This week we take a look at the costings of keeping a cow on a typical Scottish farm.

For this example, we look at an upland mainly grass farm which buys in the bulk of its straw and concentrates.

Typically these farms will have 93 calves born per 100 cows in-calf, with a rearing rate of around 85 calves.

The cows calve in February to April before weaning 220 days later in October.

The cows are housed for 180 days eating 5.4t of silage, 100kg of concentrates and using 1.25t of straw each. This puts the winter feed bill at £43 for silage, £25 for concentrates and £125 for straw, which adds up to £193/cow.

The silage is based on one cut of 23t/ha. This cost £185/ha to produce, which included 200kg of nitrogen fertiliser per hectare.

Summer grazing is costed at £149/ha, which includes 125kg of nitrogen (N) per hectare. The cows are stocked at two cows with a calf to the hectare, giving a cost of £74.50/head. Other livestock costs such as commission, haulage, tags and levies cost around £47/cow and vet costs are £37/cow.

With a bull to every 35 cows it will cost £29/cow for bulling based on a continental bull costing £5,200 and selling cull at four years for £1,125/head. Replacements bought in-calf at £1,500 and a cull cow value of £900 makes an annual cost of £85/cow. This gives a total variable cost of keeping the cow in a Scottish upland farm of £465.50/cow.

Note that variable costs do not include fixed overheads, labour and borrowings.

This may appear cheap, but output is also low on farms like this. So much input has to be hauled into the farm, which makes overwintering livestock expensive. Normally, many upland Scottish farms will sell calves shortly after weaning to avoid wintering costs, with steers weighing 290kg and heifers 260kg.

Last autumn, prices were around £2.35/kg liveweight which will put the steers at £667/head and heifers at £589/head.

In addition to this, the farmer would expect a headage payment through the beef calf scheme of £90/calf. Selling 0.85 calves per cow leaves a gross margin of £160.30/cow before fixed costs and area payment subsides.

Low ground system

A higher margin can be left on a low ground farm with a mainly straw diet overwinter. This herd has dairy-cross cows, which go to a continental bull. Again, these cows are calving from February to April, with weaning in October. The winter period of the cows is 190 days eating 1.5t of straw and 1.5t of silage alongside 500kg of concentrates.

There will also be 0.75t of straw per cow for bedding, which is less than the upland cows due to the drier diet. The homegrown straw is costed at £65/t, giving a price per cow of £98.25. Silage is costing similar to the upland farm per ton, giving a cost per cow of £12.

Homegrown barley at a cost of £175/t for concentrates gives a cost of £88/cow. Summer grazing with 175kg of N/ha costs £66/cow. Keeping the vet, bull, replacements and other livestock costs the same leaves a variable cost of £378.25/cow.


The calves will be sold as 14-month-old stores after 100 days in the shed. They will be fed a mixed diet of 5kg/day concentrate with bought-in protein at £185/t and 20kg/day of silage giving a winter feed cost of £100.50/head. There is also a vet cost of £20/head plus haulage of £10/head.

At sale in February, the stores should average 400kg in the ring at £2.40/kg, giving a price of £926.40/head after commission. With the £92/head calf payment and selling 0.85 caves per cow, it gives a gross margin per cow of £499.19/cow.

Producing your own straw and barley cut the cost of keeping cows over winter on a housed system.

It is important to note that these costs exclude all fixed costs such as wages, borrowings, equipment and rent. Looking at the QMS Scottish farm costings for an upland farm, the fixed costs are £472.93.

For a lowland farm, typical fixed costs are £352.61/head. These overheads are outlined in Table 1.

The upland figure is based on 31 farms with an average herd size of 105 cows and a 17 low ground farms with a herd size of 79 cows. The figures also assume 10 hours of unpaid family labour per cow.

After fixed costs this means the upland cow is losing £267.63/head and the lowland cow is making £146.58/head profit.

It is important to note that the upland farm is likely to have significantly more directly payments, at €240/ha for ploughable ground and €35/ha for rough grazing plus a Less Favoured Areas payment. On a 300ha upland farm, this could be worth £46,000 plus sheep are also likely to be part of the enterprise.