A dairy farmer manages dairy cows and milking operations to ensure maximum milk production. Typical responsibilities include monitoring the health of the cows, administering medication, feeding, using milking equipment, managing the herd and managing waste. Some dairy farms process the milk on site, while others supply milk to dairy processing companies.
Dairy farming requires expert knowledge about farming methods. A degree in dairy science, agriculture or a related field is beneficial, but experience is the most important requirement for a successful dairy farmer. Farmers' responsibilities vary according to the sizes and types of farming operations they manage. Smaller operations typically grow and harvest feed for their cattle, and breed and raise their own cows. Larger operations tend to buy feed and heifers. Both types of farms require employees to assist with herd management, feeding and milking. Dairy farmers collaborate with veterinarians and animal nutritionists to keep animals healthy and to formulate feeding plans that maximize milk production.
Modern milking systems, such as rotary and parallel milking parlors, allow farmers to milk large numbers of cows in a relatively short period. Older systems offer less automation, require greater supervision and are more labor intensive. Milking takes place between one and three times a day, every day of the year, and a farmer's working day usually starts at dawn.