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.

Calves are assumed to be weaned and sold at an average weight of 550 lbs. In the fourth quarter of 2020, steers in this weight range were selling for prices in the upper $130’s and heifers in the low $120’s, on a state average basis. Therefore, a steer / heifer average price of $1.30 per lb is used for the analysis, which is actually the same price that was used last year. Weaning rate was estimated at 85%, meaning that it is expected that a calf will be weaned and sold from 85% of the cows that were exposed to the bull.  Based on these assumptions and adjusted for the weaning rate, average calf revenue is $608 per cow.

When deciding the actual cost of a cow, its weight, gender, and breed will be in focus. However, yearlings are usually sold for around $800 to $1,500. The difference in prices of cows will be based on what purpose they are used for, either for dairy or for beef.

Factors That Determines The Weight Of A Cow

Feed

When including both grazed feed and harvested feed, 40-70% of annual cow costs fall into this category.  If the ranch is owned, the cash cost for feed may be less; however, when conducting an economic analysis, grazed and harvested feed from owned land should be valued at market price.  In other words, the cow-calf enterprise is asked to pay fair market value for the grass that is grazed and the hay that is fed.  If the land is owned, the market value of the grass is a return to land ownership.  The same goes for hay raised on the ranch.  What is the market value for the same quality of hay if you were to sell it off the ranch?  The cow-calf enterprise should be asked to pay that value to the hay enterprise.  If the market value of the grass that cows graze or the hay they are fed is not being accurately accounted for, then the cow-calf enterprise may be being subsidized by other enterprises on the ranch.

Labor/Equipment

When categorizing costs to the cowherd, labor and equipment can be lumped together as a category because they often go hand-in-hand.  Equipment is often purchased to reduce labor and labor is needed to operate equipment. These two things together are also often identified as a fixed or an overhead cost. Overhead costs are expenses that don’t change very much based on the number of cows in the herd. For example, if a rancher has 200 cows and leases a neighbor’s place and is now able to run an addition 100 cows, they probably are not going to buy another pickup, trailer, tractor, or ATV just because they added another 100 cows.  The equipment they had to care for 200 cows is likely adequate to care for 300 cows. Overhead costs related to labor/equipment tend to be the second largest expense for the cow herd after feed.  When a rancher is serious about trying to address annual cow costs, overhead expenses per cow unit is an area where there is often opportunity to improve.  Increasing the number of cows per person/equipment or aggressively finding ways to reduce the labor/equipment needed to care for cows are two ways to address this expense.

Cow Depreciation

Cow depreciation is an economic cost that is often overlooked on many ranches. The costs associated with getting a bred heifer into the cowherd are often hidden because many ranchers raise their own replacement heifers. In an economic analysis, the heifer calf’s market value at weaning is identified and then all additional costs from weaning until she enters the herd as a bred female are accounted for.  A market value is placed on the heifer at weaning because that was value generated by the cow-calf enterprise.  A market value is also placed on the bred heifer at the time she enters the cowherd because that value minus her weaning value was value generated from the replacement heifer development enterprise.  The heifer calf could have been sold at weaning or she could have been sold after being developed as a bred heifer.  Knowing the economic cost of developing a replacement heifer can give insight into understanding where value is being created and where costs are occurring on the ranch.  If the market value of a bred replacement heifer is less than what it costs the ranch to develop her, buying replacements may be a better option. 

What Is The Worth Of A Calf?

The cost of a cow will be determined by its size and its weight. If we talk about a calf that is only a day old, it will require an extra amount of care and work, as you will have to feed it milk from a bottle. They mostly cost around $40 to $50. Plus they have a high mortality rate.

A 4 to a 6-month-old cow is efficient and stable and that is why it is expensive. Whereas a beef yearly is around $650 and $750 each calf. Cows that are older will cost more based on what their weights are. A dairy yearling, however, costs little, around $450 to $600 per calf.

What Is The Worth Of A Beef Cow?

The cost of beef heifers is around $2,500 to $3,000 individually with an average cost of $2,800 per cow. The cost of the calf will generally be based on its weight. The unit of measurement used to put prices on cows is CWT which stands for 100 pounds. For a beef cow, CWT is between $135 and $165. It is an average of $140 per 100 pounds. A calf that weighs 500 pounds costs around $700.

What Is The Best Breed Of Beef Cow To Raise?

In the United States of America, the most famous breed is the Black Angus. This breed requires extra maintenance and care during the calving season. There are more breeds of beef cows that are great providers of beef such as:

  • Charolais: This breed is heavier in weight and in winters their coat thickens.
  • Hereford: They mature early and their fattening abilities are great. They are docile and are efficient at milk-producing.
  • Simmental: Easy to work with during the calving season. They too have good fattening abilities.
  • Red Angus: They are docile and have good fat marbling.
  • Texas Longhorn: These are survival cows and they have longhorns.
  • Highlands: They have thick coats, they can easily survive in colder weather. Their meat is lean and marbled.

How Much Does A Dairy Cow Cost?

A dairy cow can cost between $900 and $3,000. This range is dependent on the price of a yearly to the price of a proven family cow. Yearlings and calves are less expensive as compared to matured cows. Moreover, a cow that is bottle-fed and hand-raised will be expensive as they are friendlier with people and can be kept around family.

The cost of Jersey cows can be as low as $1,400 to $1,800.

Cows that are sold by weight usually cost in between $1.05 and $1.35 (per pound)

As compared to bred cows, heifers are cheaper, they cost around $500 and $1,000.

The cost of lactating dairy cows is around $1,500 and $2,100.

Bottle-fed, tamed, and hand-raised cows are usually expensive because they are friendly with humans.

What Are Some Best Dairy Cows To Buy?

  • Jersey: They are smaller in size and they are great milk providers.
  • Brown Swiss: They are gentle and one of the older dairy animals.
  • Dexters: They are smaller in size but they are also used for meat.
  • Guernseys: They are smaller in size.
  • Hereford: They mature early. They are docile and great providers of milk.
  • Holstein: They are efficient milk providers and are used for beef also.

How Much Does It Cost To Buy A Cow In The USA?

Usually, the cost of a cow will be somewhere between $2,000 and $5,000. The weight of the cow, its gender, and its breed decides its actual cost. Yearlings are mostly less expensive than matured cows. They cost around $800 to $1,500. The differences in the prices are also based on whether the cow is used for dairy or for meat.

How Much Does It Cost To Butcher A Cow?

Cost for slaughtering an animal is $190 for a whole and $95 for a half, and that is payable to the cattle owner. $1.25 per pound hanging weight is the price for having the meat cut, aged, wrapped, and frozen so that it becomes ready to be taken to homes. 59 percent to 62 percent of the live weight is the hanging weight. This cost is payable to the butcher.

How Much Does It Cost To Raise A Cow?

The cost to keep/raise a cow per year is around $500 to $1000. Including the expenses of their feed and other necessities. Raising and buying a cow is less expensive when you already have some extra acres of land to grass-feed them and fulfill their grazing requirements.

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