Budget for Dairy Cow

What is this going to cost?

Prices updated 10/2019


  • A milking cow will eat around 2/3 to 1 ton of hay total per month.
  • Alfalfa runs approximately $175-300/ton for 100% pure. Having your hay tested is the most reliable method of making sure you are getting what you are paying for! Shipping costs may raise the price.
  • Orchard grass, timothy, etc. should cost less than alfalfa and really depends on where you live as to what will be available and how much it will cost. A fair price is $150-200/ton.
  • If you can find alfalfa/grass mix hay close to 50/50, this is an excellent feed to give to cows, calves, or beef animals and can help cut down on grain costs. Helps add variety to the cow’s diet so she is always happy and excited about her food.


  • By the ton is cheaper (about $300/ton for conventional feed; $700/ton for organic; possibly less if you grind your own.)
  • By the bag, conventional, about $12-19 for 50 pounds. (about $600/ton for conventional feed; $1,000/ton for organic)
  • Calves can be on “no grain” IF they are being fed fresh whole milk. We highly recommend feeding a calf fresh raw milk from the (healthy) mother, there’s nothing better or simpler!
  • Calves fed conventional limited milk or replacer diets need to work up to around 4-10 pounds of grain per day.
  • Milking cows average 12 pounds of grain while milking, none or very little while dry. You can calculate the needs of your cow by multiplying 1 pound of grain per 3 pounds of milk being produced. Then adjust higher or lower according to body condition, weather, and quality of roughage. (For example, we feed very high quality hay, so our cows do well on only 1 pound of grain per milking, aka 2 pounds of grain per day.)
  • Minerals – A bag of minerals is very expensive, around $1/pound (maybe closer to $2/lb for organic). Feed free choice and they will last a long time per cow. Very helpful if your cow is not out on pasture most of the year. Can supplement any feeding program. Especially important if not feeding a grain that includes a mineral package.
  • Salt – Also necessary free choice in LOOSE form, but fairly inexpensive ($4-8 per 50# bag, though Redmond natural type salt with selenium is more – $15-18). We pay a little more for the selenium salt, as our area is deficient.


  • Straw – Usually one of the easiest cost-effective forms of bedding. Prices are around $2-4/bale (higher at stores, possibly $8-12/bale). Usage depends on how your stalls are built. Freestalls would use a lot less bedding daily than box stalls, for example. (FREESTALLS can take your bedding budget from excruciatingly high to pleasantly minimal!) Straw is important because a cow is very heavy and straw adds a springy foundation for her to lie on. Average about ½ bale per day.
  • Shavings – Where we live, they’re free if we load and haul them. Some mills charge $10-40 per load. Always look for actual shavings rather than “sawdust” if possible. Shavings are important to help cut down on moisture in the bedding. A combination “pack” of shavings and straw is ideal soft bedding for a cow, if you live in a location where shavings are available.
  • Sand – If you have the facilities for sand, this provides a very clean and soft bedding that does not produce bacterial growth like other bedding can. Most large producers shy away from sand unless their manure handling can tolerate sand. On a small farm, it would work well. (We did sand on the bottom topped with some straw on top.
  • Compost – Composted bedding material is being used on large dairies…probably not feasible for most small farms.
  • On the bare ground – Only advised in summer when the cows are out on pasture. It may seem ok for winter too, but it’s only the cheapest/easiest option until your cow gets mastitis and arthritis…plus the constant cleaning due to the cows laying in their own mess. Prevention is better than trying to cure, right?


