Growing Dawn » Homesteading » Raising Livestock » How Much A Dairy Cow Costs in 2024

How Much A Dairy Cow Costs in 2024

Please share!

Dairy cattle are often referred to as the heart of the homestead, for good reason. Using a resource as simple as grass, they produce a nutritious and delicious product. It’s obvious that people even outside the dairy industry are starting to figure it out! Really, it’s no wonder more of us are asking the question: “How much does a dairy cow cost in 2024?”

As the demand for raw milk increases, more and more homesteaders are looking into adding a dairy cow to their own small farm. But of course, it’s important to get an idea of the milk cow cost before jumping in. In this post, I’ll cover not only the cost of the cow itself, but other costs that come along with owning a dairy cow and how they relate to certain management practices.

In 2024, the cost of a cow can vary depending on several factors. Where you live, what breed you want, the age of the cow, and what kind of feed you want to give make up just a few examples. 

Let’s start with the basics of how much you can expect to spend simply in acquiring the cow. Then, I’ll share some of our personal experiences with the cost of owning a family dairy cow, and expand into maintenance, feed, and other ongoing expenses of keeping a dairy cow.

mini jersey cow face with horns

This post contains affiliate links, which means I may make a small commission at no extra cost to you. See my full disclosure here.  

Will owning a dairy cow save you money?

The answer to this question mostly depends on whether or not you are able to commit for the long haul. The average market price for a gallon of raw milk in the US is now upwards of $10 per gallon. That means if your family goes through 4 gallons a week, you’d be paying at least $160 over the course of one month. Now, let’s multiply that again to get a yearly cost: $160 x 12 = $1920. This may not quite be enough to cover the cost of a good dairy cow, but when you consider the fact that your dairy cow is likely to produce 4 gallons of milk in a single day… well, that certainly changes things!

It’s true, a nice, standard-sized jersey milk cow easily produces 4-5 gallons a day, as an average. If allowed to produce 10 months out of the year, that adds up to a whopping 1220 gallons per year. So even if you kept 4 gallons a week for yourself, there is the potential to bring in $10,280 over the course of a year with the rest of the milk.

So will a dairy cow save you money? Yes, and she can even make you money, if you do it right.

How Much Does it Cost To Buy A Dairy Cow?

I have to give a pretty general answer here, because cow prices can vary so much. But in the United States, you can expect a dairy cow to cost between $2,000 and $5,000 or more. This is for a cow that’s already bred and/or in milk.

Much of the cost variability is from differences in breeds and certain genetic markers in dairy cows. For example, a miniature jersey cow usually costs more than a holstein cow. This is due to their rarity and increasing demand over the last couple of years.

High-producing breeds exclusively used by dairy farms (Holstein, Jersey, and Brown Swiss to name a few) may cost more. The quality and type of cow definitely matters when it comes to how much your initial investment will be. However, that doesn’t mean that more dual-purpose breeds, like Dexters, are bad. It’s a good idea to do some research on the most popular dairy breeds, then choose based on what qualities you want in your own cow.

Like I mentioned, there are certain traits that can cause a dairy cow to cost more. Polled cows (no horns) are generally more desirable than horned cows. Many homesteaders today are looking for cows that have the A2A2 gene, which has to do with the type of proteins in the milk. There are studies showing that milk from cows with the A2A2 marker can be easier for humans to digest, making cows with that gene more desirable and therefore, more expensive. Demeanor, age, and calving history also affect the price a cow can fetch. A first time bred heifer may be cheaper than a more experienced cow, but she will still cost more than a heifer not yet to breeding age.

If you want a more in-demand breed (like a jersey) that checks all the boxes above, is trained, and already in milk and/or bred, then you can definitely expect to pay on the higher end of the spectrum.

man and two children with family dairy cow laying in grass

Other Costs of Owning A Dairy Cow

Feed and Supplements

The cost of feed and supplements is one of the biggest expenses when owning a dairy cow. A cow’s diet should consist mostly of roughage, like hay or grass. It’s a good idea to bulk buy hay for storage, ideally from a local farmer. Purchasing that much hay at a time can allow you to pay a lower price than you would at the local feed store or co-op.

A high-quality organic grain is also helpful to have on hand for maintaining a cow’s condition and milk production. When we had our mini jersey cow, we fed her about 2 cups of dairy ration from New Country Organics at every milking. It was a nice treat for her at milking time and noticeably increased her milk yield. With just one miniature size cow, it took us about a month and a half to go through a 40 pound bag of feed. We gave her such a small amount, and we also mixed in chopped alfalfa (Chaffhaye) and her regular dry hay. This was the best way for us to keep her occupied during milking, without consuming much grain.

Feeding a cow high-quality feed ensures maximum milk production and allows for optimal health, but it also means higher costs. For us it was worth it, because we wanted to get as much milk as possible (which obviously has value in itself). We also don’t vaccinate our livestock and try to avoid unnecessary vet bills. Giving high quality feed and supplements is really just a trade-off.

