Can you save money by owning a family milk cow?
7 Years ago (before we had our own dairy cows) we were buying raw milk for $8 a gallon at our local dairy. It seemed like a lot of money at the time. As our family grew and we were buying more milk each week, we started wondering if it wouldn’t make more sense to just have our own cow. With the cost of dairy products skyrocketing, lots of people who have chickens, live in the country, or are already homesteading have started thinking the same thing…
“Why buy the milk when you can get the cow for less…” right?
Is SAVING MONEY a good reason to get a family milk cow? Will YOU Save money on dairy by owning a family milk cow?
To figure out if YOU personally will save money by owning a cow, you need to start by figuring out how much money you are spending on diary.
I ran a Poll on instagram because I wanted to know what are our audience was actually spending on dairy on average each week.
45% of the people who answered this question said they spent about 10 to 20 dollars on diary weekly. So we decided to go with that figure for our breakdown.
You personally might spend more weekly on dairy, and so you should apply that number to the cow breakdown and see if it makes sense for you personally to own a cow.
Remember, don’t forget to include the money you spend on cheese, butter, yogurt, coffee creamer, cottage cheese, ice cream, AND of course… Milk, in that figure.
Can you own a diary cow for less than $20 a week?
We have 3 different kinds of cost to put in our breakdown. The startup cost to get a cow and setup basic infrastructure for her, the cost to feed her, and the costs associated with keeping her healthy and in milk (which we will call ‘Health’ costs).
Startup Family Cow Cost
Six years ago we got our first dairy cow. She was a Jersey with New Zealand grazing genetics from Virginia. She was disease tested, and bred with mini Jersey semen so she did have a little bit more value than say going to a local farm to buy a lower production Jersey cow.
We spent $3800 on Ladybug.
That was a fortune to us back then, but we viewed her as an investment, and we scrimped and saved to make it work.
One way we saved money on our startup cost was by building her barn out of trees from our property, and reclaimed wood from a house that burned down.
We also spend a few hundred dollars on fencing and basic milking equipment for our cow.
All and all our startup cost for our cow was around $5000.
What will YOUR Cow Startup Costs Be?
You can startup your cow operation for less money.
You can for sure find a cow for less than our first cow. In our area, today, if you want to go buy a dairy cow from a local dairy farm (you avoid shipping costs by buying local) you can expect to spend $1500-$2500 for a cow.
If you’re looking at a local Dairy, maybe she’s a lower production cow, or she’s getting pushed after the feed and the dairy’s looking to sell her because she’s still a good cow, all four quarters are working good, nice milk, disease tested, her feet look good, AND she’s bred back!
What about a barn? You might not be able to find a burnt down house or you might not have the skills to cut trees down and build a barn with them, but you can buy a small three-sided Shed from an Amish Builder, or even build a small temporary shelter LIKE THIS ONE at much less cost.
You don’t have to buy milking equipment at first, if you have a pot that you have on hand you can use coffee filters to filter your milk, cheesecloth or a dish cloth that you already have.
For fencing, you will need a little bit of electric fencing supplies, we started with some electric fencing posts, an energizer and electric twine for about $300.
All and all lets say you figure out how to get a cow on your farm for about $2000.
We are trying to see if you will save money on your weekly dairy bill of $20, so we need to amortize the startup costs of your cow.
A typical family cow can live and milk for 8 years, so we divide $2000/8, and then divide that by 52 (weeks in the year) to get the WEEKLY EXPENSE somewhere around five dollars a week for owning your milk cow.
If we are spending $20 a week on dairy, and startup costs for owning a cow are just $5 a week, we are doing good so far on saving money!
But not so fast, we need to cover the costs of KEEPING her…
The first and probably biggest cost associated with a dairy cow is feed. You have three different things to consider when feeding your cows, you got hay, grain, and minerals.
Where you live will influence how much hay you need. If you have a long growing season and you can stockpile graze, you might not need a lot of hay. Where we are we have about five months out of the year that we have to feed hay.
The size of your cow will also influence how much hay you need to buy. A full-size Dairy girl is going to need about a small square bale hay a day during your non-growing grass period. For us that cost about four dollars a bale.
Four bucks a bale, a bale a day for five months, that’s gonna be about 150 Bales at four dollars that gives you about six hundred dollars for just your one Dairy girl in hay expense.
Your Jersey from the dairy is probably gonna give you about three gallons of milk a day, a gallon and a half in the morning, gallon and a half in the evening. A good grain feeding rule of thumb is three pounds of grain for every gallon of milk, so for your three gallons of milk nine pounds of grain would be needed.
That means nine pounds of grain a day, 340 day lactation, 3060 pounds of grain a year.
We pay $13.75 a bag for a 50lb bag of grain. That’ll be $841 a year on grain. I also supplement with Alfalfa pellets and beet pulp, that is $384 dollars a year, which brings the grain total for the year to $1225 per year.
