Is it possible to feed calves with milk powder

Everyone knows that the best food for a baby is breast milk. But if the use of dry mixes for feeding newborns is a necessary measure, when for some reason the mother can’t breastfeed the baby, and cow’s milk, as you know, is not very suitable for children in its composition, then there are substitutes for whole milk on the market for calves, at first glance, it seems absurd.

Indeed, when a product specially designed by nature itself to feed a calf is always available and inexpensive, it makes no sense to expend additional efforts to create artificial analogues. Meanwhile, as it turns out, such mixtures not only exist, but are also widely used in animal husbandry.

What is and why is it necessary for milk replacer for calves

A cow, like a man, belongs to the class of mammals, the distinguishing feature of which is the fact that the female feeds her newborn cubs until their stomach learns to digest solid foods, milk - a special product secreted by its breast glands.

Breast milk contains a set of nutrients and antibodies that are ideally balanced for the needs of the newborn individual of this species and, accordingly, allowing this individual to grow and develop normally. Moreover, nature is arranged so that as the baby grows up, the chemical composition of mother’s milk also changes, some substances (for example, antibodies) in it become less, others (for example, fats), on the contrary, more.

Thus, the natural and "right" purpose of cow's milk is feeding the calves. However, having domesticated the cow, a person began to use this product to satisfy his own needs and, of course, is interested in having its volume as large as possible.

At the same time, the difficulty is that to start the lactation process, the cow still needs to give birth to a baby and, although people do their best to extend the time for milk production, the animal’s productivity naturally decreases some time after calving, and the procedure needs to be repeated.

In order not to lose the product, which is the main source of profit in the dairy industry and at the same time provide replenishment of the herd at the expense of newborn young animals, people came up with dry mixes that replace mother's milk with small calves in the first days and weeks of their life. In abbreviated form, such mixtures are called “milk replacer” (whole milk substitutes).

Important! The main and, in fact, the only goal of the production of substitutes for whole milk is to reduce the cost of animal husbandry through the use of cheaper, compared with cow milk, calf feed. Due to what this saving is happening, it becomes clear if we study the production technology and the composition of the milk replacer.

What is included

Quality substitutes for whole milk for calves are prepared on the basis of:

  • whey, which remains in the process of production of cottage cheese or cheese;
  • waste, that is, milk, from which the most valuable substances, primarily fats, were removed by separation;
  • buttermilk, that is, nonfat cream, allocated as a by-product when whipping butter.

In addition, the WTC may include:

  • cheaper fats - vegetable or animal (melted pork fat, soybean, palm, coconut oil, etc.);
  • phosphoproteins;
  • lactose (milk sugar);
  • casein;
  • polyfunctional proteins (lactoferrin);
  • other milk protein substitutes (animal plasma or egg protein, proteins from wheat, gluten, peas, soy, flax, etc.);
  • immunoglobulins;
  • saturated fatty acids;
  • organic acids;
  • minerals - iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium, sodium, copper, zinc, selenium, manganese, iodine, cobalt, etc .;
  • vitamins - A, C, D, E, K, B1, B2, B5, B6, B12, PP and others;
  • fodder yeast;
  • tart (coarse grain);
  • Wheat flour;
  • premixes;
  • antibacterial drugs;
  • growth stimulants;
  • lactic acid bacteria, probiotics and prebiotics;
  • mixtures of essential oils (aromabiotics);
  • animal blood;
  • mineral mud;
  • sapropel (silty deposits of decayed algae).

The specific composition of the milk replacer for calves depends not only on the brand and manufacturer, but also on the age group of the animals for which the product is intended.

Did you know? Substitutes for whole milk are almost never used in pig farming. So, the share of such products in the diet of piglets on average does not exceed 1%. The energy value of whole milk and its dry substitute for calves has significant differences:


Whole cow's milk


(in dry matter - 70–75%)


Advantages and disadvantages of using

Manufacturers and sellers of dry calf mixtures, advertising their products, argue that, in addition to the direct financial benefits of lower prices, compared to whole cow's milk, milk replacer products have a number of other advantages.

