The Best Milk Replacer for Calves

by Wiehan Visagie

The calving season has just kicked off in Zambia and with it comes the feeding of calves. Many farmers may fi nd feeding milk replacer a viable option; especially when they consider the potential income achievable from milk sales compared to the cost of milk powder.

Calf health benefits are also associated with feeding a milk replacer. However, careful attention must also be given to colostrum management; failing to observe the appropriate measures may inadvertently result in some calves getting less nutrients and ending up sick on the farm.

Whether you feed whole milk or milk replacer, providing the calf with energy and protein is critical to support and maintain their normal body functions.

What to look out for?

When feeding a replacer, it is important to give serious consideration to the product in the bag. The days of picking up the first bag you see in your local store should be well and truly over.

Remember, this is the next generation of cows you are feeding and getting them off to the best possible start will have benefits when it comes to hitting target weights and, in turn, when you’re cupping them in the parlour down the line.

When it comes to protein, farmers need to make sure that the protein in the milk replacer comes from dairy sources either whey or skim powders. Failing to adhere to this and using ‘cheaper’ powders – high in plant-based proteins – will have a knock-on effect on performance.

Ideally, farmers should aim to use a milk replacer with a protein content of 23 to 26% when feeding dairy heifers. In addition, the crude fibre content should not surpass 0,15%; the minimum fat content should be 16 to 20% and ash content should sit at 7 to 8%. The optimum solution Novatek is proud to sell Volac’s product called Blossom Easymix for the reason that their approach in the manufacturing process is based on the utilisation of concentrated milk protein as the major protein contributor. The proteins which make up whole milk may, in simple terms, be differentiated into casein and whey, and whilst the latter represents a key source of milk protein it has traditionally been undervalued due to a combination of factors. These include a historical lack of investment due to ignorance of potential applications, variability in supply and a lack of appropriate processing technology.

Research by Volac over the past ten years has demonstrated significant benefits from the substitution of traditional sources of milk protein with carefully selected, specially processed whey proteins in milk replacer diets for calves and lambs. The careful selection and processing of the whey results in a protein which is highly soluble and highly digestible in the digestive tract.

How soon can milk replacers be fed?

Once calves have received 8,5% of their birth bodyweight in colostrum within two hours of birth and if there is no difference in their weight gain pre or postweaning when compared to calves fed colostrum


This suggests that in well-managed systems, where the transfer of disease may be an issue, milk replacer can be offered immediately after colostrum feeding.

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