How Much Does a Cow Cost? The Complicated Conundrum of Cow Buying

Cows offer quite a few benefits, but finding a way to pay for one isn't always an easy task. Cows are perfect for any rural family as they provide all the milk, cream, cheese, and butter any family could ever want. They're great for teaching children responsibility, and they're friendly to pretty much all family members.

If you're looking for a cow to purchase, there's a lot to learn about cow care beforehand. How long do cows live? Can mini farms have miniature cows? How often do cows need to eat? It's easy to spend hours researching cow care, but after all the preparations are made and you get ready to actually buy a cow, you'll start to hear even weirder terms like market price, Cwt, cow-calf, and heifer calves. The amount of jargon is enough to make anyone's head spin, but fortunately, we have you covered. Here's how to navigate the complicated world of buying a cow for the first time.

Bringing Home a Cow

how much do cows cost

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Before you buy a cow, you need to consider whether you have enough land to support the animal. Patrice Woods, who raises livestock in northern Idaho, says that while you can keep cows on plots of just an acre or two, you'll need to budget for additional feed. Keep in mind that hay prices can range dramatically, and they're affected by issues like droughts and increasing gas prices. As of May 2021, the average cost of hay bales ranged between $243 per ton of prime quality hay and $105 per ton for a Grade 3 bale. Your location within the country will also affect your ability to find affordable hay and feed. Feed cost can vary within different states and will also fluctuate with increased fuel costs.

A better option is to buy a cow when you have plenty of acreage, ideally in a situation where there's some sort of natural grass growing for most of the year. Don't forget that you'll need to offer your cow some sort of shelter, and you'll need strong fencing to keep it contained. If you have these already on your property, the total costs of buying and keeping a cow will be lower.

Where to Buy a Cow

how much do cows cost


So, where can you buy a cow? In our modern digital age, the internet offers us some answers. The following websites all have cows for sale:

More commonly, annual trade shows and auctions in parts of the country offer plenty of opportunities to inspect cattle for sale. If you live in a rural area with an active cattle market, you may be able to find cow-calf producers who breed cattle and may be willing to sell you just one or two of their cows. It's still important to understand cow prices in the area so that you know if you're paying too much.

Because there's so much variation in the cattle industry, it's difficult to pin down an actual cost of what you can expect to pay for a dairy or beef cow. CattleFax's Vice President of Industry Relations and Analysis Kevin Good shared an outlook on cattle prices in 2022 with Southeast AgNet at the 2021 Cattle Industry Convention. Good forecasted the following prices, based on size and class, for the upcoming year:

(Note: This measurement unit used is called hundredweight (abbreviated cwt); one cwt is equal to 100 pounds by weight.)

  • Fed Steer price average: $135/cwt.
  • 800-pound Steer price average: $165/cwt.
  • 550-pound Steer price average: $200/cwt.
  • Utility Cows price average: $70/cwt.
  • Bred Cows price average: $1,750/cwt

Average prices will vary according to the weight of the cow at the time that it's sold. You'll pay less for a smaller cow, and more for a larger cow. Keep in mind that average cow cost will vary within different areas, so you may pay more or less than the prices estimated above.

In 2022, Good says average retail beef prices are expected to be around $6.85 per pound, up about $0.05 versus 2021.

If you'd like to buy your first cow, one of the best things that you can do is find an experienced cattle farmer who can help you choose from quality beef cattle and can provide some lessons about care. A local rancher may be able to give you a better idea of the annual cost of caring for a cow, so that you know you're ready for this long-term commitment.

This article was originally published March 21, 2020. It was updated in 2021 with forecasting on average cattle prices for 2022.

READ MORE: 30 Cow Jokes That'l Amoooose You For Hours!