you really good responsibilities - money, managing skills - you're kind of a jack-of-all-trades with the amount of jobs you end up doing as a farmer," she says.

"There's never a boring day."

Higgs says an average day at the office might include checking on new-born calves, taking a walk around the farm to check on pasture growth, repairing the odd fence - and of course milking cows.

And although the job is highly hand-on Higgs says it's intellectually stimulating too.

"A lot of people probably just think it's all practical but there's so much theory involved behind it all, so being able to link the university degree to the practical side of doing all that farming is really interesting."

As a young woman in the industry, Higgs admits she might not fit the typical stereotype of the average Kiwi farmer. But despite its blokey image, Higgs says the sector is changing quickly.

"I think now you'll find a lot more females coming through," she says.

With people from all walks of life starting to be attracted to the charm of farming she says the industry has become much more diverse in recent years.

And with more Kiwis looking to change careers in the wake of COVID-19, that diversity could grow even more as people from sectors such as tourism and hospitality give farming a go.

And with the dairy industry currently facing a labour shortage jobs are ripe for the picking.

A number of recently announced programmes aimed at helping jobseekers make the transition to dairy farming mean it's easier than ever to get a taste of the lifestyle and learn the basic skills needed to hit the ground running.

Higgs says the only way to really know if farming is for you is to dive on in.

"Just give it a go," she says.  "I definitely recommend it to anyone."

Although it can be hard work, Higgs says spending your days working outdoors is something you can't put a price on.

"It all seems pretty daunting when you hear all the horror stories and you see people standing outside in the cold and rain but it's so good on a nice day.

"I definitely couldn't imagine sitting down all day now."

For those wanting to make a career out of farming Higgs says the industry is "really good for progression".

"You can start off down the bottom and there's an easy way to work your way up. You can go from assistant to manager, to maybe contract milker, sharemilker and then ownership."

Higgs says her ultimate aim is to own a farm in Taranaki. In the meantime though, she plans to focus on being open to any opportunities that present themselves and work towards becoming a sharemilker.

This article was created for Fonterra