What Does a Dairy Nutritionist Do?

Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More

A day in the life of a dairy nutritionist: Keeping detailed records; using body condition scoring to evaluate each animal in the heard; analyzing lab samples; formulating diets

The Balance / Marina Li

A dairy nutritionist develops feeding programs and monitors the condition of dairy cattle to ensure that production goals are met. They 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 Nutritionist Duties & Responsibilities

Dairy nutritionists may perform a number of tasks including the following:

  • 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
  • Using body condition scoring to evaluate each animal in the herd

Their responsibilities include working closely with a 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 spend a significant amount of time in an office, inputting data into analytical software programs to track the herd’s progress, writing reports, and performing other administrative tasks. In addition, their work may require visits to clients, particularly if the nutritionist is an independent contractor or working for a feed development company.

Dairy Nutritionist Salary

Dairy nutritionists can seek full-time salaried positions with major farms and companies, or work on a contract basis as an independent consultant—either full- or part-time. 

The salary 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 the largest salary for their services.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) includes this profession under its classification: farmers, ranchers, and agricultural managers. According to this category, dairy nutritionists 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)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018

The BLS also provides a classification for animal scientists, which includes the nutrition of domestic farm animals. This profession earns the following salary:

  • Median Annual Salary: $58,380 ($28.07/hour)
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: $113,430 ($54.53/hour)
  • Bottom 10% Annual Salary: $36,270 ($17.44/hour)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018

Dairy nutritionists may also receive various fringe benefits in addition to their base salary. These benefits may include a 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.

Education, Training, & Certification

Dairy nutritionists need a certain amount of education and experience to get a job and perform it successfully:

  • Academia: Most advertised positions in the field of dairy nutrition specify that employers prefer to consider candidates with a master's or doctoral degree in dairy science, animal science, or a closely related area. A bachelor's degree in dairy science may include courses that teach about different types of dairy products, such as cheese, fermented products, and butter; animal management such as artificial insemination and breeding; and manufacturing such as milk production. Prior to graduating, students must complete internships in the industry. Master's programs include advanced courses in agricultural science, as well as research in the field. Those pursuing a doctoral degree can specialize in dairy science or food science with a concentration in dairy science.
  • Training: Aspiring dairy nutritionists will need significant experience working with dairy cattle, as well as body condition scoring and bovine behavior. Students can 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.

Dairy Nutritionist Skills & Competencies

To become a dairy nutritionist, you will need to have the following:

  • Critical-thinking skills: Able to make tough decisions through sound reasoning and judgment for the proper evaluation and feeding of dairy animals
  • Technical proficiency: Familiarity with dairy nutrition software programs, which have become increasingly important for nutrition management and ration balancing
  • Mathematical proficiency: Comfortable performing mathematical calculations and interpreting laboratory reports
  • Analytical skills: Able to interpret laboratory reports and assess the condition of dairy animals
  • Interpersonal skills: Able to work with others such as veterinarians, lab technicians, farmers, and herders

Job Outlook

Both dairy and feed industries are showing growth, so the outlook for dairy nutritionists remains strong for the foreseeable future. The BLS indicates that job growth for agriculture and food scientists is projected to grow by 7% until 2026.

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.

Work Environment

Dairy nutritionists may 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.

They may work in the field to ensure animals are closely monitored, and in an office writing reports and recording data to track the animals' progress. Travel may also be necessary to visit clients, particularly if a nutritionist is an independent contractor or working for a feed development company.

Work Schedule

Dairy nutritionists work full-time, year-round. Overtime hours may be required for traveling to other farms or facilities.

How to Get the Job


Look at resources such as Indeed, SimplyHired, and ZipRecruiter for the latest job postings. These sites may also provide other career assistance such as resume and cover letter writing tips and interviewing techniques.


Join an organization such as the National Animal Nutrition Program (NANP) or the International Dairy Federation (IDF) to attend conferences and connect with others in the industry, which could lead to an employment opportunity.

Attend the Four-State Dairy Nutrition and Management Conference, sponsored by four states--IL, IA, MN, and WI. The conference presents the latest research on issues concerning the dairy industry.

Comparing Similar Jobs

People interested in a career as a dairy nutritionist may also want to consider these similar careers, along with their median annual salary:

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018