On many farms, milk replacer is a key part of a successful youngstock rearing programme – but will farmers be moving away from it?

It is at this time of the year that dairy farmers begin the planning process for the busy spring-calving season.

Farmers will be looking for the usual supplies; calving ropes, calving jacks, tags and gloves, along with many more items.

The tail end of 2021 has seen input costs rising for the agricultural sector, which has led to some uncertainty about farm incomes in 2022.

This is with Teagasc also predicting a 21% decrease in net margin on dairy farms in 2022, and good milk prices being wiped out by high input costs.

Milk replacer

As farmers prepare for the spring-calving season and the 2022 milk production season, they will have started to order supplies.

By now, every farmer is aware of the rising cost of fertiliser for 2022, but one item that has also increased is milk replacer.

Looking at prices compared to this time last year, there has been an increase of between 11% and 25% depending on the brand.

This equates to between a €5 and €12 increase in the price of milk replacer/bag.

This will mean an increase in heifer rearing cost of between 11-25% before concentrates are included – which have also increased.

This price increase will also impact calf-to-beef farmers that rely on milk replacer to rear their calves.

Whole milk

Many farmers may be considering switching calves onto a whole milk diet, with Teagasc research showing that calves can perform just as well on milk replacer as whole milk.

But there are risks associated with feeding whole milk to calves, i.e. Johne’s disease, which can be spread from cow to calf through milk – meaning an infected cow’s milk could spread the disease to the calves.