Gypsy Day is entrenched in dairy farming culture, but discussion has started within the industry about whether there are less disruptive ways to move farms.

For many in the dairy industry, June 1 means one thing -- time to move. As the new season starts, thousands of sharemilkers pack cows into stock trucks and move equipment and families to new farms. It is a familiar sight, the traditional progression in New Zealand's dairy industry.

Recently, more awareness of the disruption the move can have on families, small rural communities and schools, has led to discussion in the industry about whether there is another way. DairyNZ strategy and investment leader, people and business, Mark Paine says discussion stemmed from a workshop two years ago involving people from different sectors of the industry which focused on improving the reputation and experience of working in dairying. Getting away from the traditional Gypsy Day was one issue explored.

"When we dug into it, there was agreement that it is incredibly disruptive for rural communities and schools. Secondly it has a fairly negative impact in terms of stock movement for locals," says Mark.


He also questions whether the emphasis on change every June 1, causes unnecessary uncertainty in farming relationships.

"It's about trying to get the balance right between progression which is a good thing, and continuity in the industry in terms of making sure that people stay long enough to really stick with the farm system, understand the particular farm they are on and have it really humming, which is really a three-year plus experience.

"When really effective employment relationships are operating, you don't want to have the expectation of Gypsy Day bringing that to an end. If things are going great, then focus on the things that will make it go better. Don't stop the whole thing because there is this kind of industry expectation that it's Gypsy Day, it's time to move."

Mark says farmers will never get away from the physical reality of having to move stock and equipment on the day itself, but he suggests phasing a family's move to better suit children and the communities they move into. He suggests more could be made of the weeks before the new season, once cows have been dried off.

There can even be opportunities to move families over January. DairyNZ Southland/South Otago regional leader Richard Kyte says it is possible for people to move to new farms through the year.

"There's a school of thought that January is a better time because it allows more time to adjust to a new farm and for training, instead of new staff being thrust into the new season and calving when it's all go," he says.

"You're still not going to get away from stock on the road and the physical aspect. From a farming systems perspective you can't be moving any other time. But it's at a higher level we're talking; it's around families."

DairyNZ Taranaki regional leader Katrina Knowles says it's hard to get away from Gypsy Day because dairy farming is so season focused and it's the way things are geared up.


She says farming communities can contribute to the successful shift of a sharemilker or employees by offering help and making people feel welcome.

"If communities provided some sort of orientation pack, for example telling new people where the doctors and sports clubs are, it would be hugely beneficial.

"Farming is cooperative by nature and people will work together to help each other out."

Katrina says she has heard of farmers offering sharemilkers or employees help -- for example looking after children for a couple of days during the moving process or providing a meal.

Arrangements can be made to start the shift early by moving equipment that is not currently being used, but agreement needs to be gained first. Katrina says there are pitfalls in moving to a farm early and the key is not to interrupt the business of either farm.

She says planning to shift farms starts way back in November as a sharemilker needs to keep production up, ensure there is plenty of feed for the new sharemilker and make sure the stock are in good condition to travel.

Chris Withy, who with wife Charleen milks 440 cows on a 140ha farm in Benmore, Southland, says moving at any other time than June 1 would be great in an ideal world, but is hard to manage. He says Gypsy Day is all about communication and planning.

"To move earlier you have to sit down with the farm owners who you probably don't know that well and see if it's okay. If it is, you still have to actually put it in place.

"Moving one's belongings, stock and equipment out while someone else moves in is not that simple." Everyone agrees on the need for good communication and Mark says it is important to set out clear understandings from the beginning.

"You've got to set clear expectations in a contract so there are no surprises. It's not like this could ever be a centrally planned thing in the industry. This is more about a negotiation between the parties and providing options. It's taking more of the family and community impact into account -- what works for everyone," says Chris.

Mark says the industry is now discussing options to better support progression and communities during times of significant change like Gypsy Day.

"While June 1 will always be with us, good planning leading up to this date and effective communication surrounding the move is crucial to minimising stress and disruption to families and communities."

By law

Stock movements are covered by the bylaw for animals and stock in public places.

"Moving stock is allowed and bylaws are in place to deal with nuisances that may arise from droving such as public safety and damage to roads," says mayor Tracey Collis. "I would always recommend farmers use good practice by ensuring movements are in daylight hours and have adequate supervision at the front and following the herd. There is a noticeable increase in utes and trailers on the road on May 31 and June 1 and is noticeable in our rural area."