The cost of keeping a milk cow for your family is something you want to consider before you decide to buy a cow! Will you save money or will it be more expensive than what you are doing now? Let’s look at the breakdown of the cost of keeping a dairy cow on your farm!
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How Much Do Dairy Cows Cost?
Of course like anything there are several factors that go into this. Typically you can expect to spend anywhere from $1000-$3000 depending on the type of cow, if she has the calf with her, and your location in the country or world! At the time of this writing, I just looked on Craigslist and there was a Jersey cow for $800, she was open which means not bred and likely not in milk right now. Jersey calves were $650 and bred Jersey cows were $1300. I am in Central Missouri, your location will definitely play a factor in the cost.
Also, we are in the midst of a super hot summer with a drought. The cost of hay will likely be very high this year, this brings the cost of cattle down as people are selling their cattle to avoid buying so much hay.
Here are a Few Ways to Save on the Upfront Cost of Buying a Cow:
First of all what type of cow will you be buying?
The primary way to keep the initial cost low is to buy local. If you see that people in your area are keeping Jersey cows then you may want to go with one of those. Perhaps you have your heart set on a Guernsey cow but you cannot find one for sale in your state, you will either have to factor in the cost of travel or you will have to change your mind and settle for what’s available. This post is helpful in learning about the different types of cows. Here are a few ways to save on the upfront cost of buying a milk cow:
Buy a Mixed Breed
Buying a pure Jersey cow may be more expensive than buying a Jersey/Holstein Cross. If you are willing to milk a mixed-breed cow, this may be a good way to save a bit of money on the initial investment as well!
Buy a calf
Calves are usually cheaper and they are not trained to milk. If that is the case, you will want to read this article on training a cow to milk. What you will save in dollars you will be making up for in time…isn’t that the way it always goes? However if funds are super low and if you are willing to wait about two years before you actually milk her, a calf may be the way to go!
Buy an Older Cow
Quite the opposite of the first one, but you can find cows that are retiring from service at a local dairy. Perhaps she can’t keep up with the production that they demand. However, she would give plenty of milk to your family! Call around to any local organic dairies in your area and see if you can find a deal!
Put the Word Out
Talk to everyone you can about your desire for a milk cow. You never know who might have a cow that they no longer want or need! Don’t be afraid to stop at a farm that you drive by and ask if they have any cows for sale! That is how we got our first cow! I had always admired a particular farm that I passed on my way to buy raw milk! One day we just stopped and asked if they were interested in selling any of their beautiful Jersey cows! Turns out they were!
Travel for a Cow
I know I said it’s cheaper to buy local, however, if you live in an expensive area like somewhere along the coast, it may be very expensive to buy local! Perhaps you could actually save money by buying a cow in the Midwest and bringing her to your farm…depending on gas prices of course!
Initial Investment for Dairy Cow Equipment
This totally depends on what your setup will look like. We keep it pretty simple on our farm so our cost for equipment has been extremely low. Here are some things that you may need and some tips on how to cut the cost for them!
The best way to save money is to milk by hand! We milk two cows by hand and honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way! Electronic milkers are noisy, the peace and quiet of milking in the morning with just the sound of the milk streaming into the bucket and the birds chirping is therapeutic. However, I have been accused of liking to do everything the hard way, so there’s that!
If you decide that you do want an electronic milker, here are a few options ranging in price from $150-$800 new. You can always check Craigslist or Marketplace for used ones!
A Stanchion or Milk Parlor
We have trained our cow to stand to be milked with just a bucket of feed. This is of course the cheapest option…are you seeing a pattern with us?
We have also built a very simple head lock out of scrap lumber for our first cow that needed some encouragement to stand! Our kids are using this for our younger cow that they are training to milk. Since we made it out of scrap lumber, the price was very low. However, you could expect to spend anywhere from $50-$500 depending on how elaborate you want to make your stanchion.
Here are a couple of examples of free plans from around the internet:
Depending on where you live, your cow may or may not need shelter in the winter. However, it is super nice to have some sort of shelter to duck into when it is raining or snowing and you need to milk. Our milking barn is over 100 years old and by no means tight. There are huge gaps in the walls and the door is half open. However, it makes a world of difference to be able to get out of the wind when it is bitter cold.
Our cows take shelter in there when it is super sunny or when it is super cold. A small shelter of some sort even if it’s just a lean-to is well worth whatever it takes to make it happen on your farm. If you are just purchasing a place, look for potential shelters. Again it does not need to be elaborate or tight, just a place to duck into!
If you have to build shelter from scratch expect to spend a few thousand.
These are a fairly low-cost investment, around $40-$50 for a good one. It is definitely worth purchasing a more expensive seamless pail. I like seamless milk pails and I prefer to have one with a lid for when it rains. Also, it’s nice to have two when you are first starting to milk. That way when your pail gets fairly full you can pour it into the other pail and keep it out of the way just in case the cow decides to kick it over. Then you won’t lose all of your milk! Also, a bigger pail of more than 1 gallon is usually best.
Here are a few options from Amazon, Tractor Supply, and Lehmans:
- Lehman’s Seamless Pail
- Set of Buckets Tractor Supply
- Lehman’s Milk Can with Lid
- Stainless Steel Bucket with Lid
You can go ultra cheap with this or you can make a larger investment. The cheapest option will of course be cheesecloth and a funnel. We have used this in a pinch, however, I don’t like washing the cheesecloth every day. For many years we used a cheap plastic funnel and a reusable coffee filter. Each filter will hold up for a couple of years, then they start filtering very slowly. I just purchased the first filter on the list below and so far I like it, still ultra cheap.
