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How to Start a Cattle Farm
Many people find the idea of farm life alluring – wide open spaces and a slower pace, quality time with animals, and hard work that ultimately produces good food. Cattle farming is a massive and essential US industry; the beef and dairy farm markets are worth about $120 billion and experiencing steady growth.
You could start your own cattle farm and help people get the food that they need while making good money. It will require hard work and a sizable investment, but there are many government programs available to help farmers get started.
You’ll also need to learn some serious business skills. Luckily, this step-by-step guide has you covered, with all the entrepreneurial insight you need to launch a successful cattle farm.
$296,550 - $959,100
Time to build
6 -12 months
$208,000 - $520,000 p.a.
$62,400 - $156,000 p.a.
Step 1: Decide if the Business Is Right for You
Pros and cons
Starting a cattle farm has pros and cons to consider before deciding if it’s right for you.
- Rewarding – Provide essential foods
- High Demand – Most Americans consume beef and dairy products
- Pleasant Lifestyle – Slow down with life on the farm
- High Startup Costs – Starting a cattle farm from scratch takes $$$
- Hard Labor – Farm work is not an office job!
Cattle farm industry trends
Industry size and growth
- Industry size and past growth – The U.S. beef cattle production industry is worth $78.4 billion in 2022 after expanding 0.6% annually the last five years.https://www.ibisworld.com/industry-statistics/market-size/beef-cattle-production-united-states/
- Growth forecast – The U.S. beef cattle production industry is projected to grow 4.6% in 2022.
- Number of businesses – In 2022, 813,466 beef cattle production businesses are operating in the U.S.https://www.ibisworld.com/industry-statistics/number-of-businesses/beef-cattle-production-united-states/#:~:text=There%20are%20813%2C466%20Beef%20Cattle,increase%20of%201%25%20from%202021.
- Number of people employed – in 2022, the U.S. beef cattle production industry employs 898,530 people.https://www.ibisworld.com/industry-statistics/employment/beef-cattle-production-united-states/#:~:text=There%20are%20898%2C530%20people%20employed,the%20US%20as%20of%202022.
Trends and challenges
Trends in the cattle farm industry include:
- Greater understanding of cows’ nutritional needs is producing better feeds, which in turn means better yields.
- Technology is increasingly used in farming, including robotics for feeding and even herder bots. Drones are also being used to track and monitor herds.
Challenges in the cattle farm industry include:
- Cattle prices are extremely volatile and income can be unpredictable.
- Millennials are seeking sustainably-produced foods, which is putting pressure on cattle farms to avoid antibiotic use and growth promoters.
- Average consumer spend – The average consumer in the U.S. spends over $9 on beef per trip to the grocery store. … Continue reading
- Potential customer base – 89% of people in the U.S. consume meat.https://www.ipsos.com/en-us/news-polls/nearly-nine-ten-americans-consume-meat-part-their-diet
- Average prices – Beef prices range from $4 to $9 per pound.https://www.bls.gov/regions/mid-atlantic/data/averageretailfoodandenergyprices_usandmidwest_table.htm
- Most popular states – The most popular states for farmers are Pennsylvania, New York, and Ohio.https://www.zippia.com/farmer-jobs/best-states/
- Least popular states – The least popular states for farmers are Louisiana, Wyoming, and Idaho.
What kind of people work in cattle farms?
- Gender – 26.4% of farmers are female, while 73.6% are male.https://www.zippia.com/farmer-jobs/demographics/
- Average level of education – The average farmer has a bachelor’s degree.
- Average age – The average farmer in the US is 48.6 years old.
How much does it cost to start a cattle farm?
Startup costs for a cattle farm range from $300,000 to $1 million. Costs include the land, land preparation, equipment, starter cattle, and an initial operating budget.
To learn cattle farming, you can get an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in agriculture. You can also get an online agribusiness degree from established institutions like Penn State. Another option is to work as an intern or volunteer for a local cattle farmer to learn the business.
You’ll need a handful of items to successfully launch your cattle farm business, including:
- Watering system
- Cattle health care equipment
- Cattle handling equipment
- Cattle trailers
How much can you earn from a cattle farm business?
