New Zealand: West Otago dairy farmer Marloes Levelink is looking forward to sharing her knowledge with Sri Lankan dairy farmers.

Levelink is one of four New Zealand dairy farmers who will travel to Sri Lanka in late May as part of dairy giant Fonterra’s new volunteer farmer scheme.

“It is a great opportunity for knowledge exchange between farmers from different parts of the world.

“This will be farmer to farmer in Sri Lanka, but I hope as volunteers we can also share  our experiences with farmers here in New Zealand,” Levelink said.

When Fonterra asked its farmer shareholders who would be interested in volunteering in Sri Lanka Levelink jumped at the opportunity.

“I thought it was a great match to what I have been doing and the work I do at the moment.”

Levelink milks 450 cows with her partner Jonathan Verkerk near Tapanui in West Otago and they have been Fonterra shareholders since 2002.

She also provides training and advice for farmers and rural professionals on herd management, feeding, cow behaviour and housing and enjoys working with people from different cultures.

Levelink is the first person in New Zealand to be formally trained in reading cow signals and operates her own business, Cows 101 – so called because there are “101 things to know about cows”.

Cow Signals is a worldwide concept and Levelink was taught by Netherlands-based Cow Signals Training Company founder Joep Driessen.

Levelink said the New Zealand dairy farming scene was vastly different from that of Sri Lanka.

New Zealand dairy farmers milk hundreds of cows and have embraced automation and mechanisation while the average herd size in Sri Lanka is three or four cows which get hand-milked while all other jobs require manual labour, she said.

“But whether you milk cows in New Zealand or Sri Lanka, a cow is still a cow when talking animal health and feeding, and when producing milk it is a product that needs to be of good quality.”

“It will be interesting to have the conversation with Sri Lankan farmers about what role milk production has on their livelihoods, as a business.”

The four farmer volunteers will travel in two teams of two people to Sri Lanka.

In the third week of April Troy Doherty, of Whakatane, and Tim Philips, of Otorohonga, will leave New Zealand while Levelink will travel with Murray Douglas, from Northland, at the end of May.

“I’m looking forward to being part of the volunteer programme in Sri Lanka and seeing more of the bigger picture of what Fonterra is doing.”

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