Dairy Farm Wage Rates

While pay varies widely for dairy farm employees, a recent survey shows how much the average has climbed.

The average hourly wage reported on Ontario dairy farms has risen 19 per cent to $14.24 over the last six years, according to a recently compiled survey. Herdsmen have benefited most, up 38 per cent to $17.33 per hour during that period.

These figures are among the results from a detailed labour survey done in January and February 2010 by members of Ontario's Progressive Dairy Operators group. Completing surveys were 117 farms, representing 20,000 cows and 675 people working on the farms. Herd sizes ranged from 40 to more than 500 cows with an average of 174. Ten farms outside Ontario completed the survey.

As well as information about hours worked and pay rates, the survey provided labour efficiency data, focusing on the amount of time required for feed handling and delivery. These results will be reported in a future issue of The Milk Producer.

On average, 5.8 people contributed labour on farms responding to the survey. This included 2.2 people with an "ownership interest" such as husband and wife, parent and child, or multi-family partnership. The average also included one family member who was not an owner and 2.6 arm's length employees.

The average non-family employee has worked on the same farm for 4.1 years. Twenty-three per cent had worked on the same farm for at least 10 years.

Who does what

The survey asked participants to list all dairy-related work performed by all workers including owners, family members and employees. Since it was done during the winter, the survey excluded crop production field work. Other farm work unrelated to dairy was also excluded, but jobs such as heifer-raising were included.

It has been suggested many women excel at working in close contact with livestock, and almost 17 per cent of the arm's length employees on these farms were women.

Milkers represented 46 per cent of all employees. About 27 per cent of workers whose job function was described as "milker" were female. Male and female milkers worked the same number of hours per week.

For the other positions, the number of hours per week for women was typically 10 per cent less than for men.

To link pay to job responsibilities, participants were asked to categorize employees as a "herdsman" if they made day-to-day livestock management decisions and could be left in charge if needed. A "herd worker" performed several different skilled tasks, such as milking, feeding and health care work. Employees who primarily had one skilled role were classed as "milker," "feeder" or "calf feeder," and those who did only unskilled tasks were identified as a "labourer."

Pay rates

While pay varied widely depending on experience, responsibilities and other factors, the survey provides a good indication of what Ontario dairy farmers are paying their employees now. Most were paid by the hour, although herdsmen were typically paid a weekly or monthly salary, and some milkers were paid per milking.

For the survey, all pay rates were converted to a per-hour basis for the reported hours worked. On this basis, arm's length dairy farm employees earned an average $14.24 per hour.

Formerly known as Large Herd Operators, the Progressive Dairy Operators conducted similar surveys in 2004 and 2007. The average wage rate reported rose 19 per cent between the 2004 and 2010 surveys. In the same period, the consumer price index rose about 12 per cent.

The hourly rate and average hours per week for each of these categories are listed in the table. To show the amount of variation in pay, the standard deviation is shown beside each average. Standard deviation means two-thirds of the reported information was within this amount on either side of the average.

Average hourly wage rate reported for arm's length employees on 117 dairy farms
Job Function
Pay in $/Hour Hours/week Average Hourly Value of benefits
$17.33± 2.88
Herd worker
$13.98 ± 2.91
$14.21 ± 3.15
$14.55 ± 3.34
Calf feeder
$12.69 ± 2.82
$12.49 ± 3.02
All arm's length employees
$14.24 ± 3.30

For example the standard deviation of all reported wages was plus or minus $3.30. Since the average wage was $14.24, two-thirds of the employees earned between $10.94 ($3.30 less than average) and $17.54 ($3.30 more than average) per hour.

The wage rate for milkers, herd workers and feeders increased in tandem with the rate of the consumer price index for the six-year period with wage increases of 12 to 13 per cent over the period.

The wage rate paid to herdsmen rose much more sharply. Their rate jumped about 38 per cent to $17.33 per hour in the 2010 survey from $12.48 per hour in 2004.

The average wage rose 19 per cent... the consumer price index rose 12 per cent

Employee Benefits

Among employees working more than 30 hours per week, 58 per cent were reported to receive some benefits. They are reported separately in the table and were in addition to the wages. Benefits were converted to an hourly rate for survey reporting purposes.

Twenty-six per cent of employees received meat, milk or both from the farm for their personal or family consumption. Housing was provided by the farm for eight per cent, including three per cent who also had utilities paid.

Eight per cent had work clothing or work boots supplied or received an allowance for them. Seven per cent were supplied with fuel for their own vehicles and two per cent drove a farm-owned vehicle. Three per cent could use farm equipment for their own property.

Ten per cent of employees earned an annual bonus, and seven per cent received paid vacation time. Health insurance was provided on seven of the 117 farms.

Hours worked

The surveyed farms had a lot of part-time help. Paid employees worked an average 29.9 hours per week, with two-thirds in the range of 11 to 49 hours. At the same time, farm owners worked an average 47.6 hours per week. This did not include the additional labour during planting and harvesting.

According to the data, one in four owners worked 70 or more hours per week. One person reported working 105 hours per week. Hard work may be a virtue, but this amount may be detrimental to long-term health and safety

Brian Lang, Dairy Cattle Production Systems Specialist.

This article appeared in the Ruminations column of The Milk Producer Magazine, August 2010

For more information:
Toll Free: 1-877-424-1300
E-mail: ag.info.omafra@ontario.ca
Author: Brian Lang - Dairy Cattle Production Systems Specialist/OMAFRA
Creation Date: September 2010
Last Reviewed: November 2010