  • First, make sure you SHOP AROUND!
  • Teat Wipes (disposable or cloth. We wash and reuse cotton wash cloths from Wal Mart $3 for 18)
  • Teat Dips (iodine, chlorhexidine, peroxide ranging from $7-30/gallon. One gallon should last one cow up to a full lactation.)
  • Teat Dip Cups (RJB Non-Return TopDipper is my favorite. Try the foaming kind to reduce usage of dip. $8.70 ENasco, a hint: Use different colors for pre and post dipping.)
  • Soaps (for washing up, use heavy-duty, chlorinated, alkaline powder detergent for thorough cleaning of milk fats and proteins. Prices vary – The one we use is $70-ish for 5 gallons of powder, that’s lasted us several years.
  • Acid sanitizer – Chemical options available by the gallon ($20-30-ish) (We use our own homemade Apple Cider Vinegar, which is free and safe!)
  • Ointments (For dry teats in summer sun or winter cold) Only if necessary, use food safe options (I use homemade salves).
  • Strainer, filters (Disposable filters are the most sanitary. Tuffy Non-Gauze Disks work great. $5-8/box of 100 Small strainers can be bought for $45.) Or if your milk is super clean, you can consider skipping this step and avoid one more potential contamination.
  • Bottling materials (gallon glass jars are common. Try www.azurestandard.com or stores that offer canning supplies or bulk foods. $7/ea. per gallon. Used, look for companies that use gallon jars (ie. Honey) and see if they recycle their jars. I once bought 50 jars at $2 ea. And they were pretty much brand new! Half gallon jars are great, too! Our feed stores sell them for around $10 for 6-count half-gallon Ball mason jars.)
  • Hand milking bucket $20-165 new, stainless. Only if you are choosing hand milking and not bucket milking. Buy or make a stool if you hand milk.
  • Machine (Surge, DeLaval, etc. Recommended Stainless bucket ONLY. Plastic will crack. New: $650+ ship. Used they price around $150-300.)
  • Milk Pump New prices are $500-1500. Used… start looking now, there are some great deals out there! Or, build your own if you know how. I have seen some excellent homemade pumps, using old Surge or DeLaval pumps.
  • Air and milk lines (Replace yearly, about $2-3/foot. I used about 15 ft. air line and no milk line (for a Surge Belly milker). A stand alone bucket would use a few feet of milk line. Clear is preferred so you can see the milk coming out, but is more expensive.)
  • Inflations (change yearly. $10-20 for a set of 4, Silicone cost more)
  • Pulsator Rebuild Kits (If necessary when you purchase a used unit. They will last for years on one kit. $10-15, DIY)
  • Brushes (Cows love to be clean, brush at least before every milking. Curry comb + soft bristle are only a few dollars each and last indefinitely, or until you lose them.)
  • Hanging scale to weigh milk, optional but encouraged, prices vary ($20+)


  • A Barn, electricity, clean water supply, milking area
  • Watering Trough (from free up to $300 depending on size. If you live where it freezes, get a water heater ($20-40) to put in seasonally.)
  • Medical Supplies (See “Medicine Box” for more information about medicines)


  • A.I. Breeding, $10-25/unit for semen, $55 for sexed semen, $35-50+ for specialty breeds (plus $125-150 shipping for specialty). AI Tech rates vary due to mileage and individuals – a guesstimate is $40-100 per visit.
  • D.H.I.A. For small homesteads, I now recommend using DHIA on an as-needed basis. Our lab charges $1 per sample.
  • Milk Samples, Testing for Somatic Cell (SCC) or bacteria in potential mastitis cases. $4 or more per sample.
  • Blood samples, Testing for Johnes, BLV, Brucellosis, TB, etc. $8 or more per test, varies by best and lab.

So, where do I buy all this?

Hay: Start with your state hay grower’s association. They put out a directory every year with contact information and details about what the farmers offer. You can also check your local paper under farm or hay listings. Then check online on Craigslist and cow forums. Buying from feed stores will be your most expensive route, usually only for emergencies.

Grain: Your local feed store will very likely offer at least a Dairy 16 feed (16.5% protein has been found to be the most ideal amount for dairy cows, so most feeds will come at that level for dairy.) You can also find minerals here. Plus, check and you might be surprised that they offer certain milking supplies or medical supplies. My local feed store offers mastitis tubes, dextrose, electrolytes, etc.

Bedding: First, look to your hay growers and try to buy in bulk. Feed stores offer straw and shavings, but you will likely pay a premium.

Milking Supplies: Unless you live in a high density dairy area, your best bet is to look online. Save on shipping and try to buy as much as you can from one store. Here are some of the stores we know about (and new ones pop up each day, so share with us if you know of good stores for dairy supplies!):

Medical Supplies: From your vet, feed store, or online store (such as Jeffers)

DHIA: Call National DHIA at 608-848-6455 to see if they can help you find the closest DHIA. Or look up the number for your state’s DHIA online. Or, ask a local dairy farmer who they go through, because it may go under a different name.

A.I. Services: See “Breeding your cow using AI” for information on companies. You can call the companies to see who your closest representative is. They can get you in contact with AI technicians. Or again, ask local dairy farmers who they use and recommend.


Where does my money go?

Based on one functioning 100 cow dairy, a more commercial perspective on what dairying costs:

Next time you grab a gallon of milk off the shelf, you might want to take a moment to think about the effort and cost that it took to produce the milk.

  1. Feeding the cows:
  • Hay ($5500/month: grass, oat, and alfalfa)
  • Silage (Silo construction $30,000, water and inoculants added to grass $500)
  • Grain ($6000 per month to feed around 100 milk cows)
  • Beet Pulp ($160/ton)
  • Minerals & Salt (salt blocks $15 each (x8/month) and mineral bags $20 each (20 bags/month))
  • Water ($120+ maintenance, troughs, hoses and pipes)
  1. Power ($600/month)
  2. Farm supplies ($500/month)

Fly spray/powder and traps, cleaning supplies, udder ointments, teat dip, inflations, filters, towels etc.

