What is a Dairy Science Degree?

Dairy science is about more than milking cows. And dairy scientists don’t just work on farms. 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. Programs combine classroom learning with hands-on real world experiences.

Program Options

Associate Degree in Dairy Science – Two Year Duration
Dairy science associate degree programs normally combine lecture classes in the major with hands-on labs and an internship experience, as well as some core courses in mathematics, English composition, communications, and the social sciences. Associate programs prepare students for entry-level and mid-level roles.

Bachelor’s Degree in Dairy Science – Four Year Duration
The dairy science bachelor’s degree is the most common credential in the field. Bachelor’s programs typically incorporate macroeconomics and microeconomics courses, as well as more extensive lab and practicum/internship components. Some schools offer a combined curriculum in food science and dairy science. Graduates with a Bachelor’s Degree in Dairy Science qualify for positions ranging from entry-level to supervisory.

Despite the differences described above, undergraduate dairy science programs are built around the following courses in the major:

  • Agricultural Studies Orientation – introduction to basic dairy farming practices
  • Introduction to Animal Science – the fundamentals of dairy herd management and care: nutrition, feed classifications, reproduction, genetics, animal behavior, animal health, sustainable agriculture practices
  • Calf Care – hands-on lab in pre-birth through newborn calf care, covering calf feeds, nutrition, vaccinations, veterinary needs, and housing options
  • Fundamentals of Animal Biology – cell biology, fundamental processes of life, basic genetics, biodiversity, use of the scientific method to conduct basic research
  • Agricultural Computer Applications – hands-on lab in the use and application of dairy management software; topics include animals, tools, design, data entry, reports, inventory, and veterinary herd check
  • Milk Quality and Production – herd health management and quality milk production, milking systems and procedures, sanitation, diseases, udder anatomy, milk secretion; hands-on collection of milk samples and analysis of milk culture reports
  • Heifer Care Management – hands-on lab focusing on the dairy operation roles, responsibilities, and management opportunities; heifer care, six months through calving age; heifer feeds, nutrition, vaccinations, veterinary needs, and housing options
  • Livestock Diseases – infectious and non-infectious livestock diseases, with a focus on bovine diseases; introduction to certain diseases of sheep, goats, camelids, cervids, and swine; disease etiology (causes), symptoms, transmission, diagnosis, treatment, prevention, and control; reporting requirements of federally regulated diseases; zoonotic diseases (diseases that can be transmitted from animals to humans)
  • Agriculture Commodities and Marketing – introduction to the commodity futures markets; the phases of grain marketing: market information, elevator storage policies, shrinkage, blending, moisture discounts, price spreads, opportunity cost, and developing a marketing plan
  • Transition Cow Management – hands-on lab relating to transition cows (a cow’s transition is generally three to six weeks pre- until three to six weeks post-calving; the transition period is extremely important in determining future health, milk production, and reproductive success of the dairy cow); focus is on transition cow feeds, nutrition, vaccinations, veterinary needs, and housing options
  • Principles of Crop Production – the principles of farm crop production: classification, growth, and management of corn, soybeans, alfalfa, barley, and other crops; soil preparation, plant physiology, planting dates, planting depths, and seeding rates for various types of crops; planting and harvesting equipment
  • Nutrient Management – grid sampling sizes, plant nutrient analysis, base saturation, and nutrient management planning; soil conservation practices, soil nutrition, and pesticide application
  • Dairy Nutrition – analysis of the nutritional needs of dairy cattle through each stage of their life; topics include roles of digestive nutrients, relationship between forage quality and nutrition, ration balancing, methods of feeding dairy animals, grazing system principles, and dairy nutrition feed technologies
  • Lactating Cow Management – hands-on lab in the management of lactating cow feeds, nutrition, vaccinations, veterinary needs, and housing options
  • Agricultural Accounting – study of the balance sheet, the income statement, and the cash flow statement; cash and accrual methods, recording business transactions, making a trial balance, creating financial statements, and keeping records
  • Economics – snapshot of how a market-oriented economy works; concepts discussed include scarcity, resources, alternative economic systems, growth, supply and demand, monetary and fiscal policy, inflation,, unemployment, and global economic issues
  • Bovine Reproduction – managing a dairy herd with focus on breed identification, reproduction, genetics, calve management, and applicable record keeping; hands-on lab in artificial insemination
  • Farm Business Management – developing a business plan, managing risk, budgeting, acquiring financial resources
  • Milking Technologies – hands-on lab: milking parlor systems and robotic milking facilities
  • Building Design for the Cow – barn design and layout for milk production and animal health and welfare
  • Interpersonal Communication – development of verbal and nonverbal communication skills

Master’s Degree in Dairy Science – Two to Three Year Duration
Master’s degree programs in dairy science typically allow students to focus on a research area of their choice. Many also provide opportunities to gain teaching experience in the field. Depending on the school, students may have options to complete a thesis or non-thesis curriculum.

Possible research concentrations and applicable courses include:

  • Genetics – Genomics in Animal Breeding
  • Physiology – Advanced Physiology and Anatomy of Domestic Animals
  • Reproduction – Bovine Reproduction Practices
  • Nutrition – Molecular Aspects of Nutrition and Disease
  • Infectious Disease – Emerging Infectious Diseases
  • Immunology – Pathogenic Bacteriology
  • Management – International Agricultural Development and Trade

Degrees Similar to Dairy Science

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.

Animal Sciences
Degree programs in animal sciences teach students about the breeding and nutrition of food animals. Coursework includes animal biology and physiology, dairy and poultry science, livestock production, and fish production.

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.

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

Dairy science graduates come away from their studies with this set of transferable skills:

  • Analytical and problem-solving skills – evaluating the health and production strength of cows
  • Data entry and administration – like every business, dairy farming and production involve record keeping and management
  • Interpersonal skills – supervising laborers and working with veterinarians and animal nutritionists calls for the ability to communicate and collaborate
  • Mechanical skills – equipment preventative maintenance and operation
  • Physical strength – jobs in dairy science often involve significant lifting and bending

What Can You Do with a Dairy Science Degree?

Depending on the level of education they complete, dairy science grads can apply their skills in various segments of the field:

  • Agricultural Inspection / Government Regulation
  • Dairy Commodities
  • Dairy Farm Labor / Management / Ownership
  • Dairy Farming Equipment Service
  • Dairy Science Education / Teaching
  • Dairy Science Research and Development
  • Farming Consulting Services
  • Feed / Pharmaceutical / Genetics / Nutrition / Equipment Sales and Marketing
  • Livestock Grading and Judging
  • Manufacturing and Production / Dairy Plant Management / Dairy Wholesaling


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