A cow will cost anywhere from $750 for a basic Corriente cow, right up to $9,500 for a prize-winning Santa Gertrudis. First-time farmers typically pay between $1,200 to $1,700 for their first cow(s), often paying back their initial investment through milk and meat sales.
Cattle costs are certainly higher in 2022 than in prior years, but why? And how can the time of year affect the cost of the same cattle?
This article will break down and explain all of the main factors that affect cattle pricing including breed, weight, age, fertility status, seasonality, climate, location, and mortality rates.
Table of Contents
Cow Prices 2022: Listed by Breed
Cow prices and valuations are affected by breed, with these being the average prices for 2022:
|Ayrshire||$2030 – $2300||€2023 – €2292||£1749 – £1981||$2970 – $3366|
|Beefmaster||$3190 – $3500||€3180 – €3489||£3748 – £3015||$4668 – $5122|
|Belgian Blue||$2134 – $3827||€2134 – €3827||£1838 – £3297||$3123 – $5600|
|Belted Galloway||$800 – $1200||€797 – €1196||£689 – £1033||$1170 – $1756|
|Black Angus||$900 – $2200||€897 – €2193||£775 – £1895||$1317 – $3219|
|Braford||$1200 – $2500||€1196 – €3987||£1033 – £3446||$1756 – $5840|
|Brahman||$2100 – $2300||€2093 – €2292||£1809 – £1981||$3073 – $3366|
|Brangus||$4750 – $5000||€4735 – €4984||£4092 – £4092||$6951 – $7317|
|Braunvieh||$2000 – $2500||€1993 – €3987||£1723 – £3446||$2920 – $5840|
|British White||$4000 – $5000||€3987 – €4984||£3446 – £4092||$5840 – $7317|
|Charolais||$2600 – $3300||€2592 – €3289||£2240 – £2843||$3805 – $4829|
|Chianina||$2500 – $4000||€2492 – €3987||£2153 – £3446||$3650 – $5840|
|Corriente||$750 – $1000||€747 – €996||£646 – £861||$1095 – $1460|
|Dexter||$1500 – $2000||€1495 – €1993||£1292 – £1723||$3650 – $5840|
|Friesian||$1600 – $2000||€1595 – €1993||£1378 – £1723||$2336 – $2920|
|Gelbvieh||$1500 – $2500||€1495 – €2492||£1292 – £2153||$3650 – $3650|
|Guernsey||$2000 – $3500||€1993 – €3489||£1723 – £3015||$2920 – $5122|
|Hereford||$2200 – $2600||€2193 – €2592||£1895 – £2240||$3219 – $3805|
|Holstein||$1100 – $2000||€1096 – €1993||£947 – £1723||$1606 – $2336|
|Jersey||$1400 – $1800||€1395 – €1794||£1206 – £1550||$2044 – $2628|
|Lakenvelder||$800 – $1200||€797 – €1196||£689 – £1033||$1170 – $1756|
|Limousin||$3700 – $5000||€3688 – €4984||£3187 – £4092||$5402 – $7317|
|Maine Anjou||$2500 – $3000||€2492 – €2990||£2153 – £2584||$3650 – $4380|
|Murray Grey||$2300 – $3900||€2292 – €3888||£1981 – £3360||$3366 – $5694|
|Piedmontese||$2000 – $5000||€1993 – €4984||£1723 – £4092||$2920 – $7317|
|Pinzgauer||$1500 – $1700||€1495 – €1694||£1292 – £1464||$3650 – $2482|
|Red Angus||$900 – $2200||€897 – €2193||£775 – £1895||$1314 – $3219|
|Saler||$1733 – $2000||€1727 – €1993||£1493 – £1723||$2539 – $2920|
|Santa Gertrudis||$7600 – $9500||€7576 – €9470||£6547 – £8184||$11096 – $13870|
|Shorthorn||$1500 – $1700||€1495 – €1694||£1292 – £1464||$3650 – $2482|
|Simmental||$1900 – $2700||€1894 – €2691||£1636 – £2326||$2774 – $3942|
|Texas Longhorn||$2200 – $5300||€2193 – €5283||£1895 – £4566||$3219 – $7738|
|Watusi||$1000 – $2500||€996 – €2492||£861 – £2153||$1460 – $3650|
|White Park||$1800 – $2200||€1794 – €2193||£1550 – £1895||$2628 – $3219|
|Zebu||$1000 – $1600||€996 – €1595||£861 – £1378||$1460 – $2336|
Beef Cow vs Dairy Cow Prices
Beef cattle and dairy cattle have vastly different price points, with dairy cows being cheaper yet requiring more manpower and equipment.
