General Farm Workers - What They Do

General farm workers plant, cultivate and harvest crops, raise livestock and poultry and maintain and repair farm equipment and buildings. This unit group includes operators of farm machinery. They are employed on crop, livestock, fruit, vegetable and specialty farms.

Job duties

This group performs some or all of the following duties:

  • Plant, fertilize, cultivate, spray, irrigate and harvest crops
  • Feed and tend livestock and poultry
  • Milk cows
  • Perform or assist in performing breeding activities of farm animals
  • Operate and maintain farm machinery and equipment
  • Follow food safety and security and animal bio-security procedures
  • Detect disease and health problems in crops, livestock and poultry
  • Examine produce for quality and prepare for market
  • Set and monitor water lines, air flow and temperature in barns, pens and chicken coops
  • Maintain or assist in the maintenance of facilities and farm infrastructure including cleaning stables, barns, barnyards and pens.
  • General farm workers can become specialized in a particular type of crop or livestock production through experience.

Job titles

  • cattle ranch labourer
  • beef cattle farm worker
  • farm machinery operator
  • general farm worker
  • grain farm worker
  • harvester machine operator
  • hatchery worker
  • poultry farm worker
  • dairy farm worker
  • vegetable farm worker
Employment Requirements

This is what you typically need for the job:

  • There are no specific education or training requirements. However, a college certificate or specialized courses related to farming, such as farm equipment mechanics, agricultural welding, tree pruning and pesticide application, are available.
  • Basic farm knowledge, usually obtained from working on a family farm, may be required for employment.
  • A course or certificate in first aid may be required.

Essential Skills


  • Read instructions and warnings on labels, e.g. read safe-use and storage instructions on labels affixed to herbicides and pesticides. (1)
  • Read short text entries on forms, e.g. read comments on equipment maintenance and hazard assessment forms to learn about damaged equipment. (1)
  • Read notices and bulletins, e.g. read notices from workers' compensation boards to learn about workplace hazards and incidents involving confined spaces. (2)
  • Read Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) to learn how to safely handle fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides and other dangerous chemicals. (2)
  • Read a variety of instructions and procedures, e.g. read step-by-step instructions to learn how to mix and apply fertilizers. (2)
  • May read press releases, newsletters, brochures and website articles, e.g. read press releases from marketing boards and newsletters published by the Department of Agriculture to stay up-to-date on industry trends. (3)
  • May read a variety of manuals and guides, e.g. read safety and equipment manuals to learn safe work practices and procedures to assemble, repair, maintain and operate equipment, such as conveyor belts and tractors. (3)
  • May read computer manuals, e.g. read manuals for step-by-step instructions on the set-up, operation and maintenance of satellite-guided tractors and robotic milking machines. (3)
  • May read regulations and standards, e.g. read regulations to learn the rules governing food safety and read standards to understand how to properly handle chemicals, such as pesticides. (3)

Document use

  • Identify icons used in Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS), fire control and other hazard-management systems, e.g. scan symbols found on fire extinguishers to identify their various classes. (1)
  • View labels on product packaging and equipment to locate data, such as dosages, specifications and identification numbers. (1)
  • Locate data in a variety of lists, tables and schedules, e.g. scan lists to locate commodity prices and scan schedules to determine the feeding times of livestock. (2)
  • Enter data into forms, e.g. enter data, such as dates, times, readings and quantities in equipment inspection forms. (2)
  • May interpret charts, e.g. interpret breeding charts to learn about animal lineages. (2)
  • May locate and interpret data in technical drawings and maps, e.g. locate the position of farm equipment parts in assembly drawings and determine the effects of moisture, temperatures, herbicides and pesticides on yields using colour-coded maps. (3)


  • Write brief entries in log books, e.g. write brief comments in log books to describe work that was performed and incidents that have occurred. (1)
  • Write short notes to co-workers, e.g. write short notes to co-workers to inform them about the composition of feed mixes. (1)
  • Write short comments in forms, e.g. describe the need to service balers on equipment inspection reports. (1)
  • May write short reports, e.g. write short reports to describe injuries to livestock and follow-up medical care provided. (2)


  • May receive cash payments from customers and provide change. (1)
  • May purchase materials and supplies using petty cash. (1)
  • Take a variety of measurements using basic tools, e.g. measure the dimensions of farm equipment parts using tape measures. (1)
  • May measure volumes of feed and dosages of medicine. (1)
  • May measure the moisture and protein contents of seeds and grains using moisture meters and grain analyzers. (1)
  • May compare measurements and instrument readings to specifications and tolerances, e.g. compare measurements of grain protein to specifications to determine grades and classes and milk bacterial counts to tolerances specified by food safety regulators. (1)
  • May estimate the remaining capacities of grain silos. (1)
  • May calculate expense claim amounts for travel and supplies. For example, they calculate reimbursements for out-of-pocket expenses, such as meals and the use of personal vehicles at per kilometre rates. (2)
  • May establish feeding, watering, cleaning and medication schedules for livestock at particular points in their growth cycle right through to their shipping. (2)
  • May compare prices to purchase equipment and maintenance materials at best value. (2)
  • May calculate material requirements, e.g. calculate the amount of herbicides needed to treat specified types and sizes of crops. (2)
  • May manage supply inventories e.g. reduce inventory counts as herbicides and pesticides are used. (2)
  • May estimate the length of time required to complete tasks. (2)
  • May calculate and verify invoice amounts, e.g. calculate payments to be received from grain handlers for different volumes and grades of wheat, peas and other crops. (3)
  • May calculate capacities and loads, e.g. calculate the capacities of rectangular, cylindrical and conical silos. (3)
  • May generate and analyze production statistics, e.g. analyze the growth rates of livestock and crops to determine the effectiveness of various farming practices, such as the use of growth hormones and herbicides. (3)

