For a career as an animal nutritionist you'll need an interest in science and animal welfare, an aptitude for business management and good communication skills

Animal nutritionists aim to increase and promote the understanding of the effect of diet on the health, wellbeing and productivity of animals. They are active mostly in the field of agriculture, where they provide advice and information on animal nutrition, as well as designing and evaluating the diets of the animals in question.

In the role you may also be involved in the production of food for zoo and companion animals (pets), and give advice on issues related to feeding them. Some animal nutritionists choose to specialise in one type of animal.

Responsibilities

There may be some variation in your tasks depending on whether you work directly for a farmer, or for a feed company, but generally you'll need to:

  • evaluate the chemical and nutritional value of feeds, feed supplements, grass and forage for commercial animals and pets;
  • formulate diets and rations to maximise growth, reproduction, health and/or performance;
  • assess the relative nutritional and economic value of feeding systems;
  • research the effectiveness of dietary regimes;
  • conduct animal-based studies and laboratory trials;
  • support agricultural consultants in their work;
  • liaise with producers and clients to understand their targets and objectives, and the specific needs of the market;
  • monitor feed formulations to meet quality performance and animal health standards;
  • provide advice on nutrition to farmers, other animal owners, veterinarians and government bodies;
  • rationalise animal feed manufacturing techniques;
  • expand existing ranges of animal food products and develop new ones;
  • support commercial teams in producing and launching new products;
  • carry out sales and marketing strategies following the launch of a new product;
  • balance a growing consumer interest in quality with the need to develop competitive agricultural systems;
  • maintain expertise in nutritional trends and keep up to date with regulatory changes;
  • use computer software to formulate diets, conduct research and generate reports;
  • investigate nutritional disorders and the safe storage of feeds, often in conjunction with veterinary surgeons.

Salary

  • Starting salaries fall between £18,000 and £22,000.
  • The range of typical salaries for PhD holders is between £23,000 and £32,000.
  • Typical salaries for those with several years' experience is between £35,000 and £50,000.

Jobs in sales and marketing are usually better paid than when working directly with animals.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Working hours are varied and may be irregular if visits to farms or clients are required in the evening. Weekend or shift work is not common.

Self-employment and freelance or consultancy work may be possible once you have built up a reputation and some substantial experience. It may be possible or necessary to build up a portfolio career, including a combination of employment in commercial research, advising on a freelance or consultancy basis, and teaching relevant courses in an agricultural college or university.

What to expect

  • Consultants often work from home, although jobs are available in most parts of the UK, especially in rural areas.
  • In some jobs, animal nutritionists may spend much of their time working alone, with team meetings every one to two months.
  • Farm visits may be made to plan the nutritional aspects of existing animal husbandry systems, or to assess the value of a particular feedstuff.
  • Clothing requirements vary and usually include a white coat for the laboratory, smart formal wear for meetings and waterproof outdoor clothes and boots for work on farms.
  • Travel within the working day is often required but is dependent on the type of job. Overnight absence from home may sometimes be necessary.

Qualifications

Due to the nature of the work, a range of science-related degrees are relevant such as:

  • agricultural, food and sports sciences;
  • biochemistry;
  • biomedical sciences;
  • biosciences;
  • dietetics and physiology;
  • health sciences.

The following subjects may open up more opportunities because of their focus on animals and/or nutrition:

  • agriculture (animal science);
  • animal/equine science;
  • animal management;
  • animal production science;
  • animal studies;
  • animal welfare and behaviour;
  • applied animal science;
  • public health nutrition;
  • veterinary science;
  • zoology.

If you have an HND in nutrition and are hoping for a career in animal nutrition, you will most likely need to transfer onto a relevant degree course to study nutritional science in more detail. If you have a more general biology or science-related degree, it may be necessary to specialise in nutrition at postgraduate level. A PhD is necessary for some posts.

Professional registration with the Association for Nutrition can help to give you a competitive edge. Associate registration is available for newly qualified nutrition graduates with little or no experience. Full registration is available for those with a nutrition degree and approximately three years' experience. You can also apply for full registration without a nutrition degree, but only if you have around seven years' professional experience.

Once registered you will be on the UK Voluntary Register of Nutritionists (UKVRN), which shows that you have met certain ethical and quality standards. See the Association for Nutrition website for further details.

Search for postgraduate courses in animal nutrition.

Skills

You will need to show:

  • an understanding of the scientific basis of nutrition;
  • familiarity with analysing data and writing reports;
  • ability to conduct research in a safe, ethical and reliable manner;
  • the capability to formulate and communicate ideas;
  • the capacity to form long-term relationships with customers and clients;
  • an appreciation of the interdisciplinary nature of science and the validity of others' viewpoints;
  • business management, time management and personal development skills;
  • advanced numeracy, IT and internet skills;
  • drive, perseverance, dedication and a willingness to work long hours.

Work experience

Experience is valued by employers and clients, particularly in related areas such as animal feed sales or practical farm experience. Having a farming background will give you an advantage.

You can approach experienced nutritionists for work shadowing opportunities or at least talk to them about the various areas of nutrition. This will help you choose your specialist area and understand current industry trends.

Employers

Animal nutritionists can work in a range of roles, from advisory positions, to product development, through to sales and marketing jobs. Employers include:

  • ADAS;
  • agricultural advisory bodies;
  • animal and pet food manufacturers;
  • educational and research institutions;
  • government departments;
  • international development agencies;
  • Scottish Agricultural College (SAC);
  • universities.

It is also possible to work as a freelance animal nutritionist, once you have gained enough experience.

If you are interested in teaching and research, you can look for opportunities in universities and agricultural colleges. Delivering health and science education in schools and colleges is also an option, for which a Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) (or equivalent) would be a requirement.

Look for job vacancies at:

Specialist recruitment agencies handle vacancies, see:

Conferences often provide valuable sources of contacts. Through networking, jobseekers can hold informal meetings with key contacts in established organisations.

Professional development

Training opportunities may include a variety of in-house courses, as well as specialised external courses, on subjects such as relevant new legislation and scientific advances.

The speed of scientific development within this area of science means it is especially important to keep up to date through continuing professional development (CPD). You can keep abreast of changes within animal nutrition by reading technical and scientific journals and subscribing to online resources such as:

If you are an associate member of the Association for Nutrition, you should provide evidence of CPD after three to five years of receiving associate status in order to transfer your membership to full registered nutritionist status. You should maintain a record of your CPD activities throughout your career.

You will find opportunities for professional networking and for updating your knowledge and skills, by attending conferences and events organised by a range of bodies. For details of events and short courses see The Nutrition Society.

Career prospects

After gaining some experience as an animal nutritionist it is possible to become a specialist field consultant, or gain a post in technical sales or marketing in an animal feed production company within the commercial sector. You may also find an opportunity to specialise in a particular species, such as poultry or horses.

Nutritionists who have started out with one of the smaller manufacturers can progress by moving to a larger multinational company, where there is likely to be greater scope for promotion. Alternatively, if you have built up a strong and loyal client base, you might find work in community development in the UK or as a freelance independent consultant.

Post-PhD careers might include research on an EU-funded project, lecturing in animal nutrition, researching animal management for a feed additive company, and product management for an international breeding firm.

For experienced animal nutritionists, there may be opportunities available for working overseas, on ranches in the USA, Canada, New Zealand and Australia, or in community projects in the developing world with organisations such as Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO).