Can I afford to buy a family milk cow? We considered this question long and hard before we welcomed Creme Brulee, our Jersey milk cow, to our homestead three years ago.
I like getting real about money on the homestead, so I think it’s important to publicly talk about the financial side of this really big investment. And yes, a cow is a large investment – in money, in infrastructure, in time and effort. But it’s also a hugely positive 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.
How Much Does it Cost to Buy a Family Milk 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, season, 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. Plus, we purchased the cow in December, so we absorbed the cost of feeding her over the winter months. We paid a total of $1800 for a bred animal (which is basically two animals). Three years later, we are planning to sell two cows, and prices are extremely low. So when you are planning to buy a family milk cow, keep your eye on the market, and be aware that prices can fluctuate.
How Much Does it Cost to Keep a Family Milk Cow?
These estimates are 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. We are currently keeping three Jerseys – two grown cows and one bull calf who is still nursing.
We typically spend the following each year for our herd:
$250 in alfalfa bales
$150 in large grass hay bales
$150 in Organic alfalfa pellets (as a treat at milking time)
$60-80 in corn, oats, and barley for occasional milking snacks
$100-400 in vet bills (We’ve been very fortunate to avoid large veterinary bills, but they still do come!
$100 – $200 in artificial insemination to breed each cow
$50 for minerals, kelp, and other supplements
$100 for assorted barn needs (natural fly spray, halters, eye masks, etc.)
Rough Total: $960-$1380
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.
How Much do we Save or Earn Keeping a Family Milk Cow:
What we currently spend on dairy:
We spent approximately $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 purchased our family milk cow, we were able to provide much of our own dairy for most of the year, saving at least $750 per year. We do still purchase butter and some hard cheeses (and ice cream on occasion).
Creme Brulee has delivered two calves under our care. Our first homestead calf, MayApple, is now a bred heifer, and ready to become a family milk cow for some other lucky family. The current market is very low, and we expect to sell her for around $1,000. The second calf, Osage, is a mighty handsome bull, but despite our attempts to sell him for breeding, we did not get any bites, so he will fill our freezer with nourishing grass and milk-finished beef worth at least $500.
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 did sell milk occasionally to neighbors, but mostly made use of all the milk in our own home. I would estimate that we earned $200-$300 selling raw milk.
The Bottom Line:
Yes, there is a significant money input when you buy a family milk cow, but it is very reasonable to pay back the investments through the 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?