You should be able to bring in $2,000 per cow once they’ve reached full maturity. It will take a year or two to get your calves to that point, so you won’t see a profit for at least 12 months. Your profit margin after all expenses should be about 30%.
In your first year or two after cows reach their ideal weight, you could sell two cows per week, bringing in $208,000 in annual revenue. This would mean $62,000 in profit, assuming that 30% margin. As your herd grows, sales could climb to five cows per week. With annual revenue of $520,000, you’d make a healthy profit of $156,000.
What barriers to entry are there?
There are a few barriers to entry for a cattle farm. Your biggest challenges will be:
- The high startup costs of starting a farm from scratch
- Learning the skills necessary to succeed
Step 2: Hone Your Idea
Now that you know what’s involved in starting a cattle farm, it’s a good idea to hone your concept in preparation to enter a competitive market.
Why? Identify an opportunity
Research cattle farms in your area to examine their products/services, price points, and customer reviews. You’re looking for a market gap to fill. For instance, maybe the local market is missing an organic dairy farm or a sustainable, grass-fed beef farm.
You might consider targeting a niche market by specializing in a certain aspect of your industry, such as black Angus cows or longhorn cows, or fully organic and chemical-free beef and dairy. This could jumpstart your word-of-mouth marketing and attract clients right away.
What? Determine your products or services
You’ll just need to decide what types of cattle you want to raise. You could raise dairy cows, or you can raise cows for beef. You could raise them with chemicals and growth hormones or go fully organic and sustainable. You could also raise other livestock like chickens and pigs for additional revenue.
How much should you charge for cattle?
Prices for cows are very volatile, so it will depend on the market at any given time. Cows are sold by their total weight. They are currently being sold for about $130 per 100 pounds. You should aim for a profit margin after operating expenses of about 30%.
Once you know your costs, you can use this Step By Step profit margin calculator to determine your mark-up and final price points. Remember, the prices you use at launch should be subject to change if warranted by the market.
Who? Identify your target market
Your target market will be food production companies, butchers, grocery stores, and restaurants. You can find those business owners and connect with them on LinkedIn, but your best bet is to find them on Google or Yelp and call them directly.
Step 3: Brainstorm a Business Name
Your business name is your business identity, so choose one that encapsulates your objectives, services, and mission in just a few words. You probably want a name that’s short and easy to remember, since much of your business, and your initial business in particular, will come from word-of-mouth referrals.
Here are some ideas for brainstorming your business name:
- Short, unique, and catchy names tend to stand out
- Names that are easy to say and spell tend to do better
- Name should be relevant to your product or service offerings
- Ask around — family, friends, colleagues, social media — for suggestions
- Including keywords, such as “cattle farm” or “Grade-A beef”, boosts SEO
- Name should allow for expansion, for ex: “Jim’s Bakery” over “Jim’s Cookies”
- Avoid location-based names that might hinder future expansion
- Use online tools like the Step by Step Business Name Generator. Just type in a few keywords and hit “generate” and you’ll have dozens of suggestions at your fingertips.
Once you’ve got a list of potential names, visit the website of the US Patent and Trademark Office to make sure they are available for registration and check the availability of related domain names using our Domain Name Search tool. Using “.com” or “.org” sharply increases credibility, so it’s best to focus on these.
Finally, make your choice among the names that pass this screening and go ahead with domain registration and social media account creation. Your business name is one of the key differentiators that sets your business apart. Once you pick your company name, and start with the branding, it is hard to change the business name. Therefore, it’s important to carefully consider your choice before you start a business entity.
Step 4: Create a Business Plan
Every business needs a plan. This will function as a guidebook to take your startup through the launch process and maintain focus on your key goals. A business plan also enables potential partners and investors to better understand your company and its vision:
- Executive Summary: Brief overview of the entire business plan; should be written after the plan is complete.
- Business Overview: Overview of the company, vision, mission, ownership, and corporate goals.
- Product and Services: Describe your offerings in detail.
- Market Analysis: Assess market trends such as variations in demand and prospects for growth, and do a SWOT analysis.
- Competitive Analysis: Analyze main competitors, assessing their strengths and weaknesses, and create a list of the advantages of your services.
- Sales and Marketing: Examine your companies’ unique selling propositions (USPs) and develop sales, marketing, and promotional strategies.
