What Does a Dairy Herdsman Do?

Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More

Image by Melissa Ling © The Balance 2019

A dairy herdsman is responsible for the daily care and management of dairy cattle. They are chiefly concerned with maintaining the health of the dairy herd and ensuring that milk production quotas are met. 

Dairy Herdsman Duties & Responsibilities

To ensure herd health, a dairy herdsman typically performs the following tasks:

  • Monitors the health of all animals on the premises and notes any behavioral changes
  • Milks, waters, and feeds cattle two or three times a day
  • Treats minor injuries or illnesses as they occur
  • Trims hooves
  • Gives vaccinations and other injections
  • Assists with calving
  • Performs artificial insemination
  • Maintains comprehensive health and production records
  • Works closely with the veterinarian during examinations

The herdsman must also be qualified to operate milking machines and other equipment, troubleshooting any mechanical problems or other issues as they arise. The milking parlor must be kept clean and up to the standards required by the dairy inspector. 

The herdsman must also manage dairy employees and other staff members, ensuring that all tasks are completed properly and in a timely fashion. Additional duties may include transporting animals to and from auctions, raising hay or other forages, providing basic farm maintenance, or any additional duties assigned by the farm owner.

Dairy Herdsman Salary

A dairy herdsman's salary may vary according to factors such as years of experience and number of cattle. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) includes this job under farmers, ranchers, and agricultural managers. According to this category, dairy herdsmen earn the following salary:

  • Median Annual Salary: $67,950 ($32.67/hour)
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: $136,940 ($65.84/hour)
  • Bottom 10% Annual Salary: $35,440 ($17.04/hour)

Payscale also provides a salary for dairy herdsmen as follows:

  • Median Annual Salary: $36,000 ($13.06/hour)
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: $47,819 ($22.99/hour)
  • Bottom 10% Annual Salary: $30,000 ($9.24/hour)

Source: Payscale.com, 2019

Dairy herdsman positions often have a variety of associated fringe benefits in addition to the standard salary package. Additional benefits often include free housing and utilities provided on the farm, the use of a farm truck, medical insurance, and paid vacation.

Education, Training, & Certification

While there is no formal education requirement for dairy herdsmen, most have significant experience working with dairy cattle in a hands-on role. It is important that dairy herdsmen have a good working knowledge of dairy cattle anatomy and physiology, reproduction, milk production, and nutritional requirements. Many individuals begin their journey to this title by working as dairy staff or assistant herdsmen. 

  • Academia: There are many four-year degree programs in animal science, dairy science, or other agricultural fields that can prepare a candidate for a dairy management career. There are also one to two-year degree plans as well as industry “short courses” that run for just a few months and provide professional certificates in dairy fields. For example, the Farm & Industry Short Course Program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison has a dairy management specialization option, offering both one and two-year certificates. Other programs, such as the one offered by the University of Illinois, offer distance learning options that can be completed in an online format.
  • Courses: Coursework may cover animal management involving artificial insemination and breeding; manufacturing related to milk production; and agricultural, dairy, and food science.
  • Internships: There are also many dairy internship programs that can provide valuable experience while training a student to become a successful part of the dairy management team.

A dairy herdsman can move into many areas of dairy management as well as dairy ownership. They can also transition into positions involving dairy inspection, beef herd management, cattle product sales, veterinary pharmaceutical sales, livestock feed sales, or other agricultural pursuits.

Dairy Herdsman Skills & Competencies

To become a dairy herdsman, you should have the following skills:

  • Physical and mental stamina: The ability to control a number of cattle at one time
  • Familiarity with the herd: The ability to know the personalities and idiosyncrasies of each cow, as well as the quality of their milk
  • Interpersonal skills: The ability to work as a team with those involved in the herd's care such as the veterinarian, nutritionist, farmer, and scientist
  • Analytical skills: The ability to assess the condition of the herd
  • Leadership skills: The ability to manage other farm workers to ensure the health of the herd and efficient production of milk
  • Technical proficiency: The ability to operate and fix milking machines as well as other farm machinery

Job Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that job growth for farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers is projected to show little or no change up to 2026. The efficiencies of large-scale crop production have led to the consolidation of acreage under fewer, but larger, farms. Small farms operate with slim profit margins and are vulnerable to poor market conditions and will likely continue to close over the next decade.

Those with dairy cattle experience have the option of transitioning to similar careers working with other animals, particularly within the livestock management field.

Work Environment

Dairy herdsmen work on dairy farms. They may work indoors cleaning stalls, treating sick animals, and operating milking equipment; or outdoors herding the cattle. Their work may be affected by bad weather conditions, which can be hazardous. Animals can become frightened and act out, or they may be sick and irritable.

Work Schedule

Dairy herdsmen work full-time, year-round. Overtime hours may be required to help deliver a new calf or care for a sick cow.

How to Get the Job

APPLY

Look at resources such as Indeed, JobRapido, and SimplyHired for the latest job postings. These sites may also provide career assistance such as tips for writing resumes and cover letters as well as techniques for mastering interviews.

NETWORK WITH OTHERS IN THE INDUSTRY

Attend conferences and other events held by organizations such as the International Dairy Federation (IDF), the National Farmers Organization (NFO), and the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF). These organizations provide networking opportunities that can lead to employment in the field.

Comparing Similar Jobs

People interested in a career as a dairy herdsman should consider these similar careers, along with their median annual salary: