Sector Ruminants

When can you save on your calf milk replacer?

The growth results of calves in early life have a strong effect on the performance of the dairy cows they will become. That means that early growth performance should be one of the major considerations when choosing a milk replacer, a starter feed, and a rearing strategy.

The calf milk replacer (CMR) market is saturated with options, making it difficult to understand what really matters in a replacer for successful rearing. When selecting a calf milk replacer, and the associated starter feed, there are many factors to consider including the:

  • Nutritional value
  • Ease of use and solvability of the CMR
  • Start+ safety package included
  • Taste and voluntary intake

In a further explanation, the nutritional value is of course important because that will determine the growth potential of the calves. In addition, the CMR should have good solubility for ease of use. Good solubility also means small and well dispersed fat particles that are easier to digest. Next is to consider the safety package included in the CMR and calf starter and how it will support the calf’s immunity and health during early life.

A CMR with a higher percentage of skim milk powder will support the calves in more challenging/high infection pressure conditions due to its easy digestibility. On the other hand, a CMR with a higher percent of skim milk powder will give calves a more “filled” feeling, reducing their appetite for dry feed. Finally, both the CMR and the calf starter should be very tasty to secure intake and increase the early voluntary intake of the starter feed.

IS the economic choice bad?

Sometimes a product line offers different value products, which can lead to questions about the quality of the economical option vs. the luxury choice. A proper milk replacer and starter should include all the items mentioned above but, depending on the farm conditions, additional support—like a higher inclusion of dairy protein—through the feed can help offset challenges and aid calves in becoming healthy and productive members of the herd. When selecting, honestly considering the management arrangement on the farm is important.

Earlyfeed calf product portfolio overview

Table 1: Nutritional value of the CMR’s and calf starters from the Earlyfeed portfolio. *VEM is the feed value of energy for milk production

To understand the effect of these challenges on calf performance and the importance of proper rearing management, the product range above was applied evenly across 192 calves raised under identical management practices. This was done to demonstrate that, with the foundational concepts above, an economic CMR choice is possible under good management.

Results of different CMR in the Earlyfeed product line

Table 2: With the primary difference being the inclusion rate of dairy protein, all three products performed nearly equal in a well-managed environment

Looking at the results, as expected based on the nutritional value of the individual milk replacers, there was no significant difference between the groups. From the growth numbers, all the calves achieved excellent growth performance with the standard milk schedule at a milk replacer concentration of 125 g/liter of milk.

What is the right starter?

In addition to the right CMR for the challenge level of the farm is the importance of stimulating early rumen development. Based on earlier research, rumen fermentation is fully developed after the intake of a total of 15 kg non-fiber carbohydrates (Graph 1). When it comes to important properties for calf starters, form does have a role to play. A muesli is more appealing and sparks curiosity in the animal while a pellet prevents selection and is more hygienic in use.

Calf starter NPC digestibility

Graph 1: Effect of cumulative NFC intake on development of NFC digestibility (Quigley et al., 2018)

Based on this research, in a regular schedule, the standard advice is to maximize the daily intake at 3 kg per day to stimulate roughage intake. For this reason, intake rate is important in selecting a calf starter. An example of an effective starter program can be seen in the study above where, next to the milk replacer study, the groups were again split into two groups using either Rumistart (muesli) or Rumipellet (pelleted). These were given with 10% ground straw ab lib for the first nine weeks. Intake of both the muesli (Rumistart) and the pellet (Rumipellet) was high with over 3 kg/h/d intake.

From this research, the rumen development of the calves in the trial with Rumi Pellets was completed at an age of about 4 weeks while the calves on Rumistart achieved rumen development at close to 5 weeks of age (Graph 2). Early rumen development means the duration of milk feeding can be reduced into the weaning phase sooner, as the calves will be able to sustain growth rate based on concentrate and roughage intake.

Starter feed intake of the groups for the first 9-weeks

Graph 2: Intake of both the muesli (Rumi Start) and the pellet (Rumi Pellet) was high with over 3 kg/h/d intake.

The Earlyfeed portfolio for calves consists of three calf milk replacer products with similar nutritional values. Next to the replacers are two starter feeds. The difference in the inclusion of skimmed milk powder will support the calves under different management conditions. In a practically managed farm and under similar conditions, all milk replacers perform well with over 900 grams of growth on a standard CMR schedule. When selecting a calf starter, the primary focus should be rumen development and finding a starter that demonstrates intake rates of 3 kg p/h/d.

Your Earlyfeed expert
Harrie van der Vliet
Product Manager Ruminants

This contact was suggested based on the location you are browsing from. You can of course also consult our other contacts and locations here.

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