Dairy Nutritionist Career Profile
A dairy nutritionist develops feeding programs and monitors the condition of dairy cattle to ensure that production goals are met.
Dairy nutritionists are directly involved with the dietary management of dairy cattle herds. The ultimate goal of a dairy nutritionist is to maximize production while maintaining overall herd health.
Dairy nutritionists may be involved with a number of tasks including formulating diets, analyzing lab samples, sourcing feed ingredients, selecting cost-effective ingredients, adjusting rations, selecting supplements, keeping detailed records, writing reports, marketing products, giving presentations to customers, and using body condition scoring to evaluate the condition of each animal in the herd.
They must work closely with the bovine veterinarian and other members of the farm management team (especially the dairy herdsman) in the field to ensure that animals are closely monitored and meeting all milk production goals. They must also spend a significant amount of time in an office setting, inputting data into analytical software programs to track the herd’s progress. Travel may also be necessary to visit clients, particularly if a nutritionist is an independent contractor or working for a feed development company.
Dairy nutritionists can work on dairy farms, in livestock management positions, in feed development facilities, in academia, or in marketing roles interacting directly with dairy producers. They can also branch out and work in animal nutritionist positions with other species.
Dairy nutritionists can seek full-time salaried positions with major farms and companies, or they may work on a contract basis as an independent consultant (either full or part time).
Education & Training
Most advertised positions in the field of dairy nutrition specify that employers prefer to consider candidates with a Masters or doctoral degree in dairy science, animal science, or a closely related area. Significant experience working with dairy cattle is also a key factor, as is a solid knowledge of body condition scoring and bovine behavior.
In the modern era, a dairy nutritionist is expected to be familiar with the use of dairy nutrition software programs, which have become increasingly important for nutritional management and ration balancing. They must also be comfortable performing mathematical calculations and interpreting laboratory reports.
Aspiring dairy nutritionists can also gain a great deal of experience by completing internships such as those listed on our animal nutrition internship and dairy internship pages. The hands-on experience that a candidate gains during such internships tend to be highly valued by employers.
The specific salary that a dairy nutritionist earns can vary widely based on a candidate’s type of employment (salaried employee or independent consultant), the level of education, the level of experience in the industry, and the going rate in their particular geographic area. Those with significant experience and education will tend to earn top dollar for their services.
Dairy nutritionists employed by major feed companies can earn up to $150,000 per year, though the range for the broader category of all dairy nutritionists would be in the $50000 to $100,000 range. Starting salaries can, of course, be much lower for new graduates. A 2013 study by Iowa State University, cited in Hoards Dairyman magazine, found that recent graduates in the feed and nutrition field earned an average salary of $42,611 per year (ranging from a low of $34,000 per year to a high of $52,000 per year).
Dairy nutritionists also may receive various fringe benefits in addition to their base salary. These benefits may include commission (if working in the feed sales industry), a company phone, use of a company vehicle, health insurance, housing (if working full time on a dairy farm), and paid vacation.
Both dairy and feed industries are showing growth, so the outlook for dairy nutritionists remains strong for the foreseeable future. The nutritionist career path allows the practitioner to transition readily from working with one species to another, particularly within the livestock management field, so options for changing the direction of a career can be plentiful. Those with the greatest level of education and experience will be positioned to enjoy the best prospects for employment in this field.