  • Among the advantages are called, for example, such:
    • invariability of the composition (the farmer always knows which substances and how much young animals receive and can regulate the diet, depending on the specific task, while the composition of cow's milk can vary depending on the season, animal nutrition, its health, age and etc.);
    • there is no risk of infection of young animals with various infections, which is not excluded by natural feeding (this advantage is achieved in two different ways: on the one hand, all the ingredients of dry mixes are pre-pasteurized, on the other, antibiotics are added to the finished product for prophylactic purposes);
    • better digestibility (the fact that in the course of centuries of breeding work, cow’s milk has significantly changed its composition, in particular, has begun to contain much more protein than the calf’s digestive system is able to absorb, thus, modern milk is more suitable for people than cubs );
    • a decrease in the likelihood of intestinal disorders and their easier course due to the probiotics and antidiarrheal preparations contained in dry mixtures;
    • accelerating the process of preparing the digestive system of young animals for solid food - dry and combination feeds;
    • saving costs on veterinary care and herd treatment;
    • cost savings on vitamin and mineral supplements;
    • reduction in mortality of young animals;
    • the use of milk replacer provides faster formation of the gastrointestinal tract in young animals;
    • the possibility of obtaining significant acceleration in weight gain, compared with natural feeding (this circumstance makes any direction in animal husbandry - both meat and dairy) more profitable;
    • convenience in storage using (dry mix, unlike whole milk, can be stored and diluted for a long time as necessary, regardless of current milk yield);
    • increase in milk productivity (milk is used for sale, and not for feeding young animals, while young heifers reach puberty faster and, accordingly, begin to lactate at an earlier age).

Did you know? It is generally accepted that the use of milk replacer makes it possible to save up to $ 12 per calf or up to $ 1, 500 per ton of dry mix purchased with the simultaneous sale of “released milk”. However, some livestock farmers not only dispute such proportions, but also with specific mathematical calculations prove that, with the proper organization of the production process, the use of whole milk for feeding calves is not only not inferior to dry mixes, but is more advantageous, and the above advantages of milk replacer are no more. than a marketing ploy.

One way or another, the main disadvantage of dry mixes in front of whole milk is that their use is not a natural way of growing young animals. Feeding calves using milk replacer is absolutely incompatible with the principles of organic animal husbandry, which is becoming increasingly popular in the world every year.

  • Among the disadvantages of whole milk substitutes are:
    • the need for additional work before each feeding (dilution of the mixture in strictly specified proportions);
    • the need to purchase additional equipment for preparing the mixture, if we are talking about its use on an industrial scale (mobile pasteurizer of milk, the so-called milk taxi);
    • the influence of the human factor on production results (an error in the calculations during the preparation of the mixture can lead to disastrous consequences, while using whole cow's milk such risks are eliminated);
    • short shelf life of high-quality mixtures and the presence of preservatives harmful to the health of young growth in all others;
    • the presence in some products of biological components (for example, blood) with which pathogens of such dangerous infections as leukemia or tuberculosis can enter the calf's body;
    • the presence of antibiotics in feed forms strains of bacteria resistant to such drugs and, in addition, adversely affects the environmental cleanliness and safety of livestock products in general;
    • the need to use high-quality pre-starter and starter concentrates in combination with whole milk substitutes (the dry mix is ​​able to satisfy the calf's nutritional needs by no more than 80%), which casts some doubt on the economic benefits of milk replacer;
    • slow weight gain and possible digestive problems when using milk replacer in too large volumes;
    • direct relationship between the quality of the mixture and its value (those products that can be considered a worthy alternative to whole milk are very expensive).

Did you know? The original way to choose between whole cow's milk and its dry substitutes when feeding calves was invented by Canadians. They feed the cubs in a special way with fermented colostrum, which the calves tolerate well. Profitable and organic at the same time!

Which milk replacer is best for calves

By consistency, all substitutes for whole milk that exist on the market today are divided into three main groups:

  • dry
  • liquid;
  • concentrated.

The differences between these species are not so much in their effect on the health and development of the calf, but in the technology of use. For example, liquid substitutes are cheaper and do not require preliminary dilution, but their shelf life is much shorter. Concentrates, on the contrary, have a higher price, but they can be purchased in smaller quantities.

If you proceed from the interests of the calf, then when choosing a mixture, preference should be given to products that contain:

  • dairy products (reverse, whey or skim cream) - at least 70%;
  • lactose (indicates the presence of natural milk raw materials);
  • minerals and vitamins;
  • fiber in an amount of not more than 0.3% for small calves and not more than 1% for older young animals.
Doubtful from the point of view of safety are such components in the mixture, such as:

  • synthetic and transgenic fats;
  • cheap vegetable oils (palm, coconut);
  • extract from flaxseed;
  • soy flour;
  • antibiotics and growth stimulants.

Important! The world leaders in the production of quality substitutes for whole milk are the Dutch companies Vreugdenhil BV and Schils BV

If in doubt, a good clue, of course, is the reputation of the manufacturer. Products of leading European manufacturers, of course, are of higher quality, but their price is much higher than domestic counterparts.

A good alternative, many farmers consider WZM Belarusian production.

