Determining whether you succeed or fail comes down to doing your homework and research long before you start farming. Being a farmer is not a 9 to 5 job with weekends off. It is 24/7 days a week. If you’re looking at beef cattle, it requires less daily work of feeding during the fall and winter hay, grain, and silage. So let’s start with a checklist of beef farming. First on the list would be “Why” do you want to.

Why could include raising your beef for the freezer knowing the beef was not given any growth hormones, antibiotics, and more. You have to decide for yourself this question. I say that because there are going to be days of scratching your head or pulling your hair wondering what did I get myself into.

Another thing to consider is, do I have the land available to support your animals. What equipment will I need? Are you going to buy your feed or put it up yourself? If you’re going to do it yourself, what equipment will I need to do it? If you own equipment, you will encounter breakdowns. Are you handy enough to fix it yourself or will you need to pay someone else?

Once you have answered the question of why and it’s still a go, we need to think about what equipment we are going to need and where the monies are going to come from to buy your herd and use in the start-up. I advise starting small with less than 10 cows and one bull for breeding. I would also advise buying your feed from other crop farmers in the area to keep costs down. You’re still going to need a tractor and better yet a loader on it. You don’t need anything fancy or new. You can still buy a tractor with a loader on it for less than $7500.00.

I say with a loader on it because feeding round bales is the most cost-effective way to keep your costs down. Last year there was a shortage due to wet haying weather to drive the prices up. Unwrapped dry round bale hay was bringing the costs from $35.00 and up and silage bales over $50.00. This year there is an abundance driving these bales down to around $20.00 and $30.00 respectively. At this price, it’s cheaper to buy than put it up yourself.

Let’s go with a 10 cow herd and 1 bull.

10 Cows @ $500.00 to $1200.00 a head$5000.00 to $12,000.00
1 Bull $750 to 1200.00$750.00 to $1200.00

Feed Round Bales

$25.00 a bale multiply by 2 a day times 7 months with good pasture.
$50.00 a day X 210 days$10,500

If you go with silage bales, the number of bales a day is lower but the bale cost goes up. I also feed 16% pellet grain at about a pound per head per day. The price for that is 18.88 a hundredweight. On 11 head its 11 lbs a day X 360 days a year = 3960 lbs or 39.6 bags of grain or $750.00 in grain

Costs thus far

Cattle $5750.00 to $13,200

Feed $11,250

Tractor $6500

The costs go up if you need to buy land and put up a structure to at least get the cattle out of the weather when it’s really bad out. Real estate is going to be the biggest barrier to starting up. Location, location, location is what dictates the cost per acre. Right now to buy in our area, it’s running at $800.00 to $1000 an acre. It’s cheaper if you can lease land from neighbors to increase the size of the property for your animals to graze.

You are also going to encounter vet bills, vaccinations, deworming, and other costs along the way. You are not going to see a return on your investment for at least 9 months if the cows are open (not bred) when you buy them. Nine months later you will start to see your investment grow each time one of your cows freshen. If you’re going to see them (the calves) as feeders, you’re looking at another 6 to 9 months to have them heavy enough to make anything at the auctions and 3 years to sell them for freezer beef.

Dairy Farming

Dairy farming is a whole other ball game. Dairy farming requires a large investment into a farm, milking equipment, manure systems, and more. For this venture, all the free weekends that you used to are now gone. Milking cows requires you to be there at least twice and some farms milk three times a day. The good thing is that you get a milk check every other week to cover expenses such as loans and day-to-day bills.

When I first got into dairy farming in the early 1980s, there were small farms everywhere and you could support a family with15 to 20 milking cows. You could buy a 100-acre farm for around ten thousand or less. Those same farms today are running 100K or more just for the property without any milking equipment. The farms that stayed in had to get bigger and milk more cows to support the same family. By the time I got out, we were milking 70 cows and that was not covering the bills when milk fell below $9.00 a hundredweight.

Now there are two types of dairy farms, organic and modern. The folks that went organic fetched a higher price per hundredweight and could make a living on 35 to 50 cows, but were limited to where they could buy feed (organic) and the limits of what modern farms use in regards to fertilizer and chemicals. The modern either sold out or went to these 200 plus cow dairies. On my road we had 10 plus dairy farms at one time, now there is just one. Supercow dairies started up milking 1500 cows and more and some over 5000 cow dairy are now in our county. All the small farms were bought or leased to these big farms to gain more tillable acres to feed those animals.

The other thing to consider since Covid came into play is quotas. Fewer dairy products were being utilized with schools, restaurants, and other businesses that consumed these products came to a grinding halt. Milk plants had to come up with a way to limit producers ( Farmers) from overproducing and something fair to all of them. Quotas limited each farm of how much milk they could ship at any time. The only way right now to get into the dairy industry milking cows is to either buy a running dairy farm with its quota intact or buy a quota from someone selling out.

You can still get into this industry, but you need to be willing to give up a lot and be up to the challenge of a lifestyle change. You are now married to the farm and cows. What is a day off or even what is a vacation goes out the window. At least with the beef farm, you can get someone to feed them during the fall and winter and someone to grain and keep track of them during the summer when they are on good pastures.