Can I afford to buy a cow? You know my answer to that question, as we just recently welcomed Creme Brulee to our homestead. But since I like getting real about money on the homestead, I think it’s important to publicly talk about the financial side of this really big investment. And yes, a cow is a huge investment – in money, in infrastructure, in time and effort. But it’s also a huge investment in your homestead, your pasture, your community, and your family’s well-being.
Brian and I looked seriously at our finances before purchasing a cow, as we would with any major purchase. We are able to get delicious raw cow’s milk from a family farm, as well as Amish-made butter and cheese. Did it make sense to buy a cow ourselves? Would our investment pay off?
So we did the math.
First, let’s look at the expenses:
The cost of a homestead cow:
I found out quickly that the cost of a homestead cow varies significantly! Not only regionally, but also depending on factors such as age, size and genetics. We purchased a 20 month bred heifer for $1,400. We also paid $300 in shipping costs and $100 in tests that I requested, as well as a health certificate to ship across state lines. So a total of $1800 for a bred animal (which is basically two animals).
The costs of keeping a cow:
This involved a bit of guesswork, as we are brand new to keeping a cow, but I am making estimates based on local costs and the fact that we have ample pasture for 1-2 cows for at least 5-6 months of the year. I’m estimating $1,200/year for hay, minerals, supplemental feed, kelp, and vet bills. (But of course I’m prepared for this amount to change.)
I am opting NOT to include the costs of building a barn or purchasing electric fencing, as we’d use that equipment for any animal we’d purchase in the future. However, it is a significant start-up cost. Also, we already own many milking supplies such as buckets, funnels, filters, and cheese-making supplies. Someone new to dairying would also want to consider these costs.
And now, what we’d save or earn keeping a homestead cow:
What we currently spend on dairy:
I estimate that we spend $100 per month on dairy products – raw milk, butter, cheese, yogurt, cream, and the occasional pint of ice cream – for a total of approximately $1,200 per year. When we are able to provide our own dairy for most of the year, we’ll be saving at least $1,000.
When Creme Brulee calves this summer, I’m happy to have a heifer to raise as a milk cow, or to sell. If she delivers a male calf, we’d turn him into a steer for meat. Either way, we’d be saving money or making money.
Selling milk, cheese, and butter:
We live in an area that is populated with Amish farmers, so the raw milk market is a bit saturated and under-priced. The Amish charge as low as $3 per gallon of cow’s milk. We currently purchase raw milk from a Mennonite family that is committed to non-GMO and organic feeds, so we pay $7.50 per gallon. I believe we will sell occasional gallons of milk, as well as cheese and butter to local friends. I’m conservatively estimating $500-$1,000 per year.
The Bottom Line:
Yes, there is a significant money input in purchasing a homestead cow, but I believe that in about two years we’ll have paid back our investments, and will be able to pay for yearly upkeep/feed through our sales of animals and dairy products.
And of course, there are the less quantifiable benefits of using a grazing animal to improve our pasture with their manure and urine, the bountiful manure for my garden, the companionship of a sweet animal, and finally, the health benefits of raising our own raw dairy products. PRICELESS!
I’d love to hear your thoughts. Have you found that purchasing a homestead cow was a sound investment?