For most homesteaders, keeping livestock is either part of the dream, or a necessity. Whether you like the idea of raising animals as a useful hobby or genuinely want to embark on a part or full-time business, there’s a lot to consider before you start making room for your new additions.
If you were looking into cows, the largest of common livestock species, you need to be prepared to shell out quite a bit of cash for every head of cattle. But how much does a cow cost on average, anyway?
Mature cattle will cost anywhere from $850 to $4,500 depending on factors like breed, type, age, lineage and more. A calf can cost you anywhere between $100 and $1,000.
Market factors also play a significant part, as does the general popularity of cow products and farming in your area…
Depending on how much land you have for your cows, how many cows you want, what’s you plan on doing with them and the specific breed you have your eye on it is possible to start up a respectable herd for not a lot of money.
It’s also possible to spend a fortune on just a couple of cows in some cases.
There are lots of variables, and you’ll definitely want to study up on them before you head out to start making purchases.
Keep reading and I’ll tell you more about the various factors that influence the cost of your cattle.
Is It Worth It to Buy a Cow?
Owning a cow can be a great investment for those desiring a true homesteading lifestyle. Or it can be a boondoggle that is only going to drain your bank account and your sanity.
There are multiple profit vectors associated with cattle raising, and clever owners can make use of some or all of them.
These include dairy products, beef, leather, and even fertilizer – though dairy and beef are the most popular and common by far.
With a healthy diet and proper veterinary care, cows can produce up to 2-7 gallons of milk per day, depending on the breed.
This can provide a substantial amount of fresh milk for the household alone, or even enough to sell to local farmers markets or independent co-ops.
A single dairy cow can easily keep a family in milk far cheaper than the yearly cost of buying it from the supermarket.
Raising cattle for beef products can also be a lucrative venture for homesteaders. Depending on the market, well-managed and properly slaughtered cows could bring in thousands of dollars per year in beef sales alone…
But for “hobby” owners who just want a cow as an accessory to a new lifestyle or as a pet, it might not be a financially sound decision.
Raising cattle for any purpose is a long-term investment, requiring significant resources, infrastructure, and dedication.
The costs of supplemental feed and veterinary care can quickly add up. The requirements for shelter and land to graze them are not insignificant.
Cattle buying costs can also vary significantly from state to state, with the most cow-crazy states, like Texas, having much higher prices on the same cows than states where cattle farming is less intensive.
Without a plan to turn a profit through milk, beef or other sales, the costs of keeping a cow as a pet might be shocking. More on that in a bit.
What Kinds of Cows are the Most Expensive?
Domestic cows are broken down into two main types: dairy and beef. Of the two, beef cattle tend to cost more on the low end, though the high-side costs of beef and dairy cattle are comparable.
A decent dairy cow still in milk might cost as little as $850, while a similar beef cow might hit the market at around $1,500.
Beyond that, prices will depend on age, breed and other factors that we will unpack in the next sections.
Sterling examples in either category that are young, healthy, of exceptional breed and from good lines might top out at $4,500 or even way more!
And we aren’t talking about world record-beating, exceptional show cows, here; those are just the high-end prices for high-quality “working” cows!
What Kinds of Cows are the Most Profitable to Raise?
All in all, dairy cows are more profitable even with the greater costs associated with obtaining and marketing their products. But both dairy and beef cattle can be highly profitable.
Beef cows can generate much more income when slaughtered, processed and sold compared to the output of dairy cows in a similar amount of time, but you have much more earning potential with dairy cows if you want to keep them producing milk for the long haul.
On the other hand, beef cattle have significantly less upfront costs considering they just need room to graze, some extra food (usually) and shelter.
If you want to get milk from your cows to market in most places you’ll need to invest in expensive milk handling, processing, and storage equipment.
What Breed of Cow Costs the Most?
As with all animals, some breeds are naturally more expensive than others. This is due to their known quality, longevity, productivity, health, and even simple popularity. Cow breeds experience buyers’ trends, too!
But you’ll find that some breeds are consistently expensive, year in and year out, due to a combination of factors above, and also rarity, high demand, so forth.
Some of the most expensive beef cattle:
- Wagyu. A Japanese breed that is famous for its highly marbled, succulent beef, but infamous for its eye-watering price tag. Consistently ranks among the most expensive beef in the world, and it had better with a price tag that can hit five digits- $10,000+ is not out of the question.
- Black Angus. This breed is well-known for producing consistently high-quality, flavorful beef, which makes it highly sought after by chefs and meat connoisseurs all over. Expect to spend $3,000 to $5,000 for one of these cows from a good pedigree.
- Hereford. Another highly recognizable breed of cattle, Herefords are always in demand due to their docile nature, ease of care, and superior quality beef. Sells for around $3,000 to $4,500, again depending on lineage.
Some spendy dairy breeds:
- Holstein. This breed is the most recognizable dairy cow breed in the world, and is highly prized for its high milk yield. These are very big cows! Usually run around $2,000 to $3,500.
- Brown Swiss. This breed is known for its docile nature, longevity, and ability to produce high-quality milk. Averages between $2,000 to $3,500.
- Jersey. The Jersey breed is renowned for producing rich milk that’s high in butterfat and protein, making it popular with those who prioritize the quality of dairy products over quantity. Somewhat less expensive than our girls above, anywhere from $1,500 to $2,500.
You won’t necessarily pay an arm and a leg for one of the above cows, but if you have your heart set on them, be prepared to!
Which Cow Breeds Are More Profitable?
