Bred cows vary in value according to a number of factors, including age, quality, weight, stage of gestation, hide color, time of year and location. Research at Oklahoma State University has examined 15 years of auction data in Oklahoma to determine the impact of these factors on commercial bred cow value. Purebred cows are more commonly marketed by private treaty or in production sales, but the general relative impact of value factors identified in the auction study is likely to be similar.

Peel derrell
Livestock Marketing Specialist / Oklahoma State University Extension

In the latest weekly combined Oklahoma auction data, bred cow values are reported in a range from $735 to $1,585 per head. The research model would suggest that the base value of a 4-year-old (fourth gestation), average quality cow weighing 1,200-1,300 pounds and five months bred is $1,000 to $1,050 per head. This estimate is consistent with the reported market data. Changes in any of these characteristics impact the value of the bred cow. All value differences below are based on current average market levels. Price adjustments are based on percentages, which means that the dollar value of price adjustments will be different at lower or higher average market price levels.

Young cows have the highest lifetime production potential and thus first-calf heifers have the highest average value, about $35 per head more than the 4-year-old base cow. Cows show only modest price decreases through age 6 and then drop sharply. For example, an 8-year-old cow will have a value about $110 per head less than the 4-year-old cow. Compared with the 1,200- to 1,300-pound base weight, a bred cow weighing 1,400 to 1,500 pounds will have an average value about $50 per head higher. In contrast, a cow weighing 900 to 1,000 pounds will have a value $85 per head less compared with the base cow.

Stage of gestation also impacts bred cow value, with a first trimester bred cow valued roughly $50 per head lower than a mid-trimester cow. Value increases for late gestation cows up to eight months bred by about $55 per head over mid-trimester cows. However, bred cow value drops after eight months bred when cows are extremely close to calving.

Cow quality has a significant impact on bred cow value with high-quality cows bringing about 14 percent higher value compared with average quality, while low-quality cows bring about 15 percent lower than an average quality cow. In the example above, that means roughly $150 per head more for high quality to $150 per head less for a low-quality cow compared with average quality.


Apart from quality, hide color affects value. The auction data does not report breeds but does distinguish black colored animals from all others. A black-hided cow brings an average premium of nearly 7 percent or $70 per head more in the current market. In Oklahoma, bred cow values peak in March and are seasonally lowest in October, with generally low values from June through October. At current market levels, the seasonal swing in bred cow value would be about $140 per head from the March peak to the October low.

The effects reported above are additive, and it is easy to see why a wide range of bred cow values are reported. Using the research model and current market conditions (and holding cow weight and the time of year constant) various combinations of age, quality, gestation and hide color result in a range of bred cow value estimates from about $730 to $1,300 per head. The research model appears to be capturing current average bred cow values reasonably accurately. However, demand for high-quality cows appears to be stronger than usual, with current values for high-quality cows in Oklahoma reported at roughly $1,550 per head, or $200 to $250 per head higher than the research model would predict. This is likely another indication that herd expansion is still going strong.  end mark

Derrell S. Peel is an Oklahoma State University Extension livestock marketing specialist. This originally appeared in the Feb. 20, 2017, OSU Cow/Calf Corner newsletter.