It doesn't say much for Prime Minister John Key's working knowledge of the dairy industry that he had to go to Chile to learn it takes seven minutes to milk a cow - and how to wrangle an electric fence

Mr Key visited Fonterra's farm near Puerto Montt yesterday as part of his Latin American trade tour. After a week of pomp and formal welcomes and farewells as the Prime Minister bunny-hopped his way around Latin America, the guard of honour he inspected yesterday was made up of cows and his close encounter was with an electric fence rather than a world leader.

At least he had the name of the company that owned it right - after calling it Sofralo for two days he finally realised it was actually Soprole.

The farm is effectively a replica of a New Zealand farm - everything from the pasture, the fencing, the herringbone milkshed and the cows themselves, born from embryos sent to Chile from New Zealand.


Clad in gumboots, while wife Bronagh opted for plastic shoe covers for the stroll over the farm, Mr Key learned from Chilean farm manager Albert Cussen that it takes seven minutes to milk a cow and what the perfect balance of rye grass to clover was for a pasture. He managed to avoid slipping on a cow pat, but came dangerously close to an even more disastrous photo op when Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy taught him how to cope with an electric fence.

Mr Guy demonstrated by grabbing hold of it with the full hand, rather than lightly touching it with one finger.

Mr Guy even demonstrated for him, holding on to the wire and saying, "I can't feel it much at all now," as he urged Mr Key to give it a go.

But it was one step too far, even for photo-op-friendly Mr Key. He opted to follow the cows' advice over his minister's and steered clear of the fence. He conceded he was all gumboots and no cow, saying he knew about economics, not farming. However, watching Mr Guy clutching the fence, Mr Key wondered what message it might send about the average IQ of the National Government to have ministers grabbing electric fences willy nilly.

"I just want to apologise to the New Zealand public," he said, laughing. "This is all I've got to work with."

Mr Key wrapped up his visit at a barbecue by saying the farm and surrounding area felt so much like New Zealand that "I feel like I'm at a National Party fundraiser."