Stuff - Milking it: I spent a day on the farm and my nose may never recover

Stuff reporter Anuja Nadkarni takes a trip to the farm for a look at the hard work that goes into producing one of the nation's biggest exports: milk.

OPINION: I milked two cows last week.

A bog standard Auckland millennial, milked two cows in my jeans, puffer and rubber boots on a dairy farm.

Being the typical city slicker I am, for a moment I arrogantly thought to myself, "yeah, I could do this".

Could I though?

Could I wake up before the crack of dawn to milk hundreds of smelly, grunting cows every day? (Yeah, they grunt more than they 'moo'.)

Work hours, weekends, manage acres of land, protect my business from a cattle disease?

The smell on a farm could be described in a blind-smell test as one of two things I reckon, olive tapenade or cow s..t.

What was a novelty for me, is the money earner for nearly 50,000 farmers around the country.

Before my visit to a farm for this piece for our Milking It series, I had some preconceptions of what my farm visit would be like.

I expected a farmer, guarded from the media, unimpressed by our work and judging a couple of townies.

But I was probably judging them harder than they were, me.

The dairy farmer I met, Brian Gallagher, was nothing like I had expected.

I think he was too busy to fuss about what we were doing there, or worry about the questions we would ask. 

He was proud of his farm and honest. Even on his take on climate change.

"We are the largest contributor of carbon, but we are also the largest industry in the country. You can't stop one without stopping the other," Gallagher said.

Gallagher has a 140 hectare farm in Patumahoe, and produces around 6000 litres of milk every day this time of year.

It's always been a family business, Gallagher said, even though he didn't actually want to become a farmer himself.

"When I grew up, there was an assumption that probably the ones that aren't the brightest took up a career in agriculture," Gallagher said.

He said things had changed significantly since then. A mobile app can now turn the sprinklers on, it can also track the health of each cow and gestation period.

"You can study it at university. It's seen as a business now, it's a big business, and we need the smartest and the brightest to come through into the industry."

It is. The centuries-old practice is the country's biggest export earner.

New Zealand is the world's largest exporter of dairy products. Last year dairy farming earned the country more than $13 billion.

Fonterra collects 82 per cent of New Zealand's milk, meaning there's a very high chance the milk you poured on your cereal went through a Fonterra factory at some point.

So as you pour it out, next time take a moment to think of Brian.

He's humble and hard-working. He cares about the environment. And he loves his cows.

But I don't know how he stands the smell.