Modern calf milk replacer formulation is becoming more sophisticated and multi-functional – so much so that there should always be a quality nutrition product available that is right for your calves, rearing objectives and farm buildings situation.

For the best results on any calf unit, it’s important to invest wisely in a proven milk formula product for the crucial pre-weaning period. It’s also worth following a few simple practical steps on farm to make the most of your investment, says Alan Smith, Volac business manager for Scotland.

“Research clearly shows the benefits, in terms of cow longevity, health and lifetime milk production, of hitting growth targets and calving down close to 24 months of age,” he says.

Mr Smith added that feeding higher milk replacer levels leads to fewer calves failing to reach a second lactation. Therefore, providing the necessary nutrition to sustain rapid growth rates (>750g per day) during the first two months of life should not only result in more efficient and economical heifer rearing, but also deliver greater lifetime milk output when these replacement animals join the milking herd.

“Research has shown that there is a large amount of important early life development in the pre-weaned phase. The development of both mammary cells and the gut – and metabolic programming – all take place during this crucial early life period, so feeding high levels of milk replacer enables us to take full advantage. It’s also the time when feed conversion efficiency is at its highest, so choose your milk replacer wisely. There are even milk formulas available now, such as Volac’s Imunogard®, for farms struggling to manage persistent digestive disturbances in their calves.”

Mr Smith addeed that it’s also important to choose the right milk replacer product for beef calves, depending on growth rate targets and the animals’ rearing environment. But, crucially, he says that whatever product chosen, it’s important to mix it at the correct temperature and concentration.

“The temperature of the water you use to mix your milk replacer should always be at 40°C. Any higher and you will start to damage the proteins in the milk formula that are so essential for optimum calf performance.

“Milk should be fed at a consistent temperature of between 38°C. This helps to ensure a good oesophageal groove closure, which channels the mixed milk formula into the abomasum. Any spillage of milk into the rumen will increase the risk of scours, resulting in poor calf growth.”

He adds that as well as mixing milk powder with water at the right temperature, it is also important to be consistent with the mixing rate. “You can use any concentration between 12.5% and 15% solids, but once you have chosen your mixing rate do not vary that concentration.

“To mix milk correctly always use scales to weigh out the milk powder accurately. For a concentration of 12.5% solids, use 125g of milk powder to 875ml of water to make up one litre of mixed milk. Using a full litre of water will lead to a weaker (11.1%) milk concentration.

“Take half the water (at 40°C) and add all the powder; whisk until smooth, add the rest of the water and whisk again. Check the temperature (between 37-39°C) and then feed.”

Maintain good hygiene

Mr Smith also explains that bacteria and viruses are prevalent in large numbers on all farms and the diseases these and other germs cause in calves are common and costly. Without proper cleaning and disinfection, the pathogen load will increase in calf buildings and on feeding equipment. This means disease can easily spread from calf to calf from contamination in their environment. Ideally, all-in-all-out pens (and buildings as well) should be utilised.

“If you are struggling to manage digestive disturbances in your calves, try improving hygiene as a priority and always make sure your milk replacer contains only correctly processed, high quality ingredients. Remember, labels don’t really tell you clearly what’s in the bag, always feel free to ask the manufacturer to explain the label to you if you need more clarity.”

Recommended standard cleaning and disinfection procedure:

• Remove all organic matter prior to cleaning and disinfection. This means thorough removal of all bedding material, followed by use of a pressure washer or steam cleaner. Try to clean in a separate airspace away from other calves because the use of a pressure washer in an occupied building can increase the disease risk to remaining calves.

• Use a recommended disinfectant, at the correct concentration, on all surfaces that calves can touch. Where surfaces are cracked or damaged or porous and difficult to clean, apply a greater concentration of disinfectant to these areas. Then allow pens to dry out before the next batch of calves arrives.

• If you are still wrestling with stubborn digestive issues in calves, consider feeding a 100% dairy protein milk formula. Volac’s Imunogard® has been developed specifically to improve calf gut function in challenging rearing situations.

* Farmers buying Volac-manufactured calf milk replacer can claim two free bags of product with every pallet purchased during June and July 2020.

The British family-owned company has asked its merchant partner distributors to support this free product offer as a practical way of supporting local calf rearers during the on-going coronavirus crisis.