There are a few key differences between the two types of cattle. To understand why beef cattle are more expensive, it is necessary to examine the primary function of both dairy and beef cattle.
- Dairy cows are used primarily for milking. They produce more milk than their calves need and humans harvest this milk for drinking and making dairy products like cheese, butter, and ice cream. Their bodies are typically smaller and they weigh less than beef cattle.
- Beef cattle are primarily used for the production of more beef cattle, and subsequent butchering of their meat for consumers. Beef cattle provide meat, so their main function is to pack on those pounds quickly, making beef cattle much larger and heavier than dairy cattle.
The two different functions play a large role in the input costs, management, and processing required to receive the products that they provide, and ultimately to turn a profit.
Let’s examine a few averages for both beef cows and dairy cows.
Newborn calves (either beef or dairy) are quite inexpensive, costing between $40 and $100. Bottle-fed calves are even further discounted. With a 50% survival rate, they are riskier investments when compared to calves that are naturally weaned from their mothers.
Yearlings (cows from 6 months to a year old) will typically sell for between $900 and $1,600. Beef yearlings will cost about $200 – $300 more than dairy yearlings.
Bred heifers will run around 1.5x to 2x the cost of a heifer and are priced based on breed and weight. Heifers are cows that have yet to give birth to their first calf, and once again the cost of beef heifers is more than the cost of dairy heifers as beef heifers weigh more.
Cow-calf pairs can actually cost less than the price of a full-grown cow, primarily because of survivability, and the cow will not be ready for breeding again for roughly a year. Cows can also be purchased in larger quantities, which usually reduces the overall cost than purchasing piecemeal.
Full-grown cows that still have a significant portion of their productive lives ahead of them are the most expensive cows to purchase. Dairy cows at this stage typically cost between $1,000 and $2,500 while beef cows cost between $2,500 to $4,000. Bulls will cost significantly more.
There are many factors influencing cattle pricing on a weekly basis, which are covered in the next section.
Impacts and Variations on Pricing
There are many factors constantly in flux that will affect the total cost of cattle and many of these factors influence and impact one another.
Weight of the Cow
Weight is one of the biggest factors behind the cost of a cow. Cows that weigh more, and breeds that have heavier cows will typically cost more. Heavier beef cows mean more meat to sell and less time to slaughter while heavier dairy cows mean more milk production and the likelihood of raising strong calves.
Cows are often sold by hundredweight (price per 100 pounds) also known as cwt. A cow that weighs 700lbs at $150cwt would cost 700 x 150 = $1050. Cows may also be sold by head, rather than by weight, but characteristics such as weight will factor into the cost per head.
Type of Breed
Breed plays a major role in determining the cost of a cow. Some breeds are known to have strong genetics and may have excellent conformation or higher fertility and will fetch a premium because of those characteristics.
Farmers are often willing to pay more for particular breeds that have the characteristics that they are looking for. Additionally, consumers often will know of certain breeds and be willing to pay more for choice cuts from those breeds.
Japanese Wagyu steak for instance is the most expensive beef in the world and people are willing to pay upwards of $100 per ounce for it. Yet people wouldn’t be willing to pay $100 per ounce for Black Angus beef.
As discussed earlier, the age of a cow will affect costs at the time of purchase. Cows that are full grown, and at the beginning of their productive lifespan will fetch a premium.
Young calves needing to be bottle-fed will be the cheapest cattle because they have a higher mortality rate.
It is important to know the age of the cattle you’re purchasing to perform a risk versus profit assessment, to be sure that you are comfortable with the level of risk you’re willing to take based on the age of the livestock you’re purchasing.