Oral communication

  • Listen to announcements made over two-way radios. (1)
  • Speak to suppliers to learn about products, prices and delivery schedules. (1)
  • Exchange technical information with repairers, e.g. provide descriptions of equipment malfunctions to help farm equipment mechanics troubleshoot faults. (2)
  • Exchange information with co-workers and farmers, e.g. talk to farmers to learn about job assignments and to coordinate activities and schedules. (2)
  • May participate in group discussions, e.g. discuss safety, goals, procedures, job timeframes and projects during staff meetings. (2)


  • Encounter material shortages, e.g. experience feed shortages. They inform supervisors of the shortages and contact suppliers to arrange deliveries. They perform other work until the needed supplies arrive. (1)
  • Select farming methods, e.g. decide how much feed to give to livestock and how much water to apply to crops. (1)
  • Choose methods to operate heavy equipment, such as tractors and combines. They consider the type of equipment they are operating, crops being harvested, weather and soil conditions. (1)
  • Find information on the operation and maintenance of new equipment by reading instruction manuals and by speaking with suppliers and co-workers. (1)
  • May find information needed to identify and control pests by consulting farmers. (1)
  • Experience delays due to equipment breakdowns. They inform supervisors and repairers about the breakdowns and perform other work until repairs are completed. They may attempt to troubleshoot and repair the equipment themselves. (2)
  • Encounter unsafe work conditions. They seek ways to reduce the risks and refuse tasks that they cannot do safely. (2)
  • Select order of tasks and their priorities, e.g. decide when to feed livestock and perform equipment maintenance. (2)
  • Judge the safety of work sites and procedures. They observe risks posed by machines, such as conveyors and ensure safety systems, such as guards and automatic switches, are working properly. They consider risks posed by exposure to toxic materials, such as pesticides. (2)
  • Evaluate the condition of equipment. They consider readings, the results of physical inspections and how well the equipment operates. (2)
  • Judge the effectiveness of products, such as feeds, medicines and herbicides. They consider the outcomes of the products’ use. (2)
  • Organize and sequence job tasks and co-ordinate with the work of others (e.g. harvesters) as necessary. Their schedules may be disrupted due to equipment failure and inclement weather, requiring them to adjust their work plans. Due to the short summer season it is vital that general farm workers plan and organize their job tasks to maximize daily production. Success or failure to do so impacts efficiency and farm profits. (2)
  • May find information about crop and animal diseases by conducting research over the Internet and by speaking with co-workers, farmers and veterinarians. (2)
  • Find information about new products and equipment. They read trade magazines and marketing materials, such as brochures. They also discuss new products with farmers, suppliers, co-workers and colleagues and conduct research over the Internet. (2)
  • Encounter injured and unhealthy livestock. They diagnose injuries and diseases and initiate treatments, sometimes in consultation with veterinarians, and identify contributing factors that may need to be changed, such as hygiene practices. (3)
  • May choose emergency response measures, e.g. decide how to contend with sick livestock to prevent the spread of disease. (3)

Digital technology

  • May operate global positioning system (GPS) devices to locate coordinates. (1)
  • May operate digital equipment, such as scales and protein analyzers. (1)
  • May use electronic navigation control systems on equipment to establish line and reference tracks for steering. (1)
  • May use spreadsheet software to enter inventory counts and monitor quantities. (2)
  • May use communication software to exchange email and attachments with veterinarians, suppliers, co-workers and grain handlers. (2)
  • May use databases to retrieve contact information, dates, inventory numbers and equipment maintenance schedules. (2)
  • May use databases to input data related to the animal husbandry, such as the dates, times and dosages of medications given to ill livestock. (2)
  • May use the Internet to access bulletins, weather alerts, industry news and equipment specifications. (2)
  • May use the Internet to access training courses and seminars offered by trainers, suppliers, employers and associations. (2)
  • May input data, such as times, rates and flows, to program equipment, such as computerized sprayer systems and robotic cow and goat milking systems. (2)
  • May input data into satellite guidance systems for the automated operation of self-propelled tractors and sprayers. (2)

Other Essential Skills:

Working with Others

General farm workers are members of farm teams in that their work tasks, along with those of others, contribute to the achievement of shared goals. The nature of the assigned tasks determines whether they work alone, independently or with partners.

Continuous Learning

General farm workers continue to learn to stay current on new techniques, equipment and regulations. On-the-job experience is an important way to acquire skills and knowledge. In compliance with provincial regulations, some participate in formal training, such as Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) or chemical use, and take written examinations. Independent reading is also a source of ongoing information.