The amount of money you can make from raising a given breed is more dependent on your strategy and market factors than anything else.
You might have a small herd of extraordinarily expensive Wagyu cows, but do you have a market for that meat?
Likewise, some super-producer Holsteins might keep you swimming in milk, but what price and how much can the market bear?
Generally, you are always better off choosing a cattle breed known for quality and productivity because that will eliminate a variable from your business calculus, and this is why you see some breeds chosen so consistently by homesteaders and producers the world over.
But ultimately, if you’re looking for a specific breed that has been known to be consistently profitable, look no further than the “mainstays”: Holstein for dairy production and Angus or Hereford for beef production.
Both of these breeds have stood the test of time due to their clear advantages in quality, hardiness, and productivity.
Does the Age of the Cow Affect its Cost?
Yes! Referring to mature cattle the younger the cow, the more expensive it will be, all things equal.
This is because younger adult cows have better potential to make more money.
They will have more years of high milk production left (for dairy cows) or be better suited for slaughtering because their meat will be of superior quality (for beef cattle).
Sellers and buyers naturally take that into account when setting prices.
So, older cows might not command as much money due to their reduced milk production and generally poorer quality of meat. This means a lower probability of delivering a good return on your investment.
However, this doesn’t mean a mature cow might not be an acceptable choice for your needs, but you should think twice before letting sentimentality cloud your business judgment.
Looking at Cow Prices by Weight and Breed
The weight of a cow is also a huge influence on price for beef cattle. Generally, bigger is better and thus more expensive since the yield of beef will be higher assuming the cows has been properly cared for and fed.
Weight is one of the most significant factors affecting the price of beef cattle. The weight of cattle is typically measured in pounds or kilograms, and farmers and ranchers will often market their cattle based on their weight.
When it comes to beef production, weight can also play a critical role in determining the quality of the meat.
Generally, heavier cattle tend to produce more marbled meat, which is highly prized in the beef industry.
Marbling refers to the distribution of intramuscular fat within the meat, giving it that rich, buttery flavor that sets the best beef apart from the mediocre stuff.
For instance, a 750-pound Angus or Hereford cow can fetch anywhere from $1,000 to $2,500 depending on the market conditions and quality of the animal.
On the other hand, if you have an especially well-developed 1,500-pound specimen with lots of marbling potential, you could be looking at up to $4,500 or even more!
However, there is an upper limit. The ideal weight for a cow when it is time to slaughter is between 1,250 and 1,400 pounds, and cows closer to this ideal will usually command a higher price than cows much heavier or lighter.
Weight also affects your other costs: huge, heavy cows need more food and often more care, and that’s money out of your pocket.
When it comes to dairy cows, the weight is far less important than the quality of the milk they produce.
That being said, heavier cows can still fetch a better price just because they are likely healthier and thus more productive than their lighter brethren.
How Much Do Calves Usually Cost?
As you might expect, calves tend to be less expensive than adult cows, all things equal.
The price of a calf is typically based on its weight, age, and breed, with prices ranging from about $100 to $1,000 or more per head, with beef calves commanding significant premiums compared to dairy calves.
Part of this cheaper market rate is because calves need a lot more care compared to mature cows.
How Much Care Do Cows Need?
Lots! But perhaps not as much as you might think considering their size. Cows need constant access to clean water and food, which can be provided through hay, feed or pasture.
Proper nutrition is essential for a cow’s growth and development, as well as for milk and beef production.
In addition, cows need regular veterinary care to maintain their health and to address any health concerns such as vaccinations, parasite control, and ongoing treatment of illnesses and injuries.
You will also need to provide adequate shelter to protect cows from extreme weather conditions and potential predators, though this is dependent on your location and climate.
Looking at Upfront and Recurring Cow-Owning Expenses
Raising cows and selling their products can be an expensive undertaking no matter how you slice it.
Even if you are happy just having and caring for cows as a pet around the homestead, you must be prepared for significant upfront and recurring expenses.
The initial costs are, of course, the land on which you’ll keep the cows, but I am assuming you already have a sizable parcel.
The cost of the cows themselves can be substantial, assume $800 to $2,000 or more per head, on the low end.
In addition to purchasing cows, homesteads will require infrastructure, such as barns or other shelters, fencing, feeders, and milking equipment.
These infrastructure requirements can cost many thousands of dollars, or tens of thousands, depending on your property size and required level of sophistication.
And of course cows need a significant amount of food and water to thrive, and their diets can be expensive depending on the available food sources and the quantity of cows.
For instance, a 100 lb. bag of cattle feed can cost between $15 and $50, and a cow may require up to 20-30 lbs of feed per day.
Sure, pasturage is “free” but caring for the land and rotating your pastures effectively is not.
The cost of veterinary care is also a significant recurring expense to consider, which can include regular check-ups, vaccinations, and deworming medications, costing anywhere from a few hundred dollars to thousands of dollars per year.
All told, expect supplementary care and feeding of a cow to cost anywhere from $850 to $1,200 dollars per year assuming it has ample access to high-quality pasture. Special cases may cost much more.
And, if you are doing this to make a living consider also the marketing costs, transportation fees, and other “business” costs can add up.
Another recurring cost is processing fees if selling beef if you don’t do it yourself, which includes the costs for slaughter, processing, and packaging.
These costs can vary significantly by region, market and access to processing facilities.
Tom has lived and worked on farms and homesteads from the Carolinas to Kentucky and beyond. He is passionate about helping people prepare for tough times by embracing lifestyles of self-sufficiency.