How to breed milk powder for a calf: proportions

Preparation of the milk mixture for calves of different ages is carried out in accordance with such dosages:

Animal age

Concentration (weight ratio of dry mix to water)

The rate of drinking per head in liters
Up to 3 weeks1: 82, 3
4-5 weeks1: 83
6 week1: 93
7-12 weeks1:103

However, before proceeding with the preparation of the nutrient liquid from the dry mixture, you should carefully read the instructions. Despite the fact that in most cases the proportions are used standard, the manufacturer's recommendations should be strictly observed.

Important! Violation of the proportions indicated on the package can lead to serious intestinal disorders in calves, and this rule works in both directions. Too oily mixture is a direct path to diarrhea, however, a reduced concentration of nutrients adversely affects the digestion of the animal, accumulating in the rumen and provoking the multiplication of pathogenic bacteria in it. The preparation procedure itself involves the following rules:

  • to dilute the mixture, use only well-purified fresh water;
  • the dishes in which the preparation will take place must first be scalded with boiling water for disinfection;
  • the amount of water calculated to obtain a given volume of the finished mixture is divided into two unequal parts: approximately 2/3 of the water must be heated to a temperature of + 50–55 ° С, the remaining part should be left cold (room temperature);
  • in hot water it is necessary to completely dissolve the dry mixture so that the solution is completely homogeneous;
  • add the rest of the water to the concentrated mixture to get a temperature of +40 ° С at the outlet (the ideal temperature for drinking is +38 ° С, the extra two degrees will go away during the pouring of the mixture into drinkers);
  • use the milk mixture immediately after preparation.
Important! When using colder water for breeding than the parameters recommended above, the dry mixture does not dissolve well, lumps remain in the water, however, if the water is overheated, the protein contained in the mixture coagulates.

Video: How to make a milk replacer

How to drink properly

Dry mixes, even very expensive and of high quality, should ideally be introduced into the diet of the calf from the fifth day of life, before this period the baby should be fed with maternal colostrum. It contains the antibodies necessary to maintain the baby’s immunity and in this sense has no analogues.

For up to two months, milk or its substitutes still form the basis of the calf's diet. However, if in the first half of this period the baby should not receive anything other than milk, then from the fifth week, quality concentrated feed, as well as bran, grain, hay, gradually begin to be introduced into its nutritional scheme.

Find out how cow colostrum is good for humans and what can be made from it.

In the process of feeding, the farmer must constantly monitor the state of health of young animals: calves should be alert and active, any signs of intestinal upset or other changes in behavior are the basis for making adjustments to the diet and, possibly, replacing the artificial mixture with a better one.

The most common mistakes in the use of milk replacer for calves include:

  1. Saving on quality. If for older calves vegetable proteins and fats are simply less preferable than animals, then babies of the first ten days of life simply do not absorb such components.
  2. Violation of the temperature during the preparation and use of the mixture. Since this condition is very important, the farmer should definitely use a thermometer, and not focus on his own feelings.
  3. Violation of the dosage of dry matter due to its measurement "by eye".
  4. Violation of the drinking regimen. Half an hour after drinking whole milk substitutes, young animals should be given water, otherwise the components contained in the mixture, due to their unnaturally high concentration, can cause serious poisoning.
  5. Drinking from a bucket. The natural process of feeding calves involves not just the use of mother's milk, but also a special form of its “feeding” - exhaustion. In this case, nutrients enter the cub gradually, in small doses.

    Breading from a bucket, the animal makes large and convulsive sips, as a result an insufficient amount of saliva enters the esophagus, food is poorly absorbed and provokes diarrhea. You need to water the calves from the nipple, and in its absence, carefully pour the milk from the buckets placed on the knees through two fingers, which the baby will use instead of the mother's udder.
  6. Failure to comply with the feeding regimen. The calf’s digestive system will work much better if it always receives food at the same hours, and the breaks between feedings are approximately the same (except for the night break).
  7. The use of poorly washed and non-sterile dishes, the preparation of the finished mixture with a margin of several feedings. Even milk powder substitutes contain an excellent environment for the development of putrefactive and other pathogenic bacteria, so you should avoid accessing the remnants of the previously prepared mixture into the baby's body.
Did you know? For one feeding the calf, sucking the udder of a cow, makes from 600 to 800 tiny sips. In a human cub, this amount is approximately 6–8 times less. Whole milk substitutes for calves can be treated differently, but very few breeders can afford to completely abandon their use. Сухие смеси объективно делают молочную продукцию более дешёвой за счёт значительного сокращения затрат на её производство. Однако не все ЗЦМ одинаково безопасны, поэтому главная задача любого фермера — постараться найти оптимальный баланс между экономией и качеством при подборе рациона для молодняка первых месяцев жизни.

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