Scottish calf rearers looking for the most cost-effective way of rearing pre-weaned youngstock can now use whey protein and skim after studies confirmed the two products provide equivalent sources of dairy protein in milk replacers for high performing young calves fed up to 1050g of milk solids per day.

This new independent research, confirmed in a recent trial (2019) work by AFBI at Hillsborough in Northern Ireland, should be well received by those who traditionally wedded to skim, as many have seen the cost of their favoured skim milk powder-based calf milk replacer rise steadily in recent months in line with the escalating world market price for skimmed milk powder.

“This new work clearly shows once and for all that the presence of skim – and therefore the clotting effect of casein – is not the fundamental element within a calf milk formula influencing optimum calf growth,” says local Volac business manager, Alan Smith.

In the study, there was no significant difference between the different milk replacer formulations. The work highlights that if the important milk components are processed correctly, both skim and whey proteins will be highly digestible by the high milk fed pre-weaned calf and will deliver good performance.

Importantly though, Mr Smith stresses that good nutrition and calf performance is linked to more than just the type of dairy protein included in the finished milk formula.

“Important differences in amino acid and fatty acid profiles, amount of lactose, vitamins, minerals and trace elements, processing conditions and overall digestibility also all contribute to calf performance,” he says.

In summary, this means that when processed under carefully controlled conditions, both skim and whey protein concentrate-based milk replacers can deliver excellent calf performance but, on the other hand, poorly processed milk-derived protein (be it skim or whey) can have poor digestibility and increase the risk of health issues.

Key points:

1. Dairy ingredients are the main source of protein in modern calf milk replacers – these include both skim (casein) and whey.

2. Research clearly shows that calves can digest and utilise milk replacers based on whey as the main dairy protein just as efficiently as skim-based products, despite the whey proteins not forming a clot in the abomasum.

3. Milk replacers including good quality skim or whey as the main dairy protein can both deliver good calf performance.

4. The processing method of the dairy protein (for both skim and whey) is fundamental for digestibility and calf performance.

5. Whey protein contains naturally occurring bio-active proteins (e.g. immunoglobulins and lactoferrin) that help support the calf’s immune system and positively influence the young animal’s growth and development.

6. Not all whey is the same. High quality concentrated whey protein (such as Volac’s Imunopro® calf milk base) contains the valuable bio-active components for optimum performance and will give calves the best opportunity for growth and development.