You can decrease this number, You can get a beef dairy cross who’s going to need less grain to provide milk for you, she’ll provide less milk so instead of feeding nine pounds of grain daily you could feed five pounds of grain daily keeping a close eye on your cow’s condition and making sure you’re feeding her enough for the milk that she’s producing for you.
For example, our Mini Jerseys, I always say they stay fat on air, it’s a problem for them, but we don’t feed them much grain because they don’t need it. They also produce less milk than our Guernsey does, she’s a bigger cow she has to eat more to keep up her milk production and to make sure she doesn’t get too thin. We could never take our Guernsey from the dairy and just feed her grass and hay, she would lose a lot of weight because of her milk production.
There are dairies who will exclusively grass feed their cows, they’re getting genetics from cows who have been bred to just be able to milk on on hay and grass and Alfalfa supplementation. If you want to be able to do that, find a cow who has been bred for that.
You also want to make sure your cows have the minerals they need, we’ve lost pregnancies because they didn’t get the minerals they needed. For an average cow, we go through four bags of minerals. We’re spending $32 for a bag of minerals, that does include some waste if they get wet if they get knocked over, $128 for minerals per year. You can probably get away with less if you’re able to keep your minerals in a barn in a closed area. There are some who say you can get away with two bags of minerals a year, $64 a year for minerals.
So all your feed expenses, a grand total of $1889 for the year for feed, hay, minerals, for your jersey.
Healthcare for Your Cow
To keep your cow healthy and in milk you need to care for a lot of other things..
We’ve shown this on the channel before, every year twice a year our girls get a pedicure.
The hoof man comes to town and he trims their feet, that costs $20/per cow. Twice a year, $40 bucks on foot care.
IF nothing goes wrong you might not need quite so many vet visits, but usually things go wrong and a vet needs to come and check out your cow give them a shot for something, so we factored three vet visits a year for us.
They usually cost about $100 just for the visit plus medication, we’re gonna say about $120 per visit for a total of $360 dollars. Might be more for you, might be less…
You can save money on this, you can do your own vet work, you can get the medications from your vet.
Most vets legally are required to have seen your animals within the last year to give you medication for them so if your farm vet’s been out there you paid your $100 for your farm visit you can call in and say hey can I get a prescription, most Farm vets are pretty accommodating because they understand it’s really expensive. You can give your own shots, you can treat your own hoof issues, you can treat lice, mites, a lot of colds, stomach upset, you can learn to do all this stuff yourself and save yourself some vet visits!
You need to have your cow bred to give you milk. This can be done in a variety of ways, today we’re going to say that you get an A.I. (artificial insemination) and she takes on the first time. We just got the AI Tech here, it was $40 for his visit, we live about an hour and a half away from him, and I used sexed semen which was $40. You can save on that you can get less expensive semen and a tech who lives closer. That’s $80 in a year (if it takes on the first try, I don’t think we’ve ever had the first one take but it can happen…).
You will probably test for pregnancy AND diseases during the course of a year with your cow. It’s not too expensive, also disease testing is a nice thing to do annually if
you would like to give some of your milk to friends and family and you want to feel secure in it or for feeding your own family. We spend about $60 a year for testing.
SO… Do You Save Money with a Family Milk Cow?
It is time to get our weekly cost of keeping a family milk cow totaled up and compare it to what we spend on dairy cows.
Feed yearly expense was $1889, plus $540 in healthcare totals up to $2429 for yearly expenses.
Divide that by 52 weeks, and add the $5 weekly amortized startup costs for your cow, and you get $51.71 as your WEEKLY family cow cost.
That means, if you are an average dairy consumer, spending anything less than $50 a week on dairy, a family milk cow will NOT save you any money on your grocery bull.
Are we alone in this? Are we the only homestead who isn’t saving money with our family milk cow?
We polled over 200 cow owners in our audience.
Our polls showed that about 60% of people who own cows don’t save money with them.
Of the 40% who said they did save money, half of those had to run a business to make the cow profitable.
That means on average, out of the Homesteady community, only 2 out of 10 cow owners save money with a family milk cow without running some kind of business.
You don’t save money on a family milk cow.
Now I know, a lot of you are thinking (and maybe writing in the comments sections…) YOU FORGOT THE MONEY YOU MAKE SELLING CALVES, SELLING MILK, BEEF, Etc.
No. We didn’t. The point of this post was to see if you could save money… period, without running a business, feeding pig, etc, because honestly some people just want a family milk cow and not to run a farm business.
We well know that, with some entrepreneurial spirit and a little hustling, and maybe a few pigs to feed, you can make a cow a profitable animal for your homestead. And we will cover that in the next post in this series.
SO… You STILL WANT A FAMILY MILK COW?
Yeah. We know. They are great. Even if they aren’t a bargain animal.
that will walk you through the entire process of getting your new cow!
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