What is an Animal Sciences Degree?

Animal scientists develop efficient ways to produce and process meat, poultry, eggs, and milk. Degree programs in animal science are science-based and industry-oriented. They involve the study and application of principles of nutrition, reproduction, and genetics to the production and management of food animals. Animal science is the backbone of the food industry – one of the largest and most important industries in the United States.

Program Options

Associate Degree in Animal Sciences – Two Year Duration
An animal sciences associate program combines introductory-level courses in the major with some liberal arts classes in subjects such as English literature and composition and the social sciences. Grads with this associate degree may qualify for some entry-level jobs in the field or go on to further study at the bachelor’s level.

Here is a snapshot of some core courses of an animal sciences associate curriculum:

  • Introduction to Agriculture Business – the business and economics of the agricultural industry; their implications for the agricultural producer, consumer, and the food system
  • Agribusiness Computer Apps – agribusiness computer applications, web page design, agribusiness software
  • Introduction to Animal Science – livestock animal anatomy, physiology, nutrition, genetics, and epidemiology
  • Livestock Selection and Evaluation – visual and physical methods of appraising beef, sheep, and swine for functional and economic value; oral and written evaluation summaries
  • Livestock Feeding and Nutrition – the science of animal nutrition with emphasis on digestion and absorption, the nutritive value of feedstuffs
  • Animal Diseases and Sanitation – common livestock diseases, immunity, disease control programs
  • Beef Cattle Science – principles and practices of purebred and commercial beef cattle production; breeds, breeding principles, selection, nutrition, environmental health, marketing, and record keeping
  • Meat Science – introduction to the meat industry, meat products and meat processing techniques, food safety and sanitation, grading and inspection, preservation, and consumer marketing
  • Small Ruminant Science – selecting, feeding, breeding, and care of sheep and goats; marketing of sheep, goats, and their products
  • Agriculture Work Experience – practicum in an agricultural setting

Bachelor’s Degree in Animal Sciences – Three to Four Year Duration
Because of the wide scope of animal sciences, bachelor’s programs in the field often allow students to choose a concentration. In addition to courses in their area of focus, they take foundational classes in biology, microbiology, chemistry, genetics, and statistical analysis. In general, graduates with a Bachelor’s Degree in Animal Sciences qualify for entry-level through supervisory positions.

These are examples of possible concentrations and typical coursework:

Animal Production
Beef Cattle / Dairy Cattle / Swine / Sheep / Goats / Horses / Poultry

  • Nutrition
  • Reproductive Physiology / Breeding
  • General Physiology
  • Genetics
  • Management of Livestock

Animal Products Processing
Food Industry

  • Meat Science
  • Dairy Products
  • Poultry Products
  • Food Safety and Quality Assurance

Pre-Veterinary Medicine
Livestock and Companion Animals

  • Organic Chemistry
  • Inorganic Chemistry
  • Biochemistry
  • Biology / Zoology
  • Physics
  • Mathematics / Statistics
  • Genetics
  • Microbiology
  • Cellular Biology

Science and Technology
Preparation for Graduate or Professional Schools

  • These programs lay the groundwork that students need to pursue research in areas such as animal nutrition, genetics, and reproductive physiology

Master’s Degree in Animal Sciences – Two Year Duration
At the master’s level, the animal sciences curriculum is very focused on a particular area of study. Students typically design their curriculum in consultation with a faculty advisor. Program components include coursework, examinations, and a master’s thesis.

Doctoral Degree in Animal Sciences – Four Year Duration
While the Master’s Degree in Animal Sciences is designed to deepen career-centered knowledge and skills, the doctorate in the field is designed to develop skills in advanced research, analysis, and scholarly writing. Doctoral candidates aim to contribute original – new – knowledge to the field of animal sciences, both through their studies and dissertation and throughout their academic, research-centered careers.