  1. Shelter:
  • Barn(s) ($220,000)
  • Free stalls ($50 each)
  • Bedding ($600/month)
  • Fans
  • Hay storage
  1. Milk Equipment: ($45,000)
  • Holding Pen
  • Parlor (concrete, herringbone design stalls, grain bins, doors and gates, drains)
  • Milk House (Cooling tank, pipes from parlor to tank, agitator, monitoring equipment, cleaning materials, concrete floor and walls, screened windows, stainless steel double sink, hand washing sink, hot water tank)
  • Washer and Dryer (to clean towels and clothing) ($900)
  • Employee Bathroom
  1. Calf & Heifer care:
  • Domes for housing heifer calves ($180 each)
  • Medicine for treating scours, ringworm, etc. ($200/month)
  • Bottles and Nipples
  • Milk and minerals (2/3 gallon of milk/day each)
  • Hot Water
  • Tagging, Tattooing, and Dehorning Equipment ($160)
  • Grain for young calves ($445/ton/month)
  • Hay and water
  1. Farm Equipment:
  • Tractor (for gathering hay, cleaning aisles in barn, etc.) ($30,000)
  • Baling and Silage-gathering Equipment (Initial implement costs, gas and labor) (Custom hire silo filling $15,000, Round Baling & Wrapping 300 ton $6000)
  • Hauling Manure (Hired /out: $6,000/year for liquid, $2,500/year solids)
  1. Veterinary, Aged Cow, and Medical-Related Costs:
  • Some dairy cows become stressed after calving because of the immense changes that occur through birthing, swelling, and beginning to milk again. These cows require boluses (pills) and IV treatments to help them from becoming weak. ($)
  • When an older cow dies, they are taken away ($85-100)
  • Some cows experience prolapsed uteruses ($120 each), displaced stomach ($180 each), compactions ($120), general wounds ($75 if done by vet)
  • Preventative: Deworming pills, antibiotics, indigestion, magnets (varies)
  • Hoof Trimming ($1200/year to maintain those that need it)
  • Foot Bath ($400/year)
  • Artificial Insemination, flushing, or natural breeding costs:
    • Semen (150 breedings (cows/heifers) or $3,500)
    • Insemination equipment (free)
    • Flushing equipment (for ET calves) ($150 setup, $100 per egg implanted)
    • Housing and feeding a bull (in general feed costs and additional repairs if he’s aggressive)


  • Taxes ($5600/year)
  • Insurance ($3000/year)
  • Additional Labor ($0-$2000/month)
  • Feeding the farmer ($300/month)
  • Health Insurance: ($1000/month)
  • Propane ($2400)
  • Mortgage, Personal Spending, Upkeep, Shows, etc. (varies)

4 thoughts on “Budget for Dairy Cow

    1. Sorry, there’s no way for me to accurately give you the answer that would apply to your situation. You can research primarily the local dairy-quality hay costs in your area and the grain costs to give you an idea of how comparable they might be to the list I gave. For example, where I live now, hay is $160/ton on average for very good quality hay, whereas in Maryland, we paid an additional $100 per ton for equivalent hay, due to scarcity. For grain, we paid $12-20 per 50# bag, but now we grind our own grain so it’s $7.50/50# – as you can see, prices can vary a LOT by situation. I’ll also caution that pasture makes a huge difference in cost – if you can feed cows on pasture for 4-6 month per year, that is a significant savings!!


  1. Moriya

    Holy smokes! Didn’t realize there was so much involved!!!
    We are looking into what it takes for a small homestead and found your site. Wondering for one or two cows what your approximation is for start up and maintenance costs? (I’m terrible at math)


    1. That’s a difficult question to answer. You can do a lot of things on a budget – like searching for a used milking machine and buying a weaned heifer to raise instead of a milking cow. Other things you don’t want to skimp on – you’ll succeed if you buy a quality animal and feed her really good feed. You may be able to find a heifer for $500, she’d need a few tons of hay her first year – another $500, a bag of mineral and a bag of salt – $50, water trough and hoses – $100 – $1,150 initial investment plus housing and bedding (which you may be able to put together free or cheap). AI breeding $50-100. Milking equipment – varies. So for two years, you’ll be invested over $2,000. Then you hope she has a heifer calf you can sell or raise as your next cow to help “recoup” that cost, plus her milk for 10 months, potentially you could pay that initial amount back in year three.


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