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How Much A Dairy Cow Costs in 2023

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Dairy cattle are often referred to as the heart of the homestead. Using a resource as basic and simple as grass, they produce a nutritious and delicious product. And guess what? People are starting to figure it out (you’re probably one of them if you’re here). As the demand for raw milk increases, more and more homesteaders are looking into adding a dairy cow to their own farms. So, how much can you expect a dairy cow to actually cost in 2023?

The cost of owning a dairy cow in 2023 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 will all play a factor. Let’s start with the basics of how much you can expect to spend simply in acquiring the cow. I’ll share some of our personal experiences with the cost of owning a family dairy cow, as well as expand into maintenance, feed, and other ongoing expenses of keeping a dairy cow.

mini jersey cow face with horns

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How Much Does it Cost To Buy A Dairy Cow?

The general answer is: in the United States, you can expect a dairy cow to cost between $1,500 and $4,000 or more.

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

High-producing, quality holsteins may cost more than a smaller, more dual-purpose breed like Dexter.

So yes, the cost can vary a lot.

There are also certain traits that can cause a dairy cow to cost more. Polled cows are generally more desirable than horned cows. Many homesteaders today are looking for a cow that is A2A2, which has to do with the type of proteins in the milk. There are studies showing that milk from cows with the A2A2 marker is easier for humans to digest. Demeanor, age, and calving history also affect the price a cow can fetch.

If you want a more in-demand breed (like jersey) that checks all the boxes above, and is already in milk and/or bred, you can definitely expect to pay closer to 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. However, a high-quality organic grain can also be very 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 it also helped with her production.

With just one miniature size cow, it took us about a month and a half to go through a 40 pound bag of feed because we were giving her so little. But we were also mixing in chopped alfalfa and her regular dry hay during milking.

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. So 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 yearly bill for a single cow to cost anywhere between $400-1200.

Health Care and Artificial Insemination

Ideally, vet care bills for your dairy cow would be kept to a minimum. But in reality, emergencies do happen. And particularly as a beginner, necessary procedures come up that you either don’t want or don’t know how to do yourself.

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. And unexpected illnesses or injuries are a real possibility.

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. Honestly, we were inexperienced and working with a first-time heifer that needed bred. Looking back, we could have saved some of that money by going straight to direct breeding with a bull.

I did learn to give shots and pull blood myself, which also saves a lot of money in vet bills. In the end, we spent 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, and some mason jars or a pail to transfer the milk into. This list includes the bare minimum of what you would need to milk a dairy cow.

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 probably end up costing about $100 or maybe a bit more.

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 beef cows do just fine with as little as a few shade trees, dairy cows require at least a 3 sided shelter. And 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.

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?

I don’t believe most people with a dairy cow are actually saving much money by not buying their dairy at the store. However, the quality of product is likely much better. And, there are additional financial benefits to owning a dairy cow, like being able to sell the calves or any extra dairy your family won’t use.

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 own family’s needs and desires.

child in hay with family dairy cow

Breakdown of cost to own a dairy cow

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). There are a lot of variables to this, but hopefully it’s still helpful.

Startup costs of owning a cow

  • Bred dairy cow: $2000-$3000
  • Temporary fencing system: $500
  • Stanchion and milking equipment: $200

Total Startup Costs: Around $2700-3700

Yearly costs of owning a cow

  • Dairy ration: $300
  • Hay & alfalfa: $500-600
  • Healthcare/AI: $500
  • Milking supplies: $50-100

Total Yearly Costs: $1350-1500

I hope this is helpful as you decide whether or not adding a dairy cow to your homestead is right for your family. Although dairy cows can be expensive, in our experience, she more than pays for herself through the milk and yearly calf she provides.

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