Here are some samples of graduate level study tracks and highlights of each:

Animal Nutrition Track

  • This track often involves a joint degree with Animal Sciences and Nutrition Science

Animal Breeding and Genetics Track

  • Laboratory experimentation on genetic controls of growth and reproduction, gene transfer, and cloning
  • Field experimentation on producer herds and flocks
  • Possible minors in genetics, statistics, physiology, or biochemistry

Endocrinology and Reproductive Physiology Track

  • Hormonal studies with livestock, primates, and laboratory animals
  • Biochemical studies at the cellular level including stem cell biology
  • Mechanism of gene action
  • Physiological genetics
  • In vitro maturation
  • Fertilization
  • Embryo development
  • Cloning and gene transfer
  • Neuroendocrinology
  • Environmental and genetic control of puberty
  • Postpartum anestrus (the lack or absence of fertility)

Meat Science and Muscle Biology Track

  • Relationship of muscle structure, composition, and metabolism to growth and meat quality

Cellular Biology, Animal Health, Immunity, and Toxicology Track

  • Cellular / subcellular structure and function
  • Cell regulation
  • Cell – cell interactions
  • Cell function as it relates to mechanisms of immunity and the effects of natural and synthetic compounds
  • Investigations using in vitro and in vivo, whole animal, model systems

Degrees Similar to Animal Sciences

As the name implies, agribusiness degree programs are focused on the business of agriculture. Students learn about the economics and operations of farming, ranching, livestock management, and other agricultural businesses. Coursework spans topics such as finance, marketing, sales, and human resource management.

Degree programs in this discipline teach students about one or more aspects of general agriculture. Coursework may cover topics like farm management, crop science, animal husbandry, agriculture technology, soil science, and food distribution.

Dairy Science
The curriculum of a dairy science program prepares students to work in many different aspects of the field. Subject areas covered include dairy cow genetics, physiology, nutrition, breeding and reproduction, and housing; as well as dairy production, management, evaluation and selection, dairy products, and animal health and welfare.

Equine Science
Degree programs in equine science teach students about horse anatomy, physiology, health, nutrition, breeding, and behavior. Many programs also cover the business aspects of the field.

Food Science
The subject matter of food science degree programs spans the areas of biology, biochemistry, and chemical engineering. Students learn how to apply these foundations to examine food properties and develop foods that are sustainable.

Molecular Biology
Degree programs in molecular biology teach the composition, structure, and interactions of cellular molecules like nucleic acids and proteins that are essential to cell function.

Nutrition Science
This degree field is concerned with the complex relationships between the body, nutrients, and health. Classes cover human nutrition and how the body processes nutrients.

Poultry Science
The focus of poultry science programs is the management of poultry farms, where chickens, turkeys, ducks, and geese are raised for their eggs and meat. The curriculum spans biochemistry; bird physiology, breeding, fertility, and hatchability; as well as principles of food safety.

Skills You’ll Learn

Animal sciences graduates come away from their studies with a diverse set of transferable skills, including the following:

  • Ability to work both independently and as part of a team
  • Administration and project management
  • Attention to detail
  • Communication and presentation
  • Designing and delivering learning programs
  • Explaining sometimes complex information
  • IT skills
  • Math skills
  • Observation and research / data collection and interpretation
  • Planning and time management
  • Problem-solving
  • Record keeping and report writing
  • Social and environmental awareness

What Can You Do with an Animal Sciences Degree?

Career opportunities for graduates of animal sciences exist in a variety of sectors:

  • Academia – university professorships and scientific research and investigation in the animal sciences field
  • Animal Care and Welfare – humane societies animal shelters, and zoos
  • Animal Health – veterinary medicine, veterinary technology, and pharmaceutical industries
  • Animal Production and Management – livestock production, research, 4-H youth development, feed and pharmaceutical sales, meat and dairy product inspection
  • Business – agricultural loans, commodity trading, and agribusiness
  • Extension – state and federal cooperative extension services (partnership programs)
  • Engineering – development of animal housing designs, equipment manufacturing, and waste management systems
  • Environmental Control – focused on the impact that animal industries have on waste management, energy production, nutrient application, and recycling
  • Genetics and Animal Breeding – gene manipulation, embryo transfer, artificial insemination, and breeding stock supply
  • Government – state, federal, and municipal positions with departments and agencies such as the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), US Fish and Wildlife Service, and Plant and Animal Quarantine Stations
  • Meat Science – meat processing and inspection, quality control, sales, and marketing
  • Media - livestock publications
  • Nutrition – feed manufacturing and supplies, feed/forage utilization, and sales
  • Teaching – instructors and administrators in schools, 4-H organizations, and Future Farmers of America


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