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I'm trying to track down a thread on annual cow/calf costs <$100/hd. I stumbled upon it once, but didn't care to mark it at the time. I'm in Georgia am just getting started, and would like to start with the best practices.
Or if anyone cares to share their personal experience, that would be appreciated as well.
Joined: Apr 16, 2013
Location: 6200' westen slope of colorado, zone 6
truly there are too many variables to nail down an exact number, but here are some cost consierations based on my experience with a small herd of cattle-
first, I hope you have about 2 acres of excellent quality mixed grass and legume pasture that you can rotationally graze. if you do, and do a good job of rotating, this should provide all your feed needs from March to November in Georgia.
second, you will need 1 full bale of hay per day, top quality alfalfa or clover, during the winter months. dont try to skimp here, either on quantity or quality. figure 100 bales to give you a little margin of error. cost would depend on your region, likely $5-8 per bale.
third, basic nutritional supplements, at a bare minimum kelp and mineral salt. figure one block of salt and 20 lbs kelp. the kelp is the best health insurance you can possibly buy. $15 salt block plus $35 for the kelp.
forth, breeding the cow. AI is challenging with one cow unless you are good at identifying a cow in standing heat. Borrowing a bull is never as easy as it sounds, and adds definite feed and fencing costs. AI around here is $25 per try.
fifth, all the misc costs, such as vet care if needed, electric fencing upkeep, etc. This can be nearly zero if you are good, or better yet, if you are lucky.
so in total I would figure the cost of keeping a pasture-based cow/calf pair to be somewhere around $800 per year. Hopefully you are milking the cow, which should yield you around 600 gallons of milk in a low-intensivity grass based dairy setup. The calf will be harverstable at 1 year of age, and should yield about 200 pounds of table meat at harvest. Raising cows is awesome, satisfying, and enriching. But it is not cheap, and things can definitely get expensive in a hurry. In the end, if things go well, $800 for 600 gallons of milk and 200 pounds of meat is great value for the homesteader.
hope that helps, feel free to ask any additional questions you may have. having a cow is the best thing a small farm can possibly do in my experience.
We're getting hay from a neighbor for $3 a bale. Right now the ads are starting too where you can buy hay from the field for $2/bale - you drive around their field and pick up the bales you want to buy to save the farmer the work of hauling and stacking it all. Unless it's a dairy cow you don't need high quality alfalfa or clover hay unless you're milking her. Even if you'll milk her, just plan to milk her during the time of year that the grass is good and dry her off during the winter/early spring when there's less to eat. If you want to raise a beef cow a year for meat you can use plain old grass hay, tho I'd stay away from anything moldy or rotting.
Breed makes a difference, too. Highlands will eat brush almost like a goat and can be more adaptable, pasture-wise, and if you get the small type they're less to feed but will still keep you in freezer beef because there's less waste on their carasses (thick hair means less body fat under the skin that gets discarded). Dexters are nice dual-purpose cattle that you can milk and they're really beefy. They're also on the small side (Dexter bulls are often bred to other breeds to create minis), so they get by on less pasture.
Fencing is a big expense, if you don't already have it. And you'll need a place to keep the hay, so a barn is nice, tho you can try to make do with stacking it on pallets and covering it with tarps (a few wind-and-sleet storms will make you glad for a barn tho). You'll need a water source. It cost me $5000 to have a pond dug and plumbed to a stock water tank with a float valve so the pond keeps the tank filled. After a couple "boil water" advisories, tho, I'd rather my cows drink safe water! The pond is considered a property improvement that will hold its value in the resale value of the farm, tho, so it's kind of like a "free" pond if you include the added value to the property, plus now we can raise fish to eat.
If you don't go cheap on the salt/minerals, they add up to a bit, my 8 cattle go through a bag of stock minerals in about a month, and they're $15/bag to get the kind with copper, selenium, etc. that they need for good health. The bricks are cheaper, at $5/50lbs but I don't think they have the same quality of minerals. I use both because I don't put out loose salt in rainstorms, and we get them almost daily lately.
It's easier to take your cow to the bull than bring a bull to your farm, if you can find someone who doesn't mind letting you do that. It helps to have a kid in 4H and let the cow be "theirs" because people are *really* nice to 4H kids!
Joined: Apr 16, 2013
Location: 6200' westen slope of colorado, zone 6
I have found that 'expensive' hay, that is alfalfa or clover based hay, is in fact the economical way to go. If you look at a quality text on animal feeding, such as Morrison's Feed and Feeding, alfalfa is worth fully 50% more per pound in energetic value for a cow than grass. Additionally, alfalfa is extrordinarily high in trace mineral. Think of it as the 'superfood' of grazing. Feeding alfalfa over the winter will saturate your cows' bodies with all the critical minerals. This way, the animals can better cope with the base mineral content of your pastures during the grazing season. You will also save on bags of unnatural mineral supplements that are often full of other, undesirable ingredients. Feeding top quality alfalfa will really show in the fertility of your animals, so that they breed back reliably and produce healthy calves. Improving the mineral content of your pastures is a slow process, whereas feeding alfalfa as opposed to standard grass 'cow hay' produces immediate results in your animals' yearly diet. Additionally, the manure produced by cows fed alfalfa will make much more mineralized compost, which then serves to improve your pastures in time.
For me, feeding alfalfa hay through the winter is an indespensible component of maintaining a healthy pasture based herd. My cows get fat and sleek over the winter, rather than just getting by. This health then propells them through the grazing season, producing more milk and meat in a way that is most economical in the long run.
Small breeds are cheaper to raise, yes. But they are less economical from a labor standpoint. If you are going to the work of milking a cow, or butchering a bull, the labor is about the same for a Dexter or a Brown Swiss. The difference is twice the milk or twice the meat.
Another small consideration is that castration is totally counterproductive if you wish to butcher animals between 12-18 months of age. An intact bull will gain better than a steer, and butchered at a young age, the meat quality is indistinguishable. From a biodynamic standpoint, there is something much more vital and powerful about the meat from a bull than a steer as well. I will never castrate an animal again, unless I was going to raise an ox. (and somebody please remind me of just what a poor idea that is for a small farm next time I am thinking to give it a go. The horse, famous for a reason...)
hope this is helpful-
Joined: Jan 10, 2013
Location: zone 6b
Alfalfa now may be GMO, just FYI. Helps to know your farmer, tho.
I saw this in the paper about a month ago ( The Farmers Journal, its Irish) and it said from spreading their manure to the fodder they eat, and vet bills, and numerous others its about €750 per year, per cow in calf.