A summer among dairy cows in New Zealand

Selfie of Regan Kramer as she stands in a New Zealand pasture with grazing black and white dairy cows in the background.
Regan Kramer, junior in agricultural studies and international agriculture, spent her summer chasing down newborn dairy calves and improving her skills in dairy farm management while interning in New Zealand.

By Whitney Baxter

It’s early morning in the countryside near Matamata in northern New Zealand. Regan Kramer is dressed and ready for her morning workout. But rather than hitting the gym, she’s out in the pasture chasing down newborn calves, which run much faster than she thought. 

Kramer, junior in agricultural studies and international agriculture, spent her summer interning on a New Zealand dairy farm owned by Chad and Jan Winke. She learned about this unique internship because Chad (’99 dairy science) and Kramer’s mom became acquaintances while they were students at Iowa State.

The Winkes moved from Iowa to New Zealand 15 years ago when Jan Winke was offered a dairy cow and herd management software job. The couple now takes part in a 50/50 share milking position in which the Winkes own 900 dairy cows housed on land owned by Karo Preston and Grant Wills of Preston Wills Dairy.

The Winkes host a student intern each year, providing valuable hands-on learning opportunities.

Back in the pasture, Kramer and Chad Winke spend a couple of hours rounding up the calves, bringing them back to the farm and separating them into pens of 10. The rest of the day is spent milking the dairy cows, feeding the calves and moving cows to different pastures, among other farm-related tasks. Then, it’s back out to the pastures in the afternoon to chase down more newborn calves.

Unlike dairy operations in the United States, Kramer said New Zealand dairy cows are kept on pastures using a rotational grazing system. Those in the U.S. are a mixture of grazing herds, freestall, parlors and more. There also is a size difference between the two countries’ cows – those in the U.S. are much larger.

“The culture around dairy farming is different over there than in the U.S.,” Kramer said. “Dairy farming in New Zealand is very much a family operation, as is sheep farming. Everywhere you go, you drive past fields of grazing dairy cows.”

Of particular use during Kramer’s internship were the lessons learned in her dairy cattle science class. In that class, she was introduced to various principles, practices and decisions that must be made in a dairy cattle operation.

Kramer said she learned a lot about agriculture in New Zealand and enjoyed meeting new people and exploring the country.

“I’ve become more independent after my internship experience, and I’m able to better understand people from more diverse backgrounds,” Kramer said.