In a broad sense, an animal scientist is a biologist who studies characteristics of animals, including behavior, development, genetics, and evolutionary history. Someone in this position is usually a researcher who focuses on understanding farm animals and their roles in agricultural production. Both general zoologists and agriculture animal scientists conduct extensive field and laboratory research to learn more about living creatures. They build upon the work of other researchers to understand animal biology and to determine how such knowledge can be applied to better protect different species.
The field of animal science is so broad that most zoologists choose to specialize. With the help of assistants and other scientists, a researcher might design a study that focuses on the behavior of a particular population, ecosystem changes, genetics, or the evolution of a species. He or she typically keeps detailed records during a study and may publish results in a scientific journal. Zoologists conduct research projects with rigorous attention to ethics and the scientific method. They are careful to remain objective in their observations and experiments to ensure accurate findings.
While most zoologists work for private research institutions and universities, agricultural animal scientists are typically employed by government organizations and agriculture consulting firms. They generally research the best methods to breed and raise farm animals to increase a farm's productivity of animal products. Someone who works with dairy cows, for example, might want to determine how to maximize the quantity and quality of milk produced. He or she would investigate factors that can influence milk production, such as the quality of feed and the availability of space afforded to each cow.
An agricultural animal scientist is also concerned with the overall quality of life of animals raised on farms. Scientists who work for government agencies conduct routine inspections to ensure animal facilities are as humane and sanitary as possible. They often test samples of soil or water to check for pollutants. When a facility does not meet expectations, the scientist can educate farmers and ranchers on how to improve conditions.
An individual who wants to become an animal scientist needs to obtain a college degree. A bachelor's or master's degree is usually sufficient to work as a laboratory assistant or field researcher, though a person who wants to organize and conduct original research projects typically needs to hold a Ph.D. in a zoology specialty. A prospective agricultural animal scientist can improve his or her credentials by passing a certification exam offered by a nationally recognized agency. With a Ph.D. and years of experience, a scientist may choose to become a university professor to help prepare the next generation of animal researchers.