How Much Does it Cost to Buy a Cow for Your Homestead?

Have you ever wanted a cow of your very own for your homestead? For some of us, it almost seems like a rite of passage.

brown Swiss cow with calf
brown Swiss cow with calf

Purchasing a cow, whether you want it from milk and other dairy products or just for keeping your family supplied with top-quality beef, will do a lot to improve your self-sufficiency.

But buying a cow isn’t like getting a pet from the shelter: a cow is a big animal, with equally big commitments and a big price tag. So, how much does it cost to buy a cow for your homestead?

The price of a cow will run anywhere between $800 and $5,000 depending on the age and quality of the cow, the market and what kind of cow it is.

Depending on what kind of cow you’re trying to buy, where you’re buying it, and a bunch of other factors a cow might be significantly cheaper or dramatically more expensive than you were expecting.

But whether you’re shelling out the big bucks or getting a cow for a song there is a lot more you’ll need to know about purchasing and keeping one.

Keep reading, and I’ll tell you everything you need to know.

For This Article, Cows Refers to all Cattle

Just to clarify at one point before we go on, when I’m referring to cows in this article I’m referring to domestic cattle, generally, as a species.

When referring to the topic of cattle, “cow” usually specifically refers to females while “bull” refers to males. But “cows” also refers to bulls and cows collectively, and that’s how I am using it here for simplicity’s sake.

How Much Does a Dairy Cow Cost on Average?

You can expect to spend anywhere from $800 to $3,000, on average, for a dairy cow depending on its age, breed, and whether the animal has proven that it can yield adequate quantities of milk previously.

Broadly speaking, it’s your older cows that are proven to produce and specifically ones that are in their prime milking age that will sell at the higher end of this figure.

Also, if you’re buying a dairy cow belonging to a breed that is known to be a super producer, like a Holstein, Jersey, or Brown Swiss, then you should expect to pay more.

However there are some rare or heritage breed dairy cows out there that, while they don’t produce nearly as much milk as our modern breeds, might command a premium due to rarity.

How Much Does a Beef Cow Cost on Average?

Similarly, beef cows will usually cost anywhere from $800 to $3,500 on average, although particularly large, well-developed, fully grown and “bred” females (cows that have reproduced successfully) from good lineages can push the cost even higher up to $5,000 or more.

Beef calves, however, tend to be quite affordable, rarely selling for more than $800 in most markets, and sometimes even less depending on weight.

Once again, market factors will play a part in this cost: in markets where they are not common, your premier beef breeds like Hereford, Black Angus, Longhorn, and Charolais will definitely fetch premiums whereas in other areas this will be the most common kinds of cows around.

How Much Does a Calf Cost on Average?

A calf, that’s a baby cow, will invariably retail for a whole lot less than an adult cow of any type.

A calf can retail from as cheap as $60 to as much as $800 depending on the breed, market, health, type of cow and a lot more. Nonetheless, there are still many variables that affect the price of a calf.

Broadly speaking, the younger a calf is the cheaper it is likely to be, all things being equal, because calves have a pretty high mortality rate.

A good rule of thumb is that, if a calf is under 4 months of age, you should expect it to retail for significantly less.

Calves that are around 5 to 6 months of age, depending on the breed standard, will cost more because they have passed that “point of uncertainty” where they might not make it to adulthood.

Calves are also significantly cheaper because the ranchers that sell them have significantly less investment in them, individually.

The older and larger a cow gets, the more and more food, land, water, and medical care it will need, all of which entails associated costs…

What Affects the Price of a Cow?

There are many factors that will generally affect the price of a cow. However, different markets around the country and around the world will see some factors made more relevant and others less so, so they should be considered guidelines only.

One of the most consistent and reliable factors that affect the price of any cow is its age, with very young and very old cows tending to be less expensive, and very young calves being cheapest of all.

As mentioned above, a very young calf has an uncertain future and doesn’t require much investment to keep alive, whereas a very old cow is likely to be minimally productive or viable for processing depending on the type.

Certain breeds of cows are more in demand in various markets meaning they might fetch a premium.

Rare, heritage or especially high-performance breeds might command a premium pretty much everywhere.

Likewise, in any given area the most common breeds are likely cheaper (assuming that supply is not a problem).

You’ll typically pay more for a cow that is destined for processing into meat rather than one intended for the production of milk overall, so exceptions are hardly unheard of.

Concerning dairy cows, you should always expect to pay more for a cow that is proven, meaning it has already produced milk after pregnancy.

And lastly, all other things being equal, expect to pay more for a steer or bull than you would for a heifer or cow.

Keeping all of this in mind will help you understand the prices on the cows you see in your local area- and also keep you from getting ripped off!

How Much Does It Cost to Raise a Cow?

Buying a cow is expensive enough; keeping it alive and raising it is even more expensive! You should expect to spend anywhere between $400 and $1,000 a year on care for your cow, or rather spend that much for every head of cattle that you own.

This cost includes food, medical care, and other costs that are part and parcel with owning cattle.

As you might expect, food is one of the biggest recurring costs for cattle owners. Cows eat lots of grass, of course, but unless you have lots of high-quality pasturage that’s maintained properly you’ll need to shell out for hay and other food.

Generally speaking, the more your cows are allowed to graze and the better nutrition they get from grazing, the lower the costs for you will be.

If you’re forced to feed the cows yourself year-round, your hay and other food expenses can easily clear $1,500 alone!

It is possible to recoup savings when buying food in bulk, or providing ample land for a larger herd, but if you just own a handful of cows, these figures are a reliable estimate.

And you’ll always have to spend extra for veterinary services, vaccines, nutritional supplements and more, including breeding services if they are required depending on your objectives with your herd.

So… Is It Worth It to Buy Your Own Cows?

Generally yes, for beef cattle. As long as you have a reliable and fair processor and/or butcher that can process your cattle, assuming you can’t do it yourself, you can usually save a bundle on beef compared to paying for the exact same cuts and quantities at the grocery store.

Remember that every link in the supply and delivery chain that transports cows from farms to grocery stores increases the costs because every company or person that is involved at every step of the process needs their own cut of the profits, or margin.

For dairy cows, things are somewhat less clear. Dairy cows require significantly more care and food over the course of their lives compared to beef cattle, and there’s a lot more that can go wrong when it comes to the quantity and quality of the milk that they produce.

Consider also that a dairy cow must be pregnant if she is going to produce milk in the first place; this adds another layer of complexity to the process of keeping her.

Additionally, if you don’t want to milk a cow by hand every single day, or if you don’t want to invest in the added expense and upkeep of pasteurization equipment, keeping a dairy cow might not make financial sense.

But if you are okay with raw milk, all the time, even a single cow can keep a family well supplied.

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