An overview of New Zealand legislation and compliance relating to dairy farming

‘Legislation’ and ‘compliance’ - the two words that make some dairy farmers roll their eyes. For the dairy farming industry in New Zealand there are an absolute shed-load of rules and regulations to be aware of and act in accordance with. Some of these apply to business and farming generally, and some are specific to dairying. They cover aspects such as staff recruitment and employment, health and safety, animal welfare, environmental issues like water and effluent management, building regulations, and business taxes such as GST, FBT, and income tax.


In 2014 almost 3 out of 4 dairy farmers were caught breaking basic employment laws in a government crackdown. In at least half of these cases it came down to something as simple as good record keeping. Dairy farms are considered a small business and are therefore subject to the same employment laws as any other business in New Zealand.

You’ll find a whole heap of resources covering things such as rosters, timekeeping, disciplinary processes, leave, employee agreements, wages and salary and more, on the Dairy NZ website. They even have a quick quiz to take to make sure you’re compliant


This legislation is not dairy farming or agriculture specific but applies to every workplace in New Zealand. As you probably know, it’s recently been beefed up to put more responsibility on management. In it’s simplest form  it’s all about identifying and controlling hazards.

Worksafe have excellent resources for farmers including a downloadable guide to on-farm risk management planning, some fact sheets that cover common risks and suggested controls for everyday farm activities, even templates for recording incidents and near misses.

Sadly, farming has the highest number of accidents and deaths in New Zealand so implementing a stringent health and safety policy isn’t just about being compliant, it’s actually addressing a really serious issue we face in our industry.

A Worksafe inspector has the right to visit your farm to conduct an inspection at any time so hopefully you’re already prepared. If not, no worries, go to the Safe Farms website (above) and get cracking - this website has everything you’ll need to be compliant.


Animals must be treated with care and respect in a healthy and safe environment. This isn’t just good for the animals, it’s good for us, our farms and workers, and for the greater good of our industry as a whole. It’s also a consumer expectation. Currently we’re #1 in the world for animal welfare standards on the Animal Portection Index, so let's work to keep it that way.

The Animal Welfare Act 1999 (amended in 2015) sets out the obligations of any person keeping animals for any reason, including food, fibre, or animal products. It details what constitutes an offence and what penalty it incurs.

Keep in mind the 5 Freedoms (developed in 1965 in the UK, these form the basis for animal welfare in the modern age) and you’ve got the basics covered. The 5 Freedoms are:

  • Freedom from hunger and thirst
  • Freedom from discomfort
  • Freedom from pain, injury or disease
  • Freedom from fear and distress
  • Freedom to express normal behaviour

There are also three welfare codes that relate specifically to dairying - the Dairy Cattle Code of Welfare, the Painful Husbandry Procedures code, and Transport of Livestock code. You can download these from the MPI website


A dairy farm is a business and as such is subject to the same taxes as all other businesses such as GST, FBT and income tax. There is some debate around what is considered income tax in relation to farming and agriculture; Accountants, MacNicol & Co, give an easy to understand run down here.


The dairy industry is also subject to aspects of the Animal Products Act 1999 which is a food safety based act. To meet certain aspects of this, MPI have developed NZCP1: Code of Practice for the Design and Operation of Farm Dairies. You can download it here.

This code covers the approval, design, installation, layout and operation of farm dairies and equipment.


Emissions trading scheme

So far agriculture is not included in this endeavour but discussion to change that, rears its head often and it could possibly change in the future.

Effluent management

This and water management are the hot dairying topics in the public’s mind right now and the most likely to get you into strife if not compliant. Each region has variations in effluent management compliance so make sure you look up the codes that are specific to your location.farming design accredited logo

When designing a new system, our best advice is to look out for this logo. This means the company has been assessed and accredited and meets or exceeds all standards required.

A quick and easy check to see if you’re compliant can be done with these checklists. These are private and just a guide to help you know where you’re at on your farm. If there are any boxes unticked, make haste to sort that out.

Water management

While there’s no official legislation as such, there is the Sustainable Dairying: Water Accord. This is a set of good management practices to raise environmental performance on dairy farms. It includes commitments to riparian planting, effluent management, thorough standards for new farms, and measures to improve water efficiency and nutrient use.


The definition of what constitutes as building is very broad, and there’s no differentiation between urban and rural environments (except for some aspects of retaining walls) so it’s likely that whatever type of structure you build on your farm will be subject to the Building Act 2004.

Building work is also subject to this act and covers sitework, or any work in connection with the construction, alteration, demolition or removal of a building. To help you comply with the Building Act there’s the New Zealand Building Code which references NZ standards for design, manufacture and construction. Building consents are not required for all building work but here’s a trap for young players - all buildings and building work must comply with the Building Code regardless of whether or not a consent is required.

Build with Dairy Barn Systems, and all relevant legal requirements and compliance issues discussed above will be met.