Careers in Dairy Production: Job Options and Requirements

Oct 14, 2019

A career in the dairy industry may or may not require any education more than hands-on experience on a farm. Dairy workers and food science technicians are two careers that can be found in the dairy industry.

Essential Information

Depending on one's career of choice, entering the dairy production industry may require a postsecondary certificate or an associate's degree. Some positions may only require some life experience working on a farm. Jobs in the dairy industry include dairy farm workers, who specialize in caring for animals and maintaining equipment, or food science technicians, who help develop or improve milk-based products. Some online programs in food science exist, but many employers prefer professionals with practical experience and a more formal certificate or degree.

Careers Agricultural Worker Food Science Technician
Required Education None, typically; High school diploma for animal breeders Postsecondary certificate of associate's degree
Projected Job Outlook (2018-2028)* 1% growth 6% growth
Annual Median Salary (2018)* $24,620 $40,860

Source: *U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Dairy Farm Worker

Dairy farm workers care for the animals and equipment used in milk production. Employees at a dairy may feed and water livestock, clean and maintain machinery and animal living quarters, keep records on the animals and monitor the health of cattle.

They may also be responsible for assisting in the birth of calves and administering vaccines or other medications. Dairy cows must be milked daily, and dairy workers operate the machinery that extracts, purifies and stores milk, which also requires carefully following sanitation practices.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that the median hourly wage in 2018 for farm workers, including those who work with dairy production, was $12.77. The BLS projected little or no change in the number of agricultural workers from 2018 to 2028.

Requirements for Dairy Workers

Most dairy workers learn necessary skills through on-the-job training, and no college education is required. They usually work with an experienced dairyman for a few weeks until they understand the responsibilities of the job. Previous experience with animals is often an advantage to those seeking employment at a dairy.

Workers who wish to advance to a supervisory or managerial position generally need several years of experience. Many state agricultural extension services offer workshops and seminars for dairy workers that keep them informed about new practices in the industry. Enrolling in such classes can help a dairy worker prepare for advancement by covering topics like herd management, nutrition and reproduction.

Food Science Technician

Food science technicians working in the dairy industry help to develop new products or upgrade existing products that are made from milk. They use scientific methods to collect and analyze data concerning the appearance, taste, cost and nutritional value of dairy products.

These technicians may need to submit written reports that summarize their findings and sometimes make recommendations about the acceptance or rejection of a product. Food science technicians often work with agricultural food scientists or technologists to perform laboratory experiments designed to test the quality and safety of dairy items. They may be responsible for the maintenance of lab equipment and report any problems to a supervisor or manager.

The BLS reported that in May 2018 the median hourly wage for food science technicians was $19.65. Job opportunities for workers in the field are expected to grow about as fast as average, and the BLS predicted 6% employment growth for agricultural and food science technicians from 2018 to 2028.

Requirements for Food Science Technicians

The BLS notes that most science technicians, including those in food science, hold an associate's degree or certificate in a related field. Relevant fields for dairy production may include food or dairy science or chemical technology. Workers with experience in a food-manufacturing environment may have an advantage when seeking a job as a technician in the dairy industry. Such programs can usually be completed in two years or less and involve courses in chemistry, instrumentation and industrial processes.

Dairy workers work with dairy animals, including breeding and births, and use mechanical equipment. Food science technicians focus more on the quality and development of dairy products. Dairy workers most often do not require any formal education, while food science technicians require post-graduate education in order to do their work.

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