I’ve often heard that calves don’t perform too well on milk powder compared to full milk, and I just don’t agree with it.

The one difference in milk powder versus full milk is consistency. Cows are much more capable of producing a consistent product than farmers can using manufactured powder.

How do we ensure we maximise growth rates from calves fed powder milk?

  1. Calculate the amount of milk powder you can feed each calf in four to five litres of water.
  2. At two to three weeks old, this powder rate can be doubled, (litres stay the same) and calves fed once a day; make the transition over a few days so as not to change the diet too rapidly.
  3. Weigh milk powder – if you use a jug etc., weigh how much powder it holds. As we are talking in grams, best to use the same scales as you weigh grass sample with (1kg scales).
  4. Calves are extremely efficient at gaining weight with milk, meal and grass in the diet so do not wean until they are at least 100kg, target of 90kgs or more for crossbreds.
  5. It is extremely difficult to estimate calf live weights so you must weigh at least a number of them to be able to gauge weights with reasonable accuracy.
  6. Weaning under-grown calves will cost extra in the long term, best to play catch-up now.

In one case two farmers who were disappointed with performance on powder reckoned they were feeding around 700g powder/calf/day. When we weighed out the powder they were using, both farmers were actually feeding less than 500g/calf, hence the compromised performance.

Cathal McAleer is a consultant working with individual farmers and facilitating discussion groups throughout Ireland.