The number of cows needed to earn a livelihood as a farmer varies greatly based on the location of the farm, the kind of cattle raised, labor and other expenditures, and the price of beef and milk, which fluctuates year to year.
In this post, we’ll look at statistics from both dairy and beef farms to see how many cows it takes to make a livelihood as a farmer full-time.
The number of cattle a farmer needs to earn a full time livelihood varies so much that it’s not feasible to offer a solid answer, but we can come up with a ballpark estimate by looking at anecdotal evidence and the data we have on average farm size.
Let’s look at the numbers and make a prediction for beef and dairy cattle:
With a total gross yearly income of over 66 billion dollars, beef is the single biggest component of the agricultural business in the United States.
According to a study published by the United States Department of Agriculture in 2020, the average size of a beef herd was 43 cows, while beef herds of 50 cows or less were more likely to be utilized for supplemental income.
Based on this information, we can estimate that farmers will need at least 50 beef cattle to earn a full-time living solely from beef production.
Dairy herds are often more lucrative than beef herds, although the initial investment is higher owing to the more costly milking machinery necessary, as well as the longer and more convoluted supply networks.
Despite the high initial expenditures, it is critical for the farmer to make milking as pleasant as possible for his cows in order to optimize productivity and keep them happy.
Even in nations like Ireland, which is famed for its high-quality beef exports, studies reveal that dairy farmers make seven times more than beef producers.
Farmers with as little as 100 acres of land and 60-70 dairy cows may earn a fair life, according to farmer Locran McCabe in an interview with Agriland magazine.
Similarly, in a paper on the economics of dairy farming published by the University of Iowa, it was shown that a two-person farming team could easily become billionaires with just an 80 cow dairy herd.
Although there is a definite tendency toward bigger and larger herds in both beef and dairy production, some farmers are defying the trend and making money with small herds of just a few animals.
These so-called “micro dairies” are cropping up all across the US, offering locally sourced artisanal dairy products.
Vermont farmer Bob Whyte, for example, has just four cows on his micro dairy.
Of course, a micro dairy has a lower earning cap than a mega milk farm, and making a full-time income from such a tiny herd requires some ingenuity.
In the preceding case, Bob Whyte supplemented his revenue by assisting other micro dairies in locating pasteurizing equipment.
According to this reasoning, 100 cows would generate a net profit of almost $34,000 each year. A net profit of around $68,000 per year would be generated by 200 cows selling 200 calves every year.
The average calf income per cow is $608 based on these estimates and adjusted for the weaning rate.
Just 15 years ago, such prices were roughly $400 per cow. Producer expenses, on the other hand, have risen substantially in recent years, averaging approximately $900 per head per year. In the last 15 years, this is a 225 percent gain, or about 5.6 percent each year.
At first look, cattle prices in 2022 seem to be higher than those in 2021. At $140, slaughter steer prices are 17.5 percent above 2021 prices, but even with higher prices, farmers and ranchers will walk a hard path to profitability, paved with inflation and increased input costs in 2022.
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