You’re probably aware of the price of beef products, but what about the cow they come from? You could spend $100 on a fancy steak, so how much is a cow worth? Hundreds? Thousands? Let’s find out.
Cows are worth anywhere from a few hundred dollars for a family cow all the way up to hundreds of thousands of dollars for a highly sought-after rare bull. A standard adult cow typically costs between $700 and $2000 depending on the breed.
In this article, we’ll look at the price of a cow if you wanted to go out and buy one, how the price changes according to age and breed, and what other costs are associated with owning a cow.
How Much Does It Cost To Buy A Cow?
As a rough guide, it costs between $700 and $2000 to buy an adult cow, depending on the breed, age of the cow, weight, and what the cow is used for.
In general, dairy cows cost more than beef cows, although there will always be exceptions, especially once you start looking at more specialist dairy breeds like Jerseys or Swiss Browns.
Read More: 10 Exotic Cow Breeds You’ve Never Heard Of
Calves are usually less expensive than adults for both beef and dairy cows since calves cost a lot of money to raise, and there are inherent risks associated with raising an animal.
How Much Does A Dairy Cow Cost?
According to the Agricultural and Horticultural Development Board, which monitors cattle trade in the UK and Europe, the average adult dairy cow costs roughly $2,000 (£1500).
Dairy calves generally cost less than adult cows because they are a bit of a risk for farmers and won’t be productive for the first year, and older cows cost less than younger cows because they have less productive years left in them.
This bears out in the above-mentioned data from AHDB, who noted that a dairy Holstein cow calf costs only $100 (£73), 20 times less than an adult cow who is already producing milk.
How Much Does A Beef Cow Cost?
The price of beef cows fluctuates a bit more than the price of dairy cows, mainly because beef is also traded as a commodity and bought in advance through futures contracts.
In Europe, cattle are traded by the kilo (kg), while in North America cattle is traded by the Hundredweight (CwT).
The most recent figures from the Iowa Cattle Auction Summary (where cattle and cattle futures are traded), show that the average beef cow costs between $100 and $160 per hundredweight (100lbs), depending on the age and weight of the cattle.
Here is a brief overview of average beef cattle prices, with data sourced from real cattle auction data from 2021 showing the variations in price between different cattle of different ages and weights.
|Average Price per CwT
|Average Price per Head
|Steer (One Year Old)
|Steer (1-2 Years Old)
|Steer (2-3 Years Old)
|Heifer (One Year Old)
|Heifer (1-2 Years Old)
|Heifer (2-3 Years Old)
What this data shows is that beef cows are worth more when they are younger by bodyweight, but that they are worth more overall when they are older because their overall bodyweight is higher.
Read More: Why Are Cows So Fat?
Some things this data doesn’t take into account include the difference in price between different breeds, and the overall quality of the cow (cows are graded according to their meat quality).
What Factors Impact the Price of a Cow?
The price of a cow varies greatly depending on whether it’s a beef or dairy cow, how old it is, the breed, whether it’s a heifer or a steer (or a bull), and where in the world the cow is being sold.
Let’s take a look at a few of these factors and see how they influence the price of the cow:
Cows are worth more if they are heavier, since heavier cows mean a higher meat yield, and heavier dairy cows produce more milk.
Although farmers generally want a heavier cow, the weight shouldn’t come at the expense of age, since older cows are usually worth less than younger cows by weight, even if they are worth more overall.
Uncommon or rare breeds are worth more than common breeds. The most common cows in North America and Europe are Angus and Hereford cows for beef, and Holstein-Friesians for milk.
Specialist breeds may be more expensive due to their rarity, especially bulls since they can be used to create new cross-breeds with existing stock.
Young cows are preferable to old cows, but there is a peak age in terms of value at around one year old.
These cows are sometimes called yearlings, and are the most commonly sold age of cattle aside from slaughter cattle.
Cattle which are sold to be raised further are known as feeding cattle. Feeding cattle are usually worth less than slaughter cattle, simply because the value of slaughter cattle is ready to be realized immediately, whereas feeding cattle must be fed and raised further before they are ready. This introduces risk and cost to the buyer.
Dairy cows tend to be worth more than beef cows, with the average dairy cow costing upwards of $2,000. The most expensive type of cattle are bulls, which commonly sell for over $5,000 for a single animal.
How Much Does it Cost to Own A Cow?
Owning a cow is a big commitment. Aside from the cost of buying the cow, there are food costs, veterinary costs, hoof-care, the cost of transport, land maintenance, bureaucracy costs (paying for licenses and inspections), expensive milking machinery, cattle crushes, tractors, agricultural buildings etc…
For a small family to look after a cow can be extremely expensive, however for farmers with large herds there are economies of scale that help keep costs down per cow, and the profit generated by the animals offsets the costs of keeping them.
In 2019, the Livestock Marketing Information Center carried out a study and calculated that it costs around $850 per year to own a cow for one year, including the costs of renting pasture.
To sum up, a cow costs around $100 for a calf, between $700 and $2000 for an adult cow, and up to $5,000 for a bull. The average annual cost of looking after a cow is $850, so it’s worth factoring that into any calculations.
Cow price varies according to their age, weight, breed, and what they are used for. Dairy cows are usually more expensive than beef cows, and younger cows are usually worth more than older cows.
Stuart is the editor of Fauna Facts. He edits our writers’ work as well as contributing his own content. Stuart is passionate about sustainable farming and animal welfare and has written extensively on cows and geese for the site.