Producers do the math to start from scratch

Apr 11, 2024

Starting from scratch in the livestock business can be challenging, especially without any family help.

But many farmers have been able to make it work on their own.

“If you can find a mentor or someone to partner with, that is going to make it much easier,” says Julie Walker, Extension beef specialist with South Dakota State University. “If you're a young person and you don't have someone to help you out, finding a partner will be very beneficial.”

Walker says it's important to run the numbers before you start purchasing any livestock. For example, a cull cow will likely cost in the $2,000 range, while a heifer may cost anywhere from $2,500 to $3,000.

“In South Dakota, cash rent in the eastern part of the state for pasture is $70 per acre per month and you need 20 acres for a cow-calf pair,” she says. “So rent from May through September and October is going to be roughly $420, and if you're lucky you'll find some corn stalks to graze.”

Walker says a 1,500 pound cow will need 50 pounds of hay per day over about six months. She says expenses are substantial for just one animal, making it smart to start small.

“Will a good calf bring that?” Walker says. “Yes, right now it will, but it doesn't always work that way. That's why finding a partner might be the way to go.”

Walker says young producers looking to get into the seedstock business should look into partnering with a more established producer.

“Start smaller because you're still selecting genetics and your input costs will be higher,” she says. “With A.I. you may not need to pay for a bull, so that will help you keep expenses down.”

Many states have programs available to beginning farmers, and that includes those getting into the livestock business, says Tammy Nebola, ag development program specialist with the Iowa Finance Authority.

She says since the beginning farmer program started in 1980, nearly 4,600 loans have been approved totaling nearly $67 million. That covers 427,000 acres in Iowa enrolled in a beginning farmer program.

“We see 50 to 100 applications every year and we would like to see more because we have an excess capacity when it comes to funding,” Nebola says. “Last year, we had upwards of $80 million available, and we loaned around $25 million, and that was one of our most active years that we've ever had.”

There are three different programs from which farmers can choose — the Beginning Farmer Loan Program, the Loan Participation Program and the Beginning Farmer Tax Credit Program. Complete information on each program may be found online at

Click here to see more...