As the livestock economist for Extension at the University of Tennessee, opportunities to forecast cattle prices are never in short supply. Thus, there is always a demand for high quality and accurate cattle price projections. The primary problem is with the supply side, and the problem is that the price forecast changes from one day to the next and even more so from week-to-week or month-to-month.

Beef prices are low and falling right now. They were sky high a year and a half ago. What happened? Who’s in charge of setting them? What pushes them up or down? We’re pretty preoccupied with these questions here at Happy Valley Meat Co., and we figure you and your respective bottom lines are curious as well. It helps to begin by getting a handle on the basics of how most beef in this country is bought and sold

he same economic analysis can be applied to bred cows of all ages. For example, a fall 2004 bred cow that produces six consecutive calves has an economic value of $1,489. Her economic value with five consecutive calves is $1,398; four consecutive calves it is $1,290; three consecutive calves is $1,159; and two consecutive calves is $1,049. Each economic value is calculated utilizing each female’s lifetime annual net income values plus her cull cow income discounted back to today’s dollars.

What’s A Calf Worth?

The age and size of the calf will determine the cost of a cow. A day old calf will require more work and will have to be bottle fed. Those often cost between $35 and $50 per calf. They also have a higher mortality rate with about half of the calves dying.

A yearly, a cow that is 4-6 months old is more stable and will cost more. A beef yearly will cost between $650 and $750 per calf. Older calves will cost more based on weight. A dairy yearling can cost as little as $450-$600 for a calf.

  • Beef yearling: $700
  • Dairy yearlings: $550
  • Older calves $800-900 depending on weight

What’s A Beef Cow Worth?

Beef heifers will generally cost about $2,500 to $3,000 per head with an average price of $2,800 per cow. A calf will generally cost based on the weight of the calf. CWT is the unit measurement used to price cows and stands for 100 pounds. The cwt for a beef cow is between $135 and $165. That’s an average of $140 per 100 pounds. A 500-pound calf would cost about $700.

Bred heifers cost a little more than 1.5 times the cost of a heifer. A bred heifer would cost about $1,300 to purchase. Full-grown cows can cost as much as $4,000 to $5,000 per cow. A full-grown cow can weigh as much as 2,200 pounds and go for as much as $1.85 cwt.

  • Calves: $800
  • Heifer $1,300
  • Heifer Calf combination $2,000
  • Full grown beef cow: $3,000 to $5,000

What’s The Best Beef Cow To Raise?

The most popular beef cow in the United States is Black Angus. They require little maintenance during calving season. However,  Black Angus isn’t the only great beef cow available. Check out these varieties.

Black Angus: Marbled meat, low maintenance

Charolais: Heavier cattle, coat thickens in the winter

Hereford: Early maturity, great fattening abilities, docile, good milkers also

Simmental: Easy during calving season, fattening ability

Red Angus: Marbled meat and docile

Texas Longhorn: Has horns, survival cows

Highlands: Thick coats, do well in very cold climates, lean and marbled meat

How Much Does A Dairy Cow Cost?

The worth of a milk cow varies between $900 and $3,000. This range depends on the cost of a yearly to the cost of a proven-family cow. Calves or yearlings are much cheaper to purchase than full-grown cows. Additionally, a cow that has been bottled or hand raised will cost more because they are people friendly and better to have around the family.

  • Jersey cows can cost as little as $1,400 to $1,800
  • Cows sold by weight are usually sold between $1.05 and $1.35 per pound
  • Heifers are cheaper than bred cows, ranging between $500 and $1,000
  • Lactating dairy cows usually cost between $1,500 and $2,100
  • Tame, bottle fed, or hand raised cows generally cost more because they are used to close human contact.

What Are The Best Dairy Cows To Buy?

  • Brown Swiss: Gentle cows, one of the oldest dairy varieties
  • Jersey: Smaller cow, richer milk
  • Guernseys: Smaller cow
  • Dexters: Smaller dairy cows also used for meat
  • Hereford: Early maturity, docile, good milkers also
  • Holstein: Popular for milking cows, great beef cows also

How Much Does It Cost To Butcher A Cow? 

There are several costs associated with butchering a cow including the cost to kill, butcher, and prep the meat. If you pay to have your cow killed, it can cost as much as $100. The carcass will need to be butchered and prepped for consumption.

Hanging meat weight is the raw butcher weight of the meat. The cost to prep the meat is based on the hanging meat weight and not the final weight of the prepared meat. Butchering usually costs about $0.55 per pound of hanging meat weight.

Will I Save Money On Beef Costs To Raise A Cow? 

Beef consumption can be broken into two categories; higher-end cuts and lower end cuts. If you primarily eat lower cost cuts, such as the meat used for hamburger or roasts, you won’t save money. If you primarily like to eat higher-end cuts such as those used for steaks or filets, then you will save money.

When you raise your own beef, all the meat is averaged as a cost per pound. According to the University of Wyoming, the average cost to raise your own beef is $4.10 per pound. That means that with an average cost of $2.99 for cheaper cuts of beef, you will overspend by $1.11 per pound. However, higher-end cuts average $8.44 a pound and will save you $4.34 a pound. If you average the costs of the entire cow, and you can consume the entire cow, then you will save yourself $240 a year in beef. That takes into account the consumer costs of $2,081 for 450 pounds of meat and the cost of $1,845 for the same meat in a raised cow.

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