Anne Hardie

From milking a few buffaloes in Nepal to working in the world’s largest dairy farm of 20,000 cows in Saudi Arabia, Krishna Dhakal has experienced the extremes of dairy farming.

Now he is the 2020 West Coast-Top of the South Dairy Manager of the Year, managing a Pamu Farms of New Zealand property and milking 800 cows in a typical NZ grass-based system.

The 39-year-old was born in Nepal and grew up with its traditional farming methods where animals were hand milked and fields ploughed by buffaloes.

“We kept a few buffaloes for home use that were hand-milked and a couple of bulls for ploughing rice fields and many other farming activities.”

Then an opportunity arose with Almarai in Saudi Arabia, where he joined 400 staff of more than 10 nationalities to run the 20,000-cow farm in the desert. Seventy-four herringbones in six different dairies were set up to milk cows every six hours to produce on average, 40 litres per cow.

“Everything was constantly running 24 hours, such as the canteen, animal health, feeding, milking, breeding and general maintenance. This was a completely different way of milking.”

Krishna began as a general worker and progressed to a lead milker position, working in the large-scale dairy unit for six years, until his next opportunity came along which led him to NZ and a farm assistant job in Canterbury before heading to Southland.

He arrived with his wife, Basundhari and the first of their two daughters, Prakriti – his second daughter, Krystal, was born here. If dairying in Saudi Arabia was in stark contrast to Nepal, working on a dairy farm in NZ posed an even bigger challenge.

“Being once again introduced to another completely different way of farming shocked me. My operating skills in areas such as motor bikes, cars, tractors and other heavy machinery, and also the cold weather of the Southland was a difficult adjustment. Another struggle was the language barrier, along with the Kiwi slang. But I think I’ve improved well through the years, though still a little way to go.”

That was 2008 and he has worked on various dairy farms since then, often with owners and managers who became mentors and supported him with both money and time. Along the way he worked hard to achieve Primary ITO levels 1-5 and is now studying toward the NZ Diploma in Agribusiness Management. Looking for more opportunities led him to Pamu’s Blairs Dairy Unit at Dobson on the West Coast which spreads over 449 hectares, with about 435ha effective that has been humped and hollowed. For the first five years he was 2IC on the farm and this season he was promoted to farm manager.

“It has been a major achievement and also a big challenge for me to manage this farm. It is the newest humped and hollowed conversion farm on the West Coast. In saying that, it is also the hardest farm to manage especially with production cost, low ability of pasture harvest per hectare and topsoil structure which has poor water-holding capacity. That becomes a challenge in the main six weeks of summer.”

The farm has a milking platform of 382ha and a production target of 270,000kg milksolids (MS) each year of A2 milk. By comparison with the huge dairy complex of Saudi Arabia, the Dobson farm is small-scale, milking the cows twice a day throughout the season in a 60-bail rotary dairy.

Production has been assisted with about 250 tonnes of barley added into the system to counter the challenges of climate and soil. Anything between two and five metres of rain lands on the farm in a year, though he says they can end up wishing for rain in the middle of summer when gravel soils dry out. Summer incurs large feed costs and as supplements are hauled over the alps from Canterbury, production costs keep rising.

Minimising daily production costs and maximising production is one of the key challenges on the farm, he says, which is why he is particularly proud of reducing the cost of production by $0.40 per MS in the past year.

With six years’ experience on the farm, he says he has the farm’s history, activity, culture, weaknesses and strengths strongly imprinted on his mind. That gives him confidence in every step he takes to run a profitable business.

Creating a healthy and happy working environment is a focus for Pamu Farms and Krishna. It has led to a roster of six days on, two off, during calving and mating, with the aim of keeping everyone’s hours at no more than 95 a fortnight. The rest of the year is six-on and three-off and Krishna says it creates a safer environment for staff.

Krishna attributes his strengths in the role of farm manager to the experiences he has gained throughout his life and especially the years he has spent on the Dobson farm.

“The main forms of assistance when learning about managing the farm for me has been going to discussion groups, past experiences with people from different backgrounds, guidance from my leadership team including the farm advisor, the wide range of community including neighbouring farms and the strong and the awesome farm team I have by my side.”

Krishna’s goals are very clear cut. He plans to continue management positions with Pamu for the next five years, preferably on a larger operation at some stage. Longer term, he aims at contract milking at least 500 cows by 2026 and sharemilking at least 300 cows by 2030.

Rachel Lind from Cape Foulwind was the runner up in the Dairy Manager category and Luke Chisnall from Reefton placed third.

Dairy manager merit awards      

SealesWinslow Most Promising Entrant – Ashleigh Hoebergen

Silver Fern Farms Employee Engagement Award – Krishna Dhakal

Cuffs Chartered Accountant and Business Advisors Leadership Award – Rachael Lind

PGG Wrightson – Livestock and Real Estate Feed Management Award

– Krishna Dhakal

DeLaval Livestock Management Award – Rachael Lind

Fonterra Dairy Management Award – Krishna Dhakal

PrimaryITO Power Play Award – Luke Chisnall

Westpac Personal Planning and Financial Management Award – Krishna Dhakal


Physical farm data

Milking platform area 382
Cows 770
Production 706kg MS/ha
Pasture eaten 10t/ha
Milking supplement Barley and silage plus other 20%
Nitrogen 170kg/ha/year
Cows/labour unit 4 fulltime, 1 calf rearer, plus casual
Farm Dairy 60-bail Waikato
Dairy Automation Auto cup remover, auto teat sprayer
Six-week in-calf rate 68%
Empty rate 9%
Weeks of mating 12 (6+6)
Wintering 650 cows on farm and 150 grazed out