- Management Team: Overview of management team, detailing their roles and professional background, along with a corporate hierarchy.
- Operations Plan: Your company’s operational plan includes procurement, office location, key assets and equipment, and other logistical details.
- Financial Plan: Three years of financial planning, including startup costs, break-even analysis, profit and loss estimates, cash flow, and balance sheet.
- Appendix: Include any additional financial or business-related documents.
If you’ve never created a business plan, it can be an intimidating task. You might consider hiring a business plan specialist at Fiverr to create a top-notch business plan for you.
Step 5: Register Your Business
Registering your business is an absolutely crucial step — it’s the prerequisite to paying taxes, raising capital, opening a bank account, and other guideposts on the road to getting a business up and running.
Plus, registration is exciting because it makes the entire process official. Once it’s complete, you’ll have your own business!
Choose where to register your company
Your business location is important because it can affect taxes, legal requirements, and revenue. Most people will register their business in the state where they live, but if you’re planning to expand, you might consider looking elsewhere, as some states could offer real advantages when it comes to cattle farms.
If you’re willing to move, you could really maximize your business! Keep in mind, it’s relatively easy to transfer your business to another state.
Choose your business structure
Business entities come in several varieties, each with its pros and cons. The legal structure you choose for your cattle farm will shape your taxes, personal liability, and business registration requirements, so choose wisely.
Here are the main options:
- Sole Proprietorship – The most common structure for small businesses makes no legal distinction between company and owner. All income goes to the owner, who’s also liable for any debts, losses, or liabilities incurred by the business. The owner pays taxes on business income on his or her personal tax return.
- General Partnership – Similar to a sole proprietorship, but for two or more people. Again, owners keep the profits and are liable for losses. The partners pay taxes on their share of business income on their personal tax returns.
- Limited Liability Company (LLC) – Combines the characteristics of corporations with those of sole proprietorships or partnerships. Again, the owners are not personally liable for debts.
- C Corp – Under this structure, the business is a distinct legal entity and the owner or owners are not personally liable for its debts. Owners take profits through shareholder dividends, rather than directly. The corporation pays taxes, and owners pay taxes on their dividends, which is sometimes referred to as double taxation.
- S Corp – An S-Corporation refers to the tax classification of the business but is not a business entity. An S-Corp can be either a corporation or an LLC, which just need to elect to be an S-Corp for tax status. In an S-Corp, income is passed through directly to shareholders, who pay taxes on their share of business income on their personal tax returns.
We recommend that new business owners choose LLC as it offers liability protection and pass-through taxation while being simpler to form than a corporation. You can form an LLC in as little as five minutes using ZenBusiness’s online LLC formation service. They will check that your business name is available before filing, submit your articles of organization, and answer any questions you might have.
Step 6: Register for Taxes
The final step before you’re able to pay taxes is getting an Employer Identification Number, or EIN. You can file for your EIN online or by mail or fax: visit the IRS website to learn more. Keep in mind, if you’ve chosen to be a sole proprietorship you can simply use your social security number as your EIN.
Once you have your EIN, you’ll need to choose your tax year. Financially speaking, your business will operate in a calendar year (January–December) or a fiscal year, a 12-month period that can start in any month. This will determine your tax cycle, while your business structure will determine which taxes you’ll pay.
The IRS website also offers a tax-payers checklist, and taxes can be filed online. It is important to consult an accountant or other professional to help you with your taxes to ensure you’re completing them correctly.
Step 7: Fund your Business
Securing financing is your next step and there are plenty of ways to raise capital:
- Bank loans: This is the most common method but getting approved requires a rock-solid business plan and strong credit history.
- SBA-guaranteed loans: The Small Business Administration can act as guarantor, helping gain that elusive bank approval via an SBA-guaranteed loan.
- Government grants: A handful of financial assistance programs help fund entrepreneurs. Visit Grants.gov to learn which might work for you.
- Friends and Family: Reach out to friends and family to provide a business loan or investment in your concept. It’s a good idea to have legal advice when doing so because SEC regulations apply.
- Crowdfunding: Websites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo offer an increasingly popular low-risk option, in which donors fund your vision. Entrepreneurial crowdfunding sites like Fundable and WeFunder enable multiple investors to fund your business.