- Reusable Stainless funnel with mesh insert
- Lehman’s Stainless Large Funnel
- Reusable Coffee Filter
- Stainless Reusable Coffee Filter (this looks pretty nice!)
Trough or Rubber Dish
If you live on a farm you likely already have boots, if you don’t, you need some for milking. You will spray your legs and feet with milk. Also, mud and poop are all part of the gig with being a milkmaid. We have tried several different types of rubber boots. I always go back to Hunter boots as they are slender through the calf and they hold up well. My husband likes LaCrosse. We don’t care for the Muck brand boots, they are sock grabbers and don’t hold up very well for us. I have also worn Northerners, they are wider through the calf but also hold up well.
- Hunter Boots– They are expensive, I always check Swap.com I have found Hunter boots there several times for $50
The Cost of Feed for a Milk Cow
This is of course the long-term investment with a milk cow. Even if you manage to only grass feed your cow, there is an investment in maintaining your pasture and either haying it or buying hay for the winter. We do grass feed our cows, however, we give them a small ration of corn and alfalfa pellets at milking time. Perhaps you can train your cow to stand for just hay or alfalfa if you are set on grass-fed only.
Here is a breakdown of the cost of feed for a year of keeping a cow
- A Bag of non-GMO corn is around $13, this will last about two weeks with a couple of scoops for morning milking
- A Bag of Alfalfa pellets is around $20 this will last about two weeks with a couple of scoops for morning milking
- A small square hay bale of quality hay is around $5-$7 a bale in our area, probably more this year. During the winter a cow will need about half a bale to a bale a day depending on the weight of the bale.
- A mineral tub, mineral cubes, or Fertrell’s balancer loose mineral. We offer this through the winter only.
Here is the estimated feed cost for a milk cow for one year…I found it alarming! For bagged feed, you can expect to spend around $850/year
If you need to feed hay for about 4 months a year you can expect to spend close to $400 for hay!
A mineral tub will add another $65
That’s a total estimated cost of $1300/year just to feed your cow! This is just an estimate and this is based on the cost in my area. You may find that it is more expensive where you live or that your cow consumes more, or that it costs less!
This is a whole other matter and I cannot give you a good breakdown of the cost of fencing. This will vary from property to property. Ideally, you purchase a property with some fencing in place. If not, you can expect to spend a good chunk of money on 5 strand barbed wire fence. If I remember correctly it was about $1.45 per linear foot.
This is one of those projects that you can DIY if you have the right equipment. However, if you live in a rocky area, it is much better to save up and hire someone with the right equipment to do a proper install. The saying goes “Good fence makes good neighbors.” We know this for sure as it’s no fun to have the neighbor calling to tell you your bull is in their field. Neither is it fun to have your neighbor’s cattle in your garden!
The Cost of Breeding Your Cow
This can also vary widely. If I remember correctly our local farmer charged us $45 to come Artificially Inseminate our cow. If the first time doesn’t take, then you can expect to pay another $45 the next month and so on until she is bred. We did this several times to no avail!
You can also rent a bull. We found a very young man that was just getting into renting bulls. He only charged us around $30/month to borrow one of his bulls. This was a steal! You can expect to pay at least double if not triple that depending on the situation.
Of course, you can own a bull, for our family, we have chosen not to own one. I go into detail on that in another post, but Jersey bulls tend to turn mean for no reason at all. They can get very aggressive. If you do own a bull add that to the cost of hay!
If you have a kind neighbor as we do, you can turn your cow out into their pasture with their bull at no charge!
Cost of Keeping a Dairy Cow vs. the Cost of Buying Milk
So, let’s do some math to see the comparison between buying milk from the store or from your local farmer vs. owning a cow.
We have a large family so we can easily go through 5 gallons of milk a week depending on what we are eating and if I make yogurt, cheese, or ice cream. For the sake of averaging let’s go with an average consumption of 3 gallons a week.
Right now the cost of milk at the store is around $4.36. For raw milk from a local dairy you can expect to spend about the same, $4-5 a gallon and if you live in a more expensive area you may pay upwards of $7/ gallon.
- Storebought milk 3 gallons a week= $13/week or $676/ year
- Raw milk 3 gallons a week @ $5 gallon=$15/week or $780/ year
For our family, since we would consume at least 5 gallons a week and since we would buy raw milk for $4/gallon, we would likely spend over $1000/ year on milk!
This does not account for the initial investment of buying the cow or any equipment.
Selling Raw Milk
This is one that you would have to research. The laws are different depending on where you live. The fact that selling raw milk is illegal in some areas is beyond ridiculous to me but apparently, that is the world in which we live!
Here in Missouri, it is legal to sell raw milk directly to the consumer as long as the transaction takes place on the farm or is delivered directly to the consumer. In other words, it cannot be sold retail.
That being said, this is one way to help with the cost of keeping a milk cow. Even though our family consumes a good amount of milk, we still have an abundance. We do at times feed it to our pigs, but that doesn’t feel very efficient!
We share our milk with several other families and that offsets the cost of feed. We are certainly not making a profit selling milk but I am happy to be able to provide milk for others!
What Do You Think About the Cost of Keeping a Milk Cow?
Are you surprised at the expense? I was a little. However, for us keeping a milk cow is one of the greatest joys of our farm life. Believe it or not it feels more convenient to me as well. If I wanted comparable milk I would have to travel about 30 minutes to get it. For us it is much easier to just milk every morning her at home. Leaving the house is not my favorite!