Animal Science Degrees

Animal science involves the science and business of producing domestic livestock species – your beef cattle, dairy cattle, horses, poultry, sheep, and swine. That could mean working in such areas as animal reproduction, nutrition, genetics, and development. People who are interested in careers in the food industry, the efficient production of food animals, and the health and well-being of animals, including companion animals, or are thinking of applying to veterinary or medical school, may be drawn to the subject.

An animal science degree provides students with an understanding of various biological, physical, and social science principles concerning livestock production and management. Training may be in such areas as animal production, breeding, health maintenance and disease control, distribution, and marketing. Students may also gain expertise in the tools to develop more efficient means of producing and processing meat, poultry, egg, and milk products.

Classes and Assignments of an Animal Science Major

An animal science degree provides a strong foundation in biological and natural sciences, making it one of the best college degrees for the scientific study and understanding of farm animals. Courses cover the reproduction, nutrition, genetics, care, and use of animals through such subjects as animal behavior, animal nutrition, microbiology, animal breeding, genetic engineering, and reproductive physiology. The type of animals studied is also diverse, with courses in equine science, dairy science, and meat science. Additional classes may include food science, forage and crop production, agricultural engineering, and agricultural economics, or specialized tracks in aquaculture, avian sciences, laboratory animals, and companion animal biology.

According to the American Society of Animal Science, a well-rounded program would allow students to focus on related disciplines, too. That could mean courses in computer science, economics, business, and communications on top of knowledge of animal production in order to apply modern technology and business practices within agriculture systems. Animal science programs also tend to be very hands-on, with students regularly working with the animals they're studying. Research and internship opportunities are encouraged to further apply what is learned in the classroom to a real-world setting. Given the hands-on nature of the area, opportunities for an online animal science degree are limited.

Degree Levels for an Animal Science Major

  • Associate. Higher education is crucial for work as an animal scientist. As a result, most associate degree programs are designed for students who plan to continue their studies at the bachelor's degree level. These programs provide a background in subjects like animal nutrition, animal breeding, beef and livestock studies, dairy production, and equine studies.
  • Bachelor's. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), most jobs in the food and farming industry require a four-year degree, making a bachelor's one of the most useful college degrees for potential animal scientists. Depending on the program, students may focus on a specific type of livestock, such as dairy or equine studies, or area, such as animal agribusiness, biosciences, pre-veterinary medicine, or animal behavior and well-being. Upon graduation, students may find work on a farm or at a production facility, with a government agency, or choose to continue their education to pursue research or teaching opportunities.
  • Master's. Students interested in conducting academic research, advancing their job titles by gaining management skills or additional knowledge, or specializing in a specific area of animal science may choose to earn a master's degree. Areas of specialization include animal breeding and genetics, crop science, horticulture science, nutrition, dairy science, and physiology of reproduction. At this level, an online degree for animal science may be more common.
  • Doctoral. As with most doctorates, aspiring professors may find it necessary to earn a Ph.D. to teach at the college level and conduct specialized research. While earning a doctorate in animal science, students will take courses, assist with graduate research, and work on their dissertation. Upon completion, graduates often stay in academia as educators or researchers.

A Future as an Animal Science Major

According to the BLS, most animal scientists are employed by colleges, universities, and professionals schools. Scientific research and development services and state governments also are top employers. There's much variety within the field, with potential work including teaching in higher education, conducting research in genetics, nutrition, or reproduction, inspecting and regulating farm animal facilities or food products, purchasing livestock, or advising agricultural producers on the most efficient practices. Some animal scientists may work in related fields as dairy farmers, geneticists, animal behaviorists, or breeders, or go into other medical practices and attend veterinary, medical, or dental school.

The outlook is promising for students interested in the field, with employment of animal scientists and other agricultural and food scientists expected to grow by 16% between 2008 and 2018, according to the BLS – faster than the average for all occupations. More animal scientists are anticipated to help meet the food production demands of a growing population, as well as find to the best food production processes as the public becomes more awareness about its effects on the health and environment. The top-paying industries for animal scientists include the Federal Executive Branch, animal production, and consulting services, according to the BLS, with the mean annual salary $68,170 overall. However, keep in mind that job availability and salary will depend on your employer, your level of education and experience, and the general state of the economy.