Move from desk-job to dairy farming brings rewards

12 September 2022

From her first look in a working dairy shed as a teenager, Laura Murdoch wanted to work with cows, but a wrist condition meant she chose a career in accountancy instead and took up dairying more than a decade later.


Now she is an award-winning Southland dairy farmer who loves sharing stories of the cows she works with and the industry she works in. “I love my cows and I love showcasing them and the industry and how rewarding it is.”

Prior to going dairy farming full time Laura worked in administration for seven years and then accounting roles for 10 years. The joy from her early taste of milking cows however never left her, and she got ‘cow time’ doing relief milking in the weekends and on stat holidays.

After many years of office work Laura’s wrists were deteriorating. In 2016 she took a break from work and had surgery to correct carpal tunnel syndrome.

From accounting to dairy farming

The successful surgery resulted in Laura changing her career to dairy farming, and she soon landed a full-time second-in-charge manager role at a farm where she had been relief milking.

It was around that time that she met a Primary ITO Training Adviser and asked about the programmes available. “I wanted to get some qualifications and be as upskilled as possible. I also wanted my CV to reflect that I was qualified and competent.”

Laura began studying the Primary ITO Milk Quality One programme and Animal Husbandry Level 3 at the same time. “From there I just started smashing out programmes.”

Laura’s CV now includes a list of qualifications she’s completed through Primary ITO, often studying two programmes at once.

Study changes farming approach

Most recently she completed the New Zealand Diploma in Agribusiness Management (now known as the New Zealand Diploma in Primary Industry Business Management) and Level 5 Primary Industry Production Management at the same time.

Laura is now second-in-charge at a Mokotua dairy farm running 250 cows and she says the study has not only broadened her knowledge but resulted in a complete change to the farm’s replacement heifer breeding programme with the introduction of genetics.

Laura and her manager were keen to reduce the number of bobby calves being born. She investigated using sexed semen for artificial insemination (AI) and introducing other breeds, with a view to improving sustainability and returns, and bringing diversification to the farm.

The new mating plan evolved from her study of the diploma business and sustainability modules. It has cut bobby calves (a by-product) being born and halved the mating time for their heifer replacements to three weeks.

Laura says overall the new plan has bought better social, environmental, and financial outcomes for the farm. “I am now getting better beef breeds to on-sell and if we get too many girls we can sell them, and they are worth more to someone else.”

Qualifications, awards, and recognition

You get the feeling talking to Laura that she would have been a very good accountant. Laura not only threw herself into dairy farming, but she has achieved in a few short years what many would take decades to accomplish.

Laura was named the 2022 Southland Otago Dairy Manager of the Year at the Dairy Industry Awards and won three other merit awards for livestock management, leadership, and financial planning.

Laura says she aims to be a leader in the industry and inspire others about the joys of dairy farming. She has popular Facebook and TikTok pages where she shares her mahi and love of cows.

“I like to showcase the industry and how rewarding it is. I love my cows. It is just me and my manager here, so my cows are my workmates and friends – they are massive cuddly dogs really.”

Laura acknowledges knowing all your cows by name or number and chatting to them and patting them isn’t every farmer’s ideal, but she believes this approach improves outcomes. “They are easier to manage because they are not stressed.”

Grateful for study opportunities

Laura puts her success down to being given opportunities to learn and grow in the industry.

“I would not be where I am today if I did not have the help from Primary ITO. They do so much for those who are wanting to learn.”

“My tutors have been really awesome, especially my main tutor who challenged and pushed me to achieve more so that I am the best person that I can be. For me and my job that has paid off.”

Click here for more information on the New Zealand Diploma in Primary Industry Business Management.