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By P&L Agriconsulting, Oct 15 2017 11:32AM

Replacement costs are the second most expensive cost to a dairy herd after purchased feed. If rearing your own heifers this is not only a direct cost but will also affect the performance of the herd ongoing. With research recently highlighting the importance of calf growth to future milk production.

Colostrum management is well documented in the industry, with many farms now testing the quality of colostrum along with ensuring the correct volumes are administrated to calves within the first few hours of birth.

Due to the risk of calf health with diseases such as Johnes most replacement heifers are now fed milk calf replacer. However there are so many different milk replacer products it can seem overwhelming, with many different specifications and ingredients.

The first decision to make is whether to choose a skim based powder or a whey based powder. Good quality skim based powders will contain over 30% skimmed milk powder. The protein within this product will form a clot in the stomach of the calf, slowing its release. This can in turn decrease the risk of digestive upsets and therefore reduce the incidence of scour. Skim based powders are more expensive but when your calf rearing facilities are compromised this can help compensate.

Whereas whey based products are cheaper, but the quality of ingredients can be effected. Although research has shown similar calf performance compared to skim based products, there is a risk to overloading the calf’s small intestine if fed infrequently. Large volumes of vegetable proteins should be avoided has they more difficult for calves to digest.

Concentrations of milk powder used will depend on the product chosen. Mixing of milk powder is also important, heat damage can easily occur if boiling hot water is used followed by cold water. This can cause milk proteins to be denatured, temperature at mixing is best kept below 50°C.

Remember to spend as much time choosing a milk replacer as you do purchased cow feed, as it is just as important. In the majority of cases you get what you pay for regarding milk powder, a difference of £300/tonne may seem a huge cost initially but on a per calf basis it is only £20-30 of a total average rearing cost of £1200-£1500 per animal.

For more information please contact Sarah Lea at P&L Agri-Consulting on 07903 021875 or [email protected]

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