How much does it cost to feed a dairy cow?

Depending on what you decide to feed, you can expect your total cost of hay and feed for a single cow to be somewhere between $500-1400 per year. The longer you can keep grass available, and the less you have to be feeding hay, the cheaper it will be.

Health Care and Artificial Insemination

Ideally, vet care bills for dairy farmers would be kept to a minimum. But in reality, emergencies do happen. And particularly as a beginner, procedures tend to come up that you either don’t want, or simply don’t know how to do yourself.  Unexpected illnesses or injuries are a real possibility.

Unless the previous owner has already performed it, bringing a new cow to your farm or homestead typically means doing a round of disease testing. She also may need hoof trimming once a year or so.

Artificial insemination (AI) techs can be lumped into this category of healthcare, too. The majority of our healthcare related expenses actually were due to AI, because we had issues and had to try three separate times. Yep, we did a lot of hard work and spent a lot of money to not ever get our cow pregnant via AI. But honestly, I think that was mostly because we were inexperienced, working with our first family milk cow (that was actually a first-time heifer). She also was much more compact than most jersey cows, which can make breeding more tricky. Much time and money would have been saved by going straight to direct breeding with a bull. The bright side is, we learned a ton, including how to give shots and pull blood ourselves. In the end, this will save us a lot of money in vet bills.

In the end, I’d say we spend an average of $500/year on these kind of expenses.

Milking Equipment

Milking a dairy cow on a homestead requires specific equipment to ensure that the milk is harvested cleanly and efficiently. Some basic milking equipment needed on a homestead includes:

  • A milking bucket
  • Strainer
  • White microfiber cloths
  • Mason jars or a pail to transfer the milk into

This is the bare minimum of what you will need to milk a dairy cow. And there are many good reasons to keep things like udder balm, teat dips, and essential oils consistently on hand as well.

Unless you are going to be milking your cow by hand, you will need some sort of milking machine. These come with a wide range of capabilities. You can get basic ones that operate like a manual hand pump (which I personally don’t see the point of), or really fancy ones that don’t require much effort at all from you.

The most basic supplies to get you started milking by hand will run an average cost of at least $100. A milking machine will cost you an additional $200-$1500 depending on how fancy you want to get.

children and family dairy cow next to old barn

More Costs of Owning A Dairy Cow

There is a possibility that you may also still need to add a structure of some kind to your homestead, if you don’t already have one. While a beef cow will do just fine with as little as a single shade tree, dairy cows require at least a 3 sided shelter. A barn closed off to any drafts is even better.

Fencing is another cost to take into consideration when starting with a dairy cow. If you don’t already have fencing in place ready, a single polywire with reel is a good option. We have also used this Gallagher SmartFence 

Obviously, shelter and fencing can be quite expensive to put in place–in fact, it will probably cost more than the cow itself. Therefore, if you are planning to get a dairy cow in the future, you will definitely want to go ahead and plan for this additional investment now.

Some other small, miscellaneous expenses to consider are tangible items like halters, ropes, brushes, etc. It’s also helpful to have a drench gun for supplements and medicines.

Is buying a dairy cow worth it?

Depending on which route you take, you may or may not save money owning a dairy cow vs. buying dairy at the store. However, you also might! There is potential for a side income, if you are able to sell the excess milk (remember to check the laws of your state first). But even if you don’t save much money, the quality of product will be much better than what you can buy.

Another financial benefit to owning a dairy cow that’s worth mentioning is being able to sell a yearly calf. Depending on sex and breed, a young calf can sell for anywhere between $100-1000.

In our experience, owning a dairy cow was a very satisfying and rewarding experience, making it worth the cost for us. In the end, the decision to invest in a dairy cow is one to weigh carefully, taking into account your family’s needs and desires.

child in hay with family dairy cow

The actual cost to own a dairy cow

So, let’s get down to the nitty gritty and talk about the actual cost of owning a dairy cow, everything included. For the purposes of this cost breakdown, I’m going to use what I feel is the most accurate, average amount one would spend owning a dairy cow for one year in my part of the country (Southeast US). Obviously, there are a lot of variables to this, but I hope it’s still helpful.

Startup costs of owning a cow

  • Bred dairy cow: $2,000-$4,500
  • Electric fencing system: $500-700
  • Stanchion and milking equipment: $200-500

Total Startup Costs: Around $2,700-5,700

Yearly costs of owning a cow

  • Dairy ration: $300
  • Hay & alfalfa: $500-700
  • Healthcare/AI: $500
  • Milking supplies: $50-250

Total Yearly Costs: $1,350-1,750

As you decide whether or not adding a dairy cow to your homestead is right for your family, it’s a good idea to take all costs into consideration. Dairy cows can be expensive, but in our experience, she more than pays for herself through the milk and yearly calf she provides.

Please share!

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *