In Summary
  • Mother Nature intended that calves be raised on cow’s raw milk due to its proteins, fats, amino and fatty acid profiles, lactose, vitamins, minerals, trace elements and overall digestibility.
  • Currently, there are many milk replacers in the market. As a first guide, there is a manufacturer’s label on the product’s package, which you need to pay attention to.
  • Buying a good milk replacer is not all, factors like reconstituting, feeding interval, amount fed in each feeding and the feeding temperature need to be controlled for optimum calf performance.
  • However, the decision whether to use them or not depends on what works best in your management and economic situations.

Raising a healthy and productive cow begins at the time a calf is born.

Immediately after birth, dairy producers allow calves to suckle colostrum, which is essential to build immunity as the milk has antibodies or immunoglobins, protein, fat, minerals and essential vitamins.

As time progresses, the rate of absorbing immunoglobulins or albumin content begins to decline.

A calf’s rate of absorption immediately after birth is 16.92 per cent, then it decreases to 8.98 per cent at 12 hours and 2.63 per cent at 24 hours as revealed by research.

This progression shows colostrum turning into milk and thus, urgency in feeding is necessary.

Colostrum is given up to about five days of age, thereafter there should be change in the calf’s diet to raw milk from the dam (calf’s mother). Some farmers opt for milk replacers, a trend that is picking up.

Why go for milk replacers?

Milk replacers are nutritionally customised products that closely mimic the chemical and physical properties of milk when reconstituted.

Mother Nature intended that calves be raised on cow’s raw milk due to its proteins, fats, amino and fatty acid profiles, lactose, vitamins, minerals, trace elements and overall digestibility.

However, sometimes this is not possible. Some farmers, on the other hand, have changed their preferred calf-raising system, choosing to sell raw milk and raise calves, especially bulls, on milk replacers.

The economics of feeding milk replacers lies in the price of the product, feeding rate, attainment of weaning age, calf starter intake and labour costs involved measured against its performance aspects of keeping calves in excellent health, attaining optimum growth and becoming strong.

Choosing a milk replacer

Decision should be made after analysing the cost versus expected performance of the calf. Is a cheaper milk replacer worth the risk of a lower growth rate or poorer calf health and performance?

Currently, there are many milk replacers in the market. As a first guide, there is a manufacturer’s label on the product’s package, which you need to pay attention to.

If a product misses the label, this is a good indicator of poor quality.

On the label, look for nutritional facts; which are the ingredients, nutrient composition and estimated growth rate.

An ideal milk replacer has a minimum of 20 per cent protein and the most common fat content of 18-22 per cent that are highly digestible.

Natural milk proteins (which dams’ milk offer) are more expensive than non-milk proteins, which are what some milk replacers are made of.

Manufactures are now switching from use of non-milk protein to preferred milk proteins to improve the product for calves to have better growth rates.

In other words, on the label, look for words like whey, skimmed milk and casein or whey protein. Such adjustments make the final product expensive, so don’t cut corners and buy a cheaper brand.

Many replacers also contain other acceptable additives that will help the calf gain weight, are easily digestible and reduce chances of bovine infections.

However, good nutrition and better calf performance is linked to more than just the protein and fat levels in milk replacers, so look out for more including having a preferably cream colour with a pleasant odour.

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