When feeding a milk replacer, it’s important to give serious consideration to the product that lies within the bag. The days of picking up the first bag you see in your local merchant should be well and truly over.

It is important that dairy-origin calves get off to the best start in life, so that these animals will reach future growth targets.

Speaking at the recent Teagasc Green Acres Calf to Beef Programme farm walk on Thomas and Peter O’Hanrahan’s farm in Thomastown, Co. Kilkenny, Volac’s Rebecca O’Sullivan outlined the specifications of milk replacer that should be used, along with mixing and concentration rates for optimal performance.

“When you’re looking at milk replacer, you want to check the protein level. So, for beef farmers, we’d be recommending between 20% and 23% protein and 18-20% oil.

“We want higher protein and lower fat and that’s about skeletal and muscular development in our calves.

“When we look at ash and fibre, we want as little fibre as possible, as that’s not digestible for the calves and less than 8% in ash; when you look at whole milk, it’s a 7% ash content.

“When we’re looking at the back of a bag, the ingredients are in descending order, so your top ingredient is the main ingredient. Ideally, the less ingredients, the more quantity of the first ingredient there is.

“We’d always be pushing for whey protein-based milk replacer over whey powder. Whey protein would be used in body building, muscle development and used in human nutrition as well; and that’s where we see better performance in our calves,” Rebecca explained.

How much to feed?

Touching on feeding rate, Rebecca said: “We recommend approximately 750g/day/calf. When you look at maintenance for a calf, they need 380g/day just to survive and that’s with every other condition right – not too warm or not too cold; they’re not stressed and everything else is going OK.

“If there is a drop in temperature, they are going to need more to control that temperature – that’s why it’s important for beef farmers to understand this if they are buying calves in autumn or if they are buying calves in spring.

“There’s different stresses that could be on those calves at that time. When we are mixing up milk replacer, we recommend that you weigh initially,” she explained.

“Using a clean scoop, weigh on a scales and measure – so 375g in the morning and evening and that’s within 3L and that’s a very important point to clarify.

“For 1L you need 125g of powder, so 875ml of water gives you 12.5% solids – the same as whole milk; but if you have 1L of water and add 125g on top of it, that’s only 11%, so you won’t get the same performance from your calves.

“So, it’s very important that farmers understand that they are mixing it correctly and mixing to the correct concentration – all feeding systems work once you are consistent in what you do,” she concluded.