Do I Want to Be a Dairy Worker?
Dairy workers may fulfill a number of roles while employed at dairy farms or processing plants. Duties and tasks may include the care and feeding of animals, as well as assisting with calving. The operation and care of machinery and equipment, such as milking machines, is another common task for dairy workers.
Depending on their assigned tasks, dairy workers do run some risk of illness or injury in this occupation from both animals and machinery. Unlike some agricultural farm jobs, dairy farm jobs are year-round because the animals need to be cared for daily. Dairy work can be physically hard, and a lot of it can take place outdoors in all kinds of weather. Dairy workers in management roles may be self-employed and working their own farms; management roles typically demand full-time hours or more.
Most positions require a high school diploma. Some employers prefer applicants to have related work experience, while others offer on-the-job training. The following table contains the core requirements for becoming a dairy worker.
|Degree Level||High school diploma; postsecondary training can be beneficial**|
|Degree Field||Agriculture, dairy science**|
|Experience||Entry-level; most jobs provide training**|
|Key Skills||Judgment, decision making, problem solving, critical thinking*|
|Technical Skills||Ability to learn about and use farm equipment and tools***|
|Additional Requirements||Strength, stamina, good hand-eye coordination***|
Sources: *O*NET Online, **Various job postings for dairy workers (November 2012), ***U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Step 1: Take Dairy Classes
Many dairy workers have a high school diploma or equivalency degree, although some do not. Specific classes for learning more about dairy work and safety are available and, regardless of education level, could help workers to become more effective, skillful and safe around cattle and dairy equipment. Sometimes workers from a particular dairy attend courses as a team.
Dairy classes show workers how to manage a cattle herd and keep cows safe. Basic dairy production courses might teach about cow anatomy, lactation, milk quality assurance and the optimal nutrition and living conditions that promote maximum milk production. Still other courses discuss how to keep cows healthy, including hoof care, housing and how to avoid common herd diseases.
- Enroll in online or self-study courses. Aspiring dairy workers who do not have access to an onsite training program may want to consider registering for Web-based or correspondence dairy science classes. These programs usually involve taking courses online or with self-study materials. Topics include dairy management guidelines that focus on the care, feeding, housing and production of dairy herd stock.
Step 2: Gain Experience Working on a Dairy Farm
Dairy workers usually learn required skills while on the job. They need to become proficient at operating dairy processing equipment and controlling the machines that produce dairy products. Dairy work also entails the maintenance and care of cattle. Primary cattle skills include milking, cow reproduction, calf management and herding. Other possible tasks are feeding and branding. Some workers keep records of the cows and monitor their health.
Step 3: Consider Pursuing a Degree Program
Those who want to pursue a management position in the dairy industry might improve their prospects by earning an associate's or bachelor's degree in a major such as agriculture or dairy science. Agricultural colleges typically include topics like the environmental impact of farming, basic veterinary science and milk production, as well as courses in agribusiness, product development and milk marketing. Accounting and management skills are also important.
Some schools have working dairy farms where students learn and practice. These farms also provide a platform for cattle research. Graduates leave school with knowledge of dairy management, waste management and cattle handling skills such as birthing, milking and preventing/controlling herd illnesses.