- Personal: Self-fund your business via your savings or the sale of property or other assets.
You can visit the USDA website to find various loan and grant programs for startup farms. That’s probably your best bet for financing, although bank loans may also be an option.
Step 8: Apply for Licenses/Permits
Starting a cattle farm business requires obtaining a number of licenses and permits from local, state, and federal governments.
You should contact your state’s department of agriculture to find out if any specific cattle farm licenses or permits are required in your state.
Federal regulations, licenses, and permits associated with starting your business include doing business as (DBA), health licenses and permits from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), trademarks, copyrights, patents, and other intellectual properties, as well as industry-specific licenses and permits.
You may also need state-level and local county or city-based licenses and permits. The license requirements and how to obtain them vary, so check the websites of your state, city, and county governments or contact the appropriate person to learn more.
You could also check this SBA guide for your state’s requirements, but we recommend using MyCorporation’s Business License Compliance Package. They will research the exact forms you need for your business and state and provide them to ensure you’re fully compliant.
This is not a step to be taken lightly, as failing to comply with legal requirements can result in hefty penalties. If you feel overwhelmed by this step or don’t know how to begin, it might be a good idea to hire a professional to help you check all the legal boxes.
Step 9: Open a Business Bank Account
Before you start making money, you’ll need a place to keep it, and that requires opening a bank account.
Keeping your business finances separate from your personal account makes it easy to file taxes and track your company’s income, so it’s worth doing even if you’re running your cattle farm business as a sole proprietorship. Opening a business bank account is quite simple, and similar to opening a personal one. Most major banks offer accounts tailored for businesses — just inquire at your preferred bank to learn about their rates and features.
Banks vary in terms of offerings, so it’s a good idea to examine your options and select the best plan for you. Once you choose your bank, bring in your EIN (or Social Security Number if you decide on a sole proprietorship), articles of incorporation, and other legal documents and open your new account.
Step 10: Get Business Insurance
Business insurance is an area that often gets overlooked yet it can be vital to your success as an entrepreneur. Insurance protects you from unexpected events that can have a devastating impact on your business.
Here are some types of insurance to consider:
- General liability: The most comprehensive type of insurance, acting as a catch-all for many business elements that require coverage. If you get just one kind of insurance, this is it. It even protects against bodily injury and property damage.
- Business Property: Provides coverage for your equipment and supplies.
- Equipment Breakdown Insurance: Covers the cost of replacing or repairing equipment that has broken due to mechanical issues.
- Worker’s compensation: Provides compensation to employees injured on the job.
- Property: Covers your physical space, whether it is a cart, storefront, or office.
- Commercial auto: Protection for your company-owned vehicle.
- Professional liability: Protects against claims from a client who says they suffered a loss due to an error or omission in your work.
- Business owner’s policy (BOP): This is an insurance plan that acts as an all-in-one insurance policy, a combination of the above insurance types.
Step 11: Prepare to Launch
As opening day nears, prepare for launch by reviewing and improving some key elements of your business.
Essential software and tools
Being an entrepreneur often means wearing many hats, from marketing to sales to accounting, which can be overwhelming. Fortunately, many websites and digital tools are available to help simplify many business tasks.
- Popular web-based accounting programs for smaller businesses include Quickbooks, Freshbooks, and Xero.
- If you’re unfamiliar with basic accounting, you may want to hire a professional, especially as you begin. The consequences for filing incorrect tax documents can be harsh, so accuracy is crucial.
Some of your business will come from the casual online visitors, but you should still invest in digital marketing! Getting the word out is especially important for new businesses, as it’ll boost customer and brand awareness.
Once your website is up and running, link it to your social media accounts and vice versa. Social media is a great tool for promoting your business because you can create engaging posts that advertise your products:
- Facebook: Great platform for paid advertising, allows you to target specific demographics, like men under age 50 in the Cleveland area.
- Instagram: Same benefits as Facebook but with different target audiences.
- Website: SEO will help your website appear closer to the top in relevant search results, a crucial element for increasing sales. Make sure that you optimize calls to action on your website. Experiment with text, color, size, and position of calls to action such as “Order Now”. This can sharply increase purchases.