For this reason, it is not a good idea to purchase cattle from an auction. Unless you’re an expert, you won’t be able to tell the age of the cow, much less her quality and condition. Leave the cattle auctions to the professionals.
Cow worth is largely determined by fertility. Cows that are highly fertile and able to birth a healthy calf each year are worth significantly more than cows that can’t. Cows will only get milk if they are lactating, which stems from pregnancy.
In order to increase your herd (for both dairy and beef cattle) without continual and significant input costs, cows must be fertile enough to birth annually. Heifers that are unable to get pregnant are usually culled from the herd.
Climate directly affects feed costs and higher feed costs mean higher cattle costs because farmers need to sell at a profit.
In drought conditions, the price of corn and hay increase drastically because quality pasture is reduced, which increases demand for these resources. Grass-fed cattle may need to have their feed supplemented, which drives up costs.
Drought can also cause less crops to be successfully grown, decreasing supply of grain, which further drives up costs.
Climate conditions in 2022 have played a large role in the cost of feed and the overall price of cattle due to unprecedented drought conditions. Corn and hay have risen by 35% to 45%, and cattle costs are 17.5% higher than in 2021.
Location is a major player in determining actual cost for cattle. If the cattle you’re looking to purchase needs to be shipped from a long distance, those shipping costs must be paid by the buyer.
Shipping cows from overseas may be cost-prohibitive unless buying a large quantity or purchasing semen and embryos rather than live cattle. Custom fees and tariffs may also be included in the overall cost based on location and logistics, which is why most farmers purchase cattle locally.
Cattle prices are affected by seasonality because of availability. Most calves are born in February, March, and April because spring brings fresh grass to pastures and increases the likelihood that calves survive, increasing supply and lowering costs.
Consumer demands for different products change with the seasons, with people consuming more meat at certain times during the year. People tend to grill more in late Spring and early Summer so demand and pricing of beef cattle are consequently higher at these times.
Mortality rates play a large role in determining whether a particular cattle is worth the input costs and will be profitable for ranchers. The longevity of a particular cow and the likelihood that she regularly provides a healthy calf during calving season is a major selling point for those investing in livestock.
Long-lived, hardy breeds with low mortality rates will cost more.
The prices fetched for milk and meat at the grocery store is ultimately what makes raising cattle worth the effort. Of course, there are processing costs associated with preparing those products.
For beef cows, there are a few factors that will affect the average cost of a particular breed.
- Hanging weight will ultimately determine how many pounds of beef it is possible to get from a carcass and what a butcher will charge you to process it. Butchering a cow can cost around $100, or roughly $0.55 per pound of hanging weight.
- Beef is usually sold by the pound, though it is possible for consumers to purchase half a cow or a whole cow.
- Carcass quality and meat quality will determine the beef rating. Higher quality cuts of meat such as roasts or filet mignon with desirable characteristics are worth more money. For example, USDA choice and prime ratings will fetch higher prices than meat rated select.
For dairy cows, milk output and quality are of paramount importance to profitability. Breeds such as Jersey cows will provide richer quality milk with a higher fat percentage, while Holstein-Friesian crosses provide lower quality milk with a much larger output.
Some dairy cows produce milk that is great for making cheese, while others may produce milk more suitable for drinking.
Ultimately, it is important to pinpoint what products you wish to sell and to ensure that there are buyers eager to purchase that product in your area. This will help steer you to the right cattle breed for you.
How Much Does it Cost To Keep a Cow Per Year?
Ongoing costs for keeping a cow typically range from $600 to $1100 a year to keep which includes feed and total care. If you have quality pasture and are raising grass-fed cattle, these costs can be significantly less.
One cow will require roughly 1 to 2 acres of land without supplementing feed.
If your cattle are raised entirely on hay, they will require 30 to 45 pounds of hay per day for non-milk producers. Lactating cows may eat between 90 and 100 pounds of hay per day.
It is important to factor in annual costs for keeping a cow fed and healthy in addition to the upfront purchase cost.