Every so often, Willie McKnight gets off the tractor, throws his gumboots in the ute, and heads off to share his stockmanship skills with young farmers.

In 2010, McKnight was a NZ Dairy Industry Awards farm manager of the year. He and his wife Jo have since made some lifestyle changes and given up sharemilking. They now manage a 200ha dairy grazing block as well as raising nursing cows and rearing calves.

In his spare time McKnight works as a contractor, regrassing, direct drilling and cultivating.

Despite this hectic schedule, McKnight still has time to pass on his farming skills to others who are relatively new to farming. He delivers stockmanship workshops for Dairy Training Ltd, the DairyNZ company that provides vocational training for staff working on dairy farms.


These education programmes were developed by the Transforming the Dairy Value Chain (TDVC) Primary Growth Partnership programme, a seven-year, $170 million innovation investment led by commercial partners, including DairyNZ and Fonterra, and partnered by the Ministry for Primary Industries.

The TDVC investment is directed at innovative solutions that grow the New Zealand economy. The cow skills programme uses a new practical skills training approach that will extend beyond cow skills to many other training applications. To succeed it will need to cost effectively meet the needs of trainees and managers.

Training modules include workshops on moving cattle, training heifers, best practice in the dairy shed and caring for calves.

"I enjoy the hands-on nature of this teaching," says McKnight. "It's great to see those lightbulb moments, when trainees get it. I think the practical aspects of this training appeal to farm assistants because it focuses on giving them skills that they can use immediately.

Good stockmanship not only improves animal welfare, it helps ensure a safe and efficient working environment for the whole farm team, and upskilling farm staff is integral to this."

Dairy Training's operations manager Cath Blake said vocational training has benefits for employers as well as staff.

"Vocational training has a positive impact on motivation, attitude and self-esteem of employees. This in turn boosts on-the-job productivity. These workshops give young farmers the opportunity to acquire new skills and extend their options for career development."

Toni Schnuriger, assistant manager for a Wairarapa Moana farm in Mangakino, said even though she grew up on a dairy farm, and many things were second nature, it was good to refresh her skills.


"The cow skills workshops are hands on, and each session comes with short breaks which helps to keep you focused," says Toni Schnuriger. "I now have a better understanding of the reasons behind why we should do things in a certain way, and I share this information with the team when we do our staff training."

The Primary ITO will now include the framework of the cow skills programme as part of the New Zealand Certificate of Primary Industry Skills.