Cow magic

West Coast dairy herd manager Chloe Payne has scored a huge following in the social media world with her Instagram pictures of her cows. By Anne Hardie.

Just like her namesake, Barbie the calf is downright gorgeous and already a worldwide phenomenon after her photo on Instagram attracted 2.4 million likes.

The Fleckvieh-Friesian calf is just one of the latest photos and reels posted on Chloe Payne’s cowsofnewzealand Instagram account that now has 237,000 followers and climbing.

Chloe Payne

It’s a surprise even to Chloe, who began posting photos of her favourite cows and calves in 2016 because she adored her animals and wanted to share photos of them.

“After a year I had 1000 followers and I was pretty happy with that many people. One of my cows, Popcorn, loved eating doughnuts and bread and quite a few of her photos went viral. Then in 2021 I had a photo of two cows and a rainbow that went viral and that reached 50,000 followers.”

The rise and rise of her Instagram photos continues and Barbie is just the latest to be a big hit. All from the paddocks of an Ikamatua dairy farm where Chloe is the herd manager.

Ikamatua is a tiny West Coast settlement with an unmanned petrol station and a pub, but it is a central hub for 26-year-old Chloe who spent the previous four seasons as a herd manager at the remote northern tip of the Coast near Karamea.

Her priority when shifting jobs to a new farm is the ability to take her cows with her, including her favourite, Brown Sugar, a retired nine-year-old Jersey who has featured regularly on Instagram and also features in a sizeable tattoo on Chloe’s thigh. This is Brown Sugar’s fourth dairy farm, though the first as a retired dairy cow and Chloe is not going anywhere without her.

“We automatically bonded when she was a two-year-old. She would climb out of her paddock and come to the house to look for me and she has always been protective of me. She will beat up the cows that even look at me.”

Chloe (left) and Barbie.

Hence, many of her photos and videos have featured cuddles in the paddock with Brown Sugar, often lying down with her head in Chloe’s lap.

It is that relationship with her cows that appeals to her followers, with many of the photos capturing cows reaching toward the camera, often with an exploring tongue.

Cows have been special to her as long as she can remember, despite an ongoing allergy to their hair and saliva that requires her to take antihistamines every day. Her parents bought their first dairy farm further south on the Coast at Hari Hari when she was eight and Chloe as well as two of her sisters went on to forge careers in the industry.

From dairy assistant and relief milking for two years, she stepped up to 2IC on the Karamea farm before venturing over the Tasman to work on a cattle station. Her herd of 12 at the time stayed on the Karamea farm and Chloe was sent regular updates and videos. But she missed dairy farming too much and took on a job on a New South Wales dairy farm where she worked mainly as a tractor driver. Then it was back to New Zealand this year to begin the season as herd manager on the Ikamatua farm.

Whenever she moved jobs, her growing number of pet cows moved as well. This season’s calves have increased her herd to 25 and the cows are grazed with the farm’s herd on a lease arrangement.

Chloe says the sky makes a big difference to any photo.

“I mainly just get them as calves and they become friendly. I don’t have them because they’re high producing, though my cows are always among the highest producers in the herd despite this. It wouldn’t worry me if they weren’t though. And I keep anything that comes from Brown Sugar, so I have two of her daughters, three granddaughters and a great granddaughter.

“The aim is to look for a job where I can take my cows, especially Brown Sugar because she’s retired. I’m going to have to do something because I can’t end up with 10 retired cows that I take with me to jobs. I’m going to need my own land or find somewhere for my own cows because they’re my friends and I could never send them to slaughter.”

Likewise, bull calves from her growing herd head to her parents’ farm so they do not end up on the bobby truck.

Her next goal is to find a job managing a small farm, though she is also contemplating building her social media hobby into a fully fledged business. Down the track, her dream of owning a block of land for her retired pet cows would enable her social media followers to meet the animals they bond with online.

“I get questions every single day from people asking if they can visit my cows, so it would be awesome to be able to do that one day.”

Her photography really kicked off after she entered the workforce and was able to buy a decent camera. From then on, she began taking photos of the cows as she spent time with them in the paddock.

Rainbows always make a good photo.

“I don’t think I’m that talented, but because I have a relationship with my cows I can get good photos.”

A mix of breeds lends itself to photography.

Among her pets, Brown Sugar is Jersey, while Marshmallow is an Ayrshire cow and Blossom is a Montbeliarde that looks like a Hereford, while one of the newbies in her herd is the now-famous Barbie with her Fleckvieh-Friesian genetics.

The Ikamatua farm is owned by the Carey family who milk a 530 ‘liquorice-allsorts’ herd as they experiment with a range of different breeds including Montbeliarde, Fleckvieh and Viking Red.

“It’s more about creating a cow that is hardier, healthier and looks after itself a bit more, rather than purely BW (breeding worth) and production.

“It does help for photography. If I posted photos of black and brown cows all the time it wouldn’t work as well.”

She takes the odd photo during the day if she has time, but the bulk are taken in the softer evening light as the days get longer.

“No matter what the cow is doing, the sky makes the difference. Big grey clouds or soft sunsets.”

Many of her Instagram followers live in the United States and are surprised cows can live outside in big, open paddocks. Now and again she takes videos of what she is doing on the farm and posts them as stories that are available for 24 hours or puts videos of the cows and calves on Tiktok (@chloeandhercows). Like Marshmallow bucking up to her for a biscuit treat, a newborn Carrot Cake being licked by her mum, Gingerbread and then an amalgamation of videos through the life of Gingerbread, daughter of Brown Sugar, after she passed away this spring.


Chloe’s favourite cow Brown Sugar.

“They see what happens on the farm and get to see that cows here are not just a number. Not everyone like me puts a name tag in the cows’ ears, but most farmers I have met care about their cows.”

Her photos of pet cows with names, getting up close and personal with the camera are making their way on to celebrity Instagram accounts as well, including one she has seen on Khloe Kardashian’s.

The popularity of her cows has got to the stage where she has had to turn off all notifications because of the sheer number of comments, likes and messages. Around the world, she has followers using her photos as screensavers on their phones or backgrounds for their computer screens.

As part of her hobby growing toward a business, fans of her cows can pay a fee to access her Close Friends Stories with content that is not shared with everyone. Then there are calendars, stickers and hoodies with a photo of their favourite cow.

“Some choose their prettiest cow and some have been following since I started it in 2016 and watching some of the cows grow, so they choose on personalities.”

Even some of her other pets get involved with the cows, including her red collie, Luna, and one of her three cats, a rather large five-month-old kitten with a pushed-in face called Frank who tries to smooch against the cows’ legs in the paddock and licks the calves in the shed.