Education: Dairy Science

Published on Fri, 02/22/2013 - 9:37am

Dairy science programs teach people the science of dairy production and management. Students learn dairy cattle science and nutrition. They study food science, safety, and milk products.


Program Overview

It’s hard to resist a good chocolate milkshake. Or butter pecan ice cream. Or mashed potatoes drowning in real melted butter. And for the foodies out there, a triple-cream Danish blue cheese melted on toasted crostini. Is your mouth watering yet? Let’s face it - dairy products such as milk, cream, and cheese are an integral part of the American diet.

As a food source, dairy cows are relatively lucky because their milk is in demand, not their meat. Many cows enjoy good food and a decent lifestyle of grazing and tail-swishing to encourage milk production. Optimally, they can spend their days in open pasture. At the same time, dairy cows require reliable milking schedules. Most commercial dairy farms are large and complex, and nearly all have employees.

To work as a dairy scientist, you need at least a four-year degree. Dairy scientists usually work as managers at dairy farms, monitoring production and supervising employees. To work as a dairy science technician, you usually need a two-year degree, including lab courses and work experience. Dairy science technicians usually assist in the feeding, breeding, and milking of cattle. They operate milking machines and monitor cattle health.

In addition to working on dairy farms, you can usually find work breeding dairy cattle or food processing. With your knowledge and experience of dairy science, you can even become an artisan cheese maker!

In dairy science programs, it’s no surprise that you study all aspects of dairy cows and dairy production. You learn how to keep dairy cattle healthy through nutrition and exercise. You learn about bovine biology, breeding, and genetics. You also study the techniques and machinery used to milk cows. In addition, you learn business skills associated with dairy farm operations. This usually includes courses in recordkeeping, management, and purchasing.

About 35 schools offer programs specifically in dairy science. However, every state has a land grant college that offers agricultural or animal science programs. Many other colleges and universities also offer degrees or courses in dairy science. Typically they are part of a larger agriculture or animal science department. In addition, several two-year colleges offer certificate and associate degrees in dairy science that can be transferred to a four-year school.

Several schools offer graduate degrees in dairy science. Often these programs focus on the breeding, genetics, and physiology of dairy cows. Master’s degrees typically take five or six years of full-time study after high school. Doctoral degree programs typically take about three to five years after the master’s degree. Most people with graduate degrees in dairy science become professors or researchers.


Career Opportunities

A career in dairy science is much more versatile than one might think at first glance. Dairy farming and related careers require extensive knowledge of new developments in agriculture, agricultural economics, accounting and bookkeeping, government regulations, personnel management and computer skills. Changes in agriculture happen quickly and those involved in the industry need to keep up to date with continuing education.


Dairy Farm Manager/Owner

In 2008, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported more than 1.2 million jobs for farmers, ranchers and agricultural managers. Jobs for self-employed farmers are expected to decline by 8 percent from 2008 to 2018 because the industry of agriculture is continually able to produce more with fewer workers. However, those in the dairy industry who are willing to fore go working for a large industrial-style farm in favor of owning or working for a smaller, niche farm might find their job prospects increase. There are many dairy farms that have gone organic, are creating their own products like cheese and yogurt and selling them locally, and promoting smaller farming and healthier methods. These farms are starting to thrive and may present a good opportunity for a new dairy science graduate. According to the BLS, the average salary for a farm manager ranges between $24,000 and $60,000 per year, depending on the size of farm and experience level of the farm manager.


Equipment or Feed Sales

Those with extensive knowledge of cattle and the dairy industry in general are invaluable as salespeople for agricultural equipment and feed. It is important to dairy managers and farm owners that their salespeople be knowledgeable so that they can spend their money wisely. As a salesperson, it is important to keep up on new trends in the industry and try and find products that will help your clients do their best work. This is a good position for someone who likes the dairy industry and working with people but doesn’t necessarily want to be a farmer. The BLS lists the average equipment sales salary as between $36,000 and $75,000 per year.


Research Technician

A research technician with a dairy science degree might work in a university lab or the lab of a pharmaceutical company assisting scientists. A technician will help with breeding, conduct tests and experiments and perform other tasks that will help the agriculture industry protect cattle and other animals from pests and disease, improve their nutrition and otherwise improve their quality of life or the process through which dairy and other animal products are manufactured. Research technicians in animal science generally make about $16.34 an hour according to the BLS.


Agriculture Teacher

Some high schools and many technical schools teach dairy and other agriculture sciences. As a dairy science teacher, you may teach classes giving an overall view of the agriculture industry or you may teach hands-on classes in how to deal with dairy animals. Secondary school vocational agriculture teachers make between $42,000 and $64,000 per year.


Dairy Plant Manager

A dairy plant manager will provide leadership in a plant that processed fluid milk. Responsibilities in this type of position include being in charge of administration, production, processing, packaging, quality and more. Generally, the plant manager is the liason between all departments and must have an excellent command of the industry as a whole. This is a job that is much less hands-on than working as a farmer or even salesperson. Administrative positions often are concerned with budgets and overall safety issues and expenses, rather than animals and their products. This is the type of position someone with an interest in business and dairy science together could aspire to. However, with large farms doing most of producing of dairy products, large dairy processing plants offer stability and higher salaries. Depending on location and plant size dairy plant managers often make between $75,000 and $100,000 a year.



Ohio State ATI

When it comes to two-year degrees in agriculture, we’re number one!

The Ohio State University Agricultural Technical Institute (Ohio State ATI) is ranked first in the nation in the awarding of associate degrees in agriculture and related sciences. Located in Wooster, our small, friendly campus is in the heart of Ohio’s dairy industry. Our 1700-acre farm and 100-cow milking herd provide our students with the perfect balance of practical experience and in-depth courses in dairy nutrition, genetics, health, reproduction and facilities management. In addition to two dairy-specific degrees, ATI also offers programs in agricultural business, agricultural communication, food science, and pre-veterinary medicine. Visit us in person or online


University of Wisconsin Platteville

 The School of Agriculture at UW-Platteville has a strong academic tradition, challenging students with problem-solving situations and real-life case studies. Our favorable student to teacher ratio helps students and instructors build long-lasting relationships. Our professional student organizations and competitive teams provide opportunities for students to advance their learning and develop valuable leadership skills. Our Internships allow students to experience a career firsthand and build important contacts in the agriculture industry. At UW-Platteville you can receive a first class education at an economical price. For more information please contact the School of Agriculture at 608.342.1393 or visit our website at