Editor’s note: The following is a follow-up article to last issue’s discussion about career opportunities for students interested in studying the dairy industry. The author has made his best attempt to update the average incomes for various dairy careers to reflect current market conditions.


•Myth 1: There are no jobs for students with college degrees in agriculture.
•Myth 2: Dairy science majors are young men fresh from high school.
•Myth 3: If you major in dairy or animal science, you will milk cows or feed pigs for a living.

The real story
No jobs? One of the best kept secrets in the career market is the wealth of opportunity for university graduates in agriculture. Communications have attempted to quash the myth that there is no future for agriculture graduates, but the selling has been tough due to the misconceptions. There is extremely strong demand in the employment market for animal and dairy science graduates and doctors of veterinary medicine (DVM).

Placement rate for dairy science graduates approaches 100 percent, and starting salaries average about $35,000 in jobs ranging from dairy production to marketing, quality assurance and biotechnology. Each of these areas and several other potential career opportunities will be discussed in this [article].

Who are the students?
The second myth to dispel concerns the students who enroll in dairy science. The background of students studying dairy is as diverse as in any program. At Iowa State University, more than 50 percent of the students in the department are women, and nearly three-fourths of the students entering the College of Veterinary Medicine are women.


A geographic plot of home addresses would further illustrate the diversity of the dairy student population. A sampling of home addresses includes Japan, Nicaragua and Puerto Rico. Graduates include a prince from South Africa. About one-third of our students come from town or city addresses, to include both Brooklyn, Iowa, and Brooklyn, New York.

The average age and life experiences of students also continues to change. It is not uncommon to enroll a dairy farmer with 10 to 15 years farming background or a single mother with three children. The perspectives and experiences of all of these diverse students enhance and enliven the learning environment in college courses.

The opportunities
The third myth listed relates to the opportunities for dairy science graduates as well as to the breadth of classroom and cocurricular experiences available. The dairy science program achieves a balance between applied coursework in livestock production, basic support science courses and out-of-classroom experiences. This blend develops a graduate with production management skills as well as the education to work effectively in the agricultural support industry.

Cocurricular activities, such as judging contests and ice cream sales, are primarily offered through the Dairy Science Club and other student organizations. Cocurricular events enhance development of leadership and interpersonal skills necessary for today’s career market. Internships develop work skills while students evaluate career choices in an on-the-job setting.

The result of an effective combination of coursework and personal growth activities is consistent placement of graduates in a wide array of careers ranging from dairy farm management to animal health product marketing. The strength of the underlying science education allows graduates to move into professional schools such as veterinary or human medicine and graduate studies for the master of science or doctor of philosophy.

The “crystal ball”
Most students are interested in a “crystal ball” view of the future for dairy careers. Predicting the future is always dangerous, but with some background information we will make an educated guess. Career demand has held rather steady over the past, and we predict at least a similar response over the next several years. Fewer students are entering agriculture programs nationwide, but the demand for our graduates is actually increasing.

The career directions students take over the next 10 years likely will change due to market forces. For example, interest in companion animals continues to grow and create new areas of opportunity. Additionally, there is more need for agricultural service providers such as consultants for farmers and ranchers. Nonfarm issue groups are impacting agricultural management and marketing. Change is inevitable but not always bad. Therefore, dairy science faculties are training graduates to be flexible and adaptable. This means that the curriculum itself must constantly change to meet student and employment needs.

As previously noted, average starting salaries for animal or dairy science graduates are about $35,000, not including benefits. Selected opportunities also provide housing, automobile, cell phone, computer and expense accounts. Average starting veterinary salaries are likely $50,000 or higher. Veterinary graduates with specific dairy experience and skills can expect up to $70,000 starting salaries.

Career opportunities for graduates of dairy science or veterinary medicine are throughout the U.S. but are most concentrated in the upper Midwest. Graduates have accepted international assignments but often are based out of a Midwestern state.

The workweek
Working hours and conditions for employment opportunities are quite variable and dependent upon the career area. An agricultural loan officer may work a more traditional five-day, 40- to 50-hour week, while a veterinarian or farm employee may have a six- to seven-day, 65- to 75-hour week. Average workweeks are probably about 50 hours.

