Milk Replacer Formulation for the Dairy Calf
Posted: April 2, 2004
After birth, the calf normally receives colostrum for a first feeding, and under many farm situations, for several feedings up to three days of age. The liquid feeding portion of the diet is very important to the health and initial growth of the calf. It is during this time that the calf is growing and being transformed from a functional monogastric to a ruminant. Therefore feeding and management needs to be geared for this transition to a ruminant.
More than 60 percent of the dairy calves in the United States at the current time are fed milk replacers for most or all of their liquid feeding period. The dairy calf is typically fed a milk replacer for 4 to 8 weeks until weaning time. It is commonly recommended to wean calves by 6 weeks, with a goal for most of the calves, most of the year, being 4 to 5 weeks of age at weaning. The National average is dropping to less than 8 weeks with the more progressive farms leading the way toward a four week weaning age.
The composition and quality of a milk replacer will have an influence on the growth, health, and overall performance of calves. It is important to realize that the composition and nutrient levels vary greatly between various products. Milk replacers used in the United States are typically composed of whey and whey protein concentrate compounds. Skim milk is rarely used in any appreciable amounts in the United States due to the cost per pound of protein in the product.
One obvious reason to use milk replacers is that growth and health, or nutrient additives can be incorporated without extra steps. This includes extra vitamins and minerals along with various other additives. The most common additives found in milk replacers today are antibiotics and coccidiostats. Oxytetracycline and neomycin which aid in the prevention of bacterial scours are the main antibiotics used currently and are still in nearly half of the milk replacers sold. Lasolicid, and decoquinate which prevent coccidiosis and also commonly found in milk replacers. These additives cannot be used together.
There are an increasing number of companies that offer alternatives to antibiotics in milk replacers. Compounds that contain oligosaccharides are becoming increasingly common in lines of milk replacers. In addition there are herbal mixtures that are sold for milk replacer usage. Both of these compounds are sold to help reduce scours and improve calf health. The oligosaccharides (mannan and fructo oligosaccharides) have been shown in published research to help reduce the amount and severity of scours in young calves.
Bob calves that are to be sent for sale and will likely be slaughtered within a short period of time cannot be fed milk replacers containing antibiotics. Any antibiotics fed to these calves, even the low levels that are found in milk replacers will prohibit them from being used in the food industry. It is important that these calves be fed whole antibiotic-free milk or non-antibiotic milk replacers prior to being shipped.
In summary, milk replacers are important in the scope of the dairy feed industry today. They help transition the dairy calf from a monogastric to a ruminant, yet we must remember that many studies show that the amount of energy that dairy calves receive from milk replacers account for only one fourth of their growth during this period. The calf starter makes up the remaining energy and protein that is required by the calf for body weight gain in the first 2 months of life.
Jud Heinrichs, Dairy & Animal Science Extension