Better ‘know-how’ means producers can take advantage of improved calf milk replacers

New knowledge and a better understanding of calf nutrition is behind Cargill’s ProviMilk calf milk replacers.

These diets – and there are five, tailored to suit different systems – each combine a more precise formulation with high-quality ingredients. The end goal is the same though – to give calves the best start and achieve target growth rates, both efficiently and cost-effectively. Bianca Theeruth, Cargill calf and heifer specialist, explains.

Calf diets in general have lagged behind those for poultry and piglets but great strides have been made recently through Cargill’s research programmes.

Typically, as an industry, calf milk replacers (CMRs) are formulated and scrutinised based on crude protein content. But what calves require are specific building blocks, or amino acids, that make up this protein.

“So it makes sense to understand how amino acid formulation fits into dairy calf nutrition,” saidTheeruth.

Pre-weaning calves receive nearly all their daily protein intake from milk or milk replacer, so all of the amino acids required for growth will come from this liquid diet.

Knowledge of the required balance of these amino acids has helped us to formulate more precise milk replacers that offer more efficient liveweight gains and make better use of ingredients.

Interestingly, this can be achieved with a lower concentration of crude protein in milk replacer.

“Calves require a balance of amino acids, not just an amount of crude protein. Feeding milk replacers supplemented with an ideal balance of essential amino acids will perform better than milk replacers that are not supplemented and balanced, even if crude protein contents are the same.

“Don’t guess that this is the case or assume, but a good adviser, selling a reputable CMR, should be able to confirm that the milk replacer is balanced for essential amino acids.”

Skim vs. whey

With a wide range of calf milk replacers (CMRs) on the market, producers can be in a quandary about which one to go for. Making the right choice will depend on the system and the targets.

“A key decision is the type of CMR for the system, either a skim-based, or a whey-based CMR. This can depend whether you’re buying in calves, and if you’re rearing beef or dairy calves or both, and if these calves will be sold or reared as replacements,” she added.

There is no difference in performance parameters – average daily weight gain, intake and feed conversion efficiency – between skim and whey-based CMR-fed calves.

Skim-based powders are ideal for putting a shine on calf coats and get them looking their best for market.

“They’re also better at keeping the calf satiated or fuller for longer, as they form a clot in the calf’s abomasum. This will stay there and be slowly broken down between six and 10 hours. Whey-based powders, however, don’t form a clot and pass through the calf’s abomasum in fewer than two hours.”

That’s not to say that whey won’t do the job and keep calves satiated and well nourished.

“There’s plenty of published work that shows that there’s no difference in performance between the two, in terms of feed conversion efficiency or daily liveweight gain,” said Theeruth.

Detail behind the label

CMR labels provide a list of ingredients in descending order. The label will also list constituents, additives and directions for use.

“But the quality of those ingredients is also important,” she added. “Not all CMR powders are formulated the same or made from the same ingredients. The source of the skim or whey can be different.

So I would encourage digging a bit deeper and not taking the label at face value. From reviewing many options, I believe that you get what you pay for.

“Producers will generally see a better return on investment through improved performance from spending a little more on a higher-spec product and choosing the right one for the system. It will come down to the individual set up and objectives.”

ProviMilk® embraces new technology

Cargill has used its improved knowledge and research to develop the ProviMilk® range of CMRs. The company has developed two skim-based milks and three whey-based milks specifically suited to the range of calf rearing situations in Ireland.

Only high-quality ingredients are used, and Cargill has used its AmNeo formulation technology to ensure each CMR has a balance of amino acids needed to meet the young calf’s requirements.

All ProviMilk® CMRs include Cargill’s NuStart gut conditioning package. NuStart is a unique gut conditioning package with added vitamins and minerals, to accelerate gut development, reduce digestive upsets and increase solid feed intake. Calves achieve 15% more growth when NuStart is included in the CMR.

“Each CMR has its own unique features,” added Theeruth. “ProviMilk Premium, for example, is a skim-based milk that provides optimal ratios of protein to energy.

“It is especially popular in Ireland, among spring-calving herds as it helps to maximise average daily gain, optimal structural growth and encourage rumen development. And it is ideal for bought-in calves or young calves with occasional health issues.”

The second skim-based CMR is ProviMilk® Professional. This is targeted towards farmers who turn out calves early and require a little extra boost of energy from a cost-effective milk.

The whey-based options are ProviMilk® Daisy, which is designed for beef and dairy calf rearing systems and ProviMilk® Elevator that, in particular, promotes lean frame growth for systems aiming for an age at first calving of 22 to 24 months old.

The third whey-based milk is ProviMilk® Energise that is a high energy whey-based product suited to rearing calves – typically beef heifer and bull calves – in cooler weather

Waterford dairy farmer Noel Murphy talks about the improvement in performance and less scours in his calves from moving from whole milk to Cargill’s ProviMilk® in this short video below.

The comprehensive range of Cargill ProviMilk® and the suitability of each product is shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1: ProviMilk® range (Ireland) and rearing system suitability

CMR checklist

“Weigh up the options, know your own objectives, and look at the facts behind the label,” said Theeruth. “Value for money may not make the cheapest product the best option.

“And take advantage of the latest science in selecting a more precisely formulated CMR with known and proven high-quality ingredients. This is what we’re offering through the ProviMilk® range.

“And it should go without saying, that these CMR’s will return results in calf rearing systems if calves have had adequate colostrum and their environment – including housing and ventilation – is of a high standard.

“CMRs like ProviMilk® are not a silver bullet, but their advanced formulations and high-quality ingredients will make a significant contribution to calf rearing on a well-managed unit.”

Bianca Theeruth talks about the key components of calf rearing in this short video below.

Advice to hand

Cargill’s technical team is keen to provide technical support and additional information on selecting the most suitable calf milk replacer.

“We need to make sure that producers can compare like for like when it comes to CMRs – there’s a lot of choice on the market and a fair comparison on nutritional value and cost and making sure they meet each producer’s objectives is important.”

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