What is a cow worth today? That provides a framework for valuation in ancient times.

Momma Cow and calf. Photo courtesy of Adobe Stock.

Comparing prices and values over a long period of time is tough to do.

For example, how can we compare the cost to live for a year in the Viking Age to today? How can we understand the cost of a sword that cost X ounces of silver?

This involves not only converting the value of silver then to now but also adjusting for the very low standard of living then (you hope all your family survives the winter and hope you live long enough to see a grandchild from each of your children) to the high standard of living with long life expectancy today.

One way is to look at the value of something back then and the value of something today.

This post looks at the value of a cow today in order to provide some frame of reference for ancient times.

What is a cow worth today?

An article from Farm and Ranch Guide back in 2012 gives some good info: What’s a cow worth? Determining the value of a cow important to success. (Update:  Link no longer works. Article is not visible on that website. Several articles on the ‘net refer to the article but don’t have the text. I can’t find the original article.)

Article provides education on how to price cows and calculate their production. Lots of brand new information for me and the detail would be good training for someone learning to run a farm.

Here is some info relevant to my blog:

  • $948 – approximate price of a calf that has been weaned from its mother, assuming average weight of 594 pounds at price of $158 cwt (per hundredweight, or 100 pounds)
  • $910 – approximate price of a culled cow, or one that is being sold off for slaughter, or, um, our dinner, assuming $70 / cwt at average weight of 1,300 pounds. Article says average age for culled cows is about 5.7 years.
  • $1,642 – estimated price one would pay for a bred heifer to cover the long list of estimated costs and produce the target amount of profit as each factor is listed in this article.

Since I’m a city boy (and for benefit of others reading who know almost nothing of farming) here are some definitions:

  • Cow: female that has had at least one calf.
  • Heifer: female that has not had a calf. After her first calf is born the heifer would be categorized as cow, although another site said there are distinctions between having first and second calf so perhaps not moving into the ‘cow’ category until after the second calf.
  • Bull: mature male animal used for breeding.
  • Steer: neutered male animal.

From another site, I learned a bred heifer is a female bovine pregnant with her first calf, in other words, you will soon have two animals, so you can calculate the expected value of the bred heifer accordingly.

So we have these prices

  • $948 – weaned calf
  • $910 – culled cow sent to slaughter
  • $1,642 – bred heifer, or soon-to-be two for the price of one

For purposes of my blog, I will average those and round up to:

  • $1,000 is the approximate price of a cow in the 21st century.

Update 12/22/17: Having re-read this post, I’m now thinking a culled cow is probably not the best reference point for projecting back to an average cow in the Viking age. Neither is the price of a bred heifer. I will create a range and make the completely wild assumption that 25% higher that a culled cow is a good top end of the range.

Update 12/22/17: My revised estimate is from $1,000 to $1,250 for a cow in the 21st century.

My initial reaction is that valuation won’t work very well, but I want to put the estimate into print. (Well, into pixels.) Given how incredibly rich we are today, I’m thinking the relative valuation would be far higher in ancient times.

One thought at the moment is to take the current estimate and increase it by a factor of 40 to reflect that we are at least 40 times richer and better off than ancient times. The analogy in my brain is to look at denarius or drachma representing a day’s wage, then considering that as day’s wage in Haiti or Somalia, and then increasing that by a factor of 40 to vaguely approximate how much richer the average worker in US is than the average worker in Haiti.

More on that later.

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