The amount of travel required depends specifically on the career. For example, a veterinarian with a large animal practice will likely travel throughout a country route all day long, almost every work day. But a companion animal veterinarian may work strictly from a home clinic. Some animal products representatives, such as animal health sales, travel five to six days per week but only stay away from home overnight once or twice per week. International marketing employees may travel overseas for up to 60 percent of the year. Graduates have great flexibility in selecting their travel versus no-travel opportunities by simply prioritizing interest in the various careers.

Requirements to enter
What about requirements to enter an agriculture program? Specific requirements can be obtained from a high school counseling office, from admissions or on the Internet. Generally, the best recommendation is to emphasize math and science. Skills in composition and speech are important due to the emphasis on communications in the educational program and cocurricular activities.

Graduating in the top half of the senior class is critical; graduating in the top quartile should be a goal for students attempting to pursue veterinary medicine after completing a preprofessional course in dairy science.

Areas to study in dairy science
At Iowa State, the Animal Science Department has two curricula: animal science and dairy science. These two curricula are informally subdivided into career market areas which are called “specialized options.” Specialized options are formal programs to help students prepare for a more specific career area. Each has a required set of courses to supplement the basic program. The following are brief descriptions of the most common career areas entered by dairy and animal science graduates:

1. Professional dairy or animal science
Careers include dairy herdsperson, horse trainer, feedlot manager and kennel supervisor – all areas of direct contact with animals. Starting salaries range from $28,000 to $37,000 with additional benefits often include housing and vehicle.

2. Agricultural sales and marketing
Careers include animal health sales, dairy nutrition consultant, livestock product specialist, urban pet food distributor, animal marketing and feed, equipment or semen sales. Starting salaries range from $35,000 to $50,000; a vehicle, cell phone, computer and expense account are often added.

3. Agricultural business and finance
Careers include agricultural loan officer, small business management trainee and purchasing or merchandising agent for commodities (corn, wheat, etc.). Starting salaries range from $32,000 to $37,000.

4. Animal promotion and information
Careers include writing, advertising development and marketing for major agricultural journals; dairy breed association representative for sales development, export and member services; USDA livestock reporting services; and DHIA (dairy herd improvement association) supervisor. Starting salaries range from $30,000 to $38,000 with expense account and car often added.

5. Dairy food and meat science
Careers include APHIS (Animal-Plant Health Inspection Service) inspector, dairy or meat processing quality control, food or feed plant management trainee, new food development, pet food manufacturing and livestock buyer for meat processor. Starting salaries range from under $30,000 (government) to $45,000. Government positions usually include up to an 18-month training period followed by a significant salary increase and an excellent benefits package during the early career.

6. Pre-veterinary medicine
Career requires four years additional professional education; entrance into professional program is competitive. Careers include private practice in small, large or mixed species animal clinic; state and federal government inspection services; military; and industry research or technical services. Starting salaries after the completion of a DVM program range from $45,000 to over $70,000.

7. Advanced degree and biotechnology
Career market is determined by specific degree completed. Bachelor’s degree may lead to work in research laboratories at university, industry or government locations. Starting salaries range from $30,000 to $35,000.

Advanced degree entrance is competitive. Master of science (MS) degrees are generally three-year programs of coursework and research. Many variations of these programs exist. Careers include research associate in industry, university or government laboratory; nutrition or breeding consultants; and community college instructors. Starting salaries range from $35,000 to $50,000.

Doctor of philosophy (PhD) degree usually follows successful completion of an MS degree but is still on a competitive enrollment basis. Period of study is generally from two to three years after MS program completion. Program is coursework and research-based with heavy emphasis on research. Careers include university professor of research, extension or teaching; industry researcher/project leader; and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) researcher. Starting salaries range from $60,000 to more than $75,000.

8. International agriculture
International agriculture is generally combined with one of the previously described seven areas. Careers include government representative on international projects; global market development and sales for the agricultural industry; and public service, such as the Peace Corps. Salaries are very dependent upon degree attained and expertise. PD

—From Iowa State University Extension website