Education and Training: Varies—see profile
Salary: Varies—see profile
Employment Outlook: Poor
Definition and Nature of the Work
Dairy farmers breed and raise cows and supply milk to the milk and milk products industries. Dairy farmers usually own their herds and the farmland. Although most dairy farms are owned and operated by families, some milk comes from very large farms owned by corporations and operated by farm managers and dairy production technicians.
Some farmers employ hired hands to share the work. Dairy farmers work long hours every day of the year. They rise early to milk and feed the cows. First the cows' udders are washed to ensure the purity of the milk. On most farms the cows are milked by machines twice a day, in the morning and evening. The cows are usually let out to graze in the morning and brought back at night in time for milking. In addition to milking chores, farmers must keep barns and pens clean and farm buildings and equipment in good condition. Farmers obtain medical attention for animals that need it.
Many farmers grow the feed for their cows. Cows are fed hay, grain, and other kinds of feed. Because feed is expensive, farmers ration it carefully. Farmers keep careful records on each cow so they can measure the cost of keeping it against the income produced. Cows that have the potential for producing more milk are given larger amounts of feed. Cows whose milk production is decreasing receive less food and are eventually sold for meat.
Large dairy farms process and package the milk on the farm. Dairy farmers also sell their milk through farmers' cooperatives.
Education and Training Requirements
To be a success in the dairy farming business, farmers need a good understanding of livestock and crop production, business practices, and management techniques. Growing up or working on a farm is good preparation. A formal college education is important. Two-year and four-year colleges offer courses in livestock production and business administration.
Getting the Job
To start a farm, prospective farmers must have or be able to borrow a great deal of money. College placement offices or professors may be able to offer job placement assistance or leads.
Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook
Dairy farmers may increase the size of their operation in order to add to their earning potential. Hired hands may become farm managers or start their own farms.
In the future there will be fewer dairy farms, and those farms will have larger herds. The larger farms will need college-trained farm managers and technicians. However, ambitious farmers who want to start their own dairy farms should be able to do so with only one hundred or two hundred acres. They will have a better chance for success than crop farmers whose crops require thousands of acres.
Dairy farmers work long hours. Cows must be milked and fed every day of the year. Farmers who employ laborers may be able to take days off and allow their workers to handle the daily chores. In addition, many farmers are involved in crop production in order to provide feed for their cows. Unlike many other farmers, dairy farmers generally earn a steady income all year.
Where to Go for More Information
American Dairy Association
10255 West Higgins Rd., Ste. 900
Rosemont, IL 60018-5616
Milk Industry Foundation
1250 H St. NW, Ste. 900
Washington, DC 20005
Earnings and Benefits
Earnings vary depending on location, investment, and size of the farm. The annual income of farmers fluctuates from year to year depending on weather conditions and other factors that influence the production on the farm. Income also varies depending on the size of the landholding and the type of operation. Large farms generally provide higher profits than small farms. Most farmers usually have income from nonfarm sources. Self-employed farmers must provide their own benefits, such as insurance and retirement plans.