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Dairy Worker: Salary and Career Facts

Dairy workers maintain animal living spaces, milk animals and aid with birthing. Keep reading to learn more about potential job duties, the necessary training and earnings for this field.

What Is a Dairy Worker?

Dairy workers help care for dairy cattle. Two primary duties are feeding the cattle and herding them into milking stations, where in most modern farms the cattle are hooked up to milking mechanisms, also operated by dairy workers. Dairy workers also keep a close watch on the animals' health, recording any injuries or illnesses and treating them appropriately. They might also perform daily cleaning and maintenance in the animals' pens, fields, and housing. This may include repairing pens and fences and scraping manure.

As a dairy worker, you'll be required to endure physical labor for an extensive amount of time. Depending upon the area of the country, you may work in inclement weather or extreme temperatures.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, most farms milk their dairy animals twice daily (www.epa.gov). In addition to milking tasks, you might assist with the birthing of animals. Unlike seasonal farm laborers, dairy workers are often employed year-round and may forge long-lasting relationships with their employers. Below are some details about becoming a dairy worker.

Degree Required None; programs in dairy science are available for those who want to become farm managers
Training RequiredOn-the-job training
Key Duties Feeding and caring for cattle, monitoring injuries and illnesses, performing maintenance work
Job Growth (2014-2024) -3%* (for all farmworkers working with ranch, farm and aquacultural animals)
Mean Salary (2015) $28,840* (for all farmworkers working with ranch, farm and aquacultural animals in the dairy product manufacturing industry)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

What Training Do I Need?

Many dairy workers obtain their education through on-the-job training, most often from growing up on a dairy farm or working as hired help. Some employers offer training to new hires that includes the use of specific milking machinery. However, if you'd like to become a farm manager, you may want to pursue a 2-year associate's, 4-year bachelor's or 2-year master's degree in dairy science. These programs teach you about milk production, animal husbandry, ruminant nutrition and farm management.

You may also be able to advance your career with membership in a relevant professional organization. Dairy Farmers of America (DFA) offers health and worker's compensation insurance, investment opportunities and industry newsletters (www.dfamilk.com). The Associated Milk Producers, Inc. (AMPI) also provides a newsletter and magazine for its members and ensures a viable milk market for current and future members (www.ampi.com). The American Dairy Science Association (ADSA), which publishes the top-ranked dairy research journal in the world, also holds conferences and meetings for its members to encourage networking (www.adsa.org).

What Salary Could I Earn?

Because dairy workers spend many hours working on a farm, most employers opt to pay an annual salary rather than an hourly one. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the 25th to 75th percentile range of annual salaries for the category ''farmworkers, farm, ranch, and aquacultural animals'' was $21,610-$33,760 per year, as of May 2018. These farmworkers in the dairy product manufacturing industry earned a mean salary of $25,230, slightly less than the $28,840 mean salary earned by animal farmworkers across all industries.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Besides dairy cattle, animal farmworkers are needed to care for pigs, poultry, beef cattle, sheep, farmed fish and even bees. Animal breeders select animals for breeding to maximize desirable traits, such as heavy milk or egg yields or leaner meat. Yet other farmworkers specialize in caring for crops in fields, nurseries, and greenhouses. Their tasks may include planting and fertilizing crops, packing plants for movement, and spraying insecticides or pesticides to protect the plants from damage and disease. Some agricultural workers specialize in operating farm equipment, such as balers, combines, fertilizer sprayers, threshers, tractors, and trucks.