Feeding ‘waste milk’ to calves: Right or wrong decision?

Feeding antibiotic milk or ‘waste milk’ can potentially cause antibiotic resistance if fed to young dairy calves.

Waste milk is milk held from a treated cow, that is unfit for sale due to poor quality or the presence of antibiotic residues.

On some farms, waste milk is fed to calves as an alternative to feeding milk replacer or milk from freshly-calved cows.

However, this is not recommend. Milk containing antibiotic residues is unpalatable to calves and can cause them to reject the milk leading to decreased intakes. A decrease in intake for any reason can result in poor calf growth rates and performance.

Studies in New Zealand have also found that feeding antibiotic milk could result in antibiotic resistance in the future, leading to an increase in mastitis cases.

If you continue to feed waste milk to calves, to minimise the risks associated with feeding, it should not be fed to calves under four days old. If you do insist on using it, at the very least it should be diluted with normal milk.

It certainly shouldn’t be used the day the cow is treated. In fact, it should be discarded if it’s very poor-quality milk.

Microbes in milk

A certain amount of microbes occur naturally in milk; although a high microbial content in milk can pose a disease risk to calves or result in calf scour.

Prevention of a high microbial content in milk:
  • Keep all milking equipment to a high standard of cleanliness;
  • Keep all calf feeding equipment clean – including teats;
  • Don’t store milk for a long period of time;
  • Store below room temperature if storing overnight;
  • Avoid contamination with faeces or flies.

This year’s calves are the future milk producers of your dairy herd, so it is paramount that they are treated and fed to the highest of standards.