- Google and Yelp: For businesses that rely on local clientele, getting listed on Yelp and Google My Business can be crucial to generating awareness and customers.
Take advantage of your website, social media presence and real-life activities to increase awareness of your offerings and build your brand. Some suggestions include:
- In-Person Sales – Offer your cattle products to grocery stores and restaurants
- Email marketing/newsletter – Send regular emails to customers and prospects. Make them personal.
- Start a blog – Start a blog and post regularly. Change up your content and share on multiple sites.
- Paid ads on social media – Choose sites that will reach your target market and do targeted ads.
- Pay–per-click marketing – Use Google AdWords to perform better in searches. Research your keywords first.
Develop your website
Website development is crucial because your site is your online presence and needs to convince prospective clients of your expertise and professionalism. They are unlikely to find your website, however, unless you follow Search Engine Optimization (SEO) practices. These are steps that help pages rank higher in the results of top search engines like Google.
You can create your own website using services like WordPress, Wix, or Squarespace. This route is very affordable, but figuring out how to build a website can be time-consuming. If you lack tech-savvy, you can hire a web designer or developer to create a custom website for your business.
Focus on USPs
Unique selling propositions, or USPs, are the characteristics of a product or service that sets it apart from the competition. Customers today are inundated with buying options, so you’ll have a real advantage if they are able to quickly grasp how your cattle farm meets their needs or wishes. It’s wise to do all you can to ensure your USPs stand out on your website and in your marketing and promotional materials, stimulating buyer desire.
Global pizza chain Domino’s is renowned for its USP: “Hot pizza in 30 minutes or less, guaranteed.” Signature USPs for your cattle farm could be:
- 100% grass-fed, sustainably-raised beef
- The best Angus beef you’ve ever tasted
- Top quality free-range veal, from our home to yours
You may not like to network or use personal connections for business gain. But your personal and professional networks likely offer considerable untapped business potential. Maybe that Facebook friend you met in college is now running a cattle farm business, or a LinkedIn contact of yours is connected to dozens of potential clients. Maybe your cousin or neighbor has been working in cattle farms for years and can offer invaluable insight and industry connections.
The possibilities are endless, so it’s a good idea to review your personal and professional networks and reach out to those with possible links to or interest in cattle farms. You’ll probably generate new customers or find companies with which you could establish a partnership.
Step 12: Build Your Team
If you’re starting out small from a home office, you may not need any employees. But as your business grows, you will likely need workers to fill various roles. Potential positions for a cattle farm business include:
- Farm Hands – assist with farm chores
- Farm Manager – herd management, accounting
- Marketing Lead – SEO strategies, social media
At some point, you may need to hire all of these positions or simply a few, depending on the size and needs of your business. You might also hire multiple workers for a single role or a single worker for multiple roles, again depending on need.
Free-of-charge methods to recruit employees include posting ads on popular platforms such as LinkedIn, Facebook, or Jobs.com. You might also consider a premium recruitment option, such as advertising on Indeed, Glassdoor, or ZipRecruiter. Further, if you have the resources, you could consider hiring a recruitment agency to help you find talent.
Step 13: Start Making Money!
If you’ve always dreamed of farm life, your dream can become a reality. You can join an important and thriving industry, make a good living, and provide quality foods to growing families. It will take time, diligence, and a significant investment, but if you have a passion for farming and for producing good food, you can build a lucrative cattle operation.
You’ve got a good understanding of the business now, so it’s time to put on your work boots, roll up your sleeves, and launch your successful cattle farm.
Cattle Farm Business FAQs
You can start a small cattle farm for about $300,000. Costs include the property, preparation of the property, equipment, and starter cattle.
Yes, a cattle farm can be profitable. It will take time to start making money since you have to wait until the cattle get to their ideal weight to sell them, but after a few years, you should be turning a nice profit.
You should contact your state’s department of agriculture to find out if any specific cattle farm licenses or permits are required in your state. You may also need other business licenses and permits at the state and local levels. Check with your local governments for requirements or visit MyCorporation’s Business License Compliance page.
Prices for cows are very volatile, so it will depend on the market at any given time. Cows are sold by their total weight, with the price set per 100 pounds.