Weigh up your options in calf milk replacers

With so many calf milk replacers (CMR) on the market, it can be difficult to know which one to choose.

“Weigh up the options, know your objectives and look at the facts behind the label,” said Cargill’s Calf and Heifer Specialist, Bianca Theeruth. “When you weigh up performance and cost, the cheapest product may not be the best option for value for money.”

Producers first need to consider the type of CMR that’s best suited to their system. For example, a CMR for beef calves will be different to one more suited for dairy calves.

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

“But even that is not enough,” said Ms. Theeruth. “It’s not just about the CMR’s ingredients, but the quality of those ingredients is also important.”

CMR powders are not all formulated the same or made from the same ingredients, as 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. I believe that you get what you pay for.”

Ms. Theeruth puts particular stress on this for those rearing valuable dairy heifer calves. “Producers will generally see a better return on investment through improved performance from spending a little more on a higher-spec product.”

Ms. Theeruth says 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 for longer, as they form a clot in the calf’s abomasum,” she explained.

“This will stay there and be slowly broken down in 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,” stated Ms. Theeruth.

That doesn’t mean that whey won’t keep calves satiated and well-nourished. “There is plenty of published work that shows that there is no difference in performance between the two, in terms of feed conversion efficiency or daily live-weight gain.“

A quality CMR will do a good job if it’s the right one for the system. It will come down to your individual set-up and objectives.

CMR buyer’s checklist:

  • The type of CMR required will depend on your rearing system, disease risk and rearing objectives (e.g. dairy or beef).
  • Check the basic information on the label. Constituent levels should fall within published ranges (see table 1).
  • Determine whether the CMR is skim-based or whey-based. If whey powder is the first ingredient listed, then the CMR is whey-based and vice versa for a skim-based CMR.
  • In the case of skim-based CMR, find out the inclusion rate of the skim milk or skim derivatives, as this will determine clotting ability. Skim derivatives can include butter milk, whole milk powder and casein.
  • Skim derivatives are usually cheaper, but it is important to know the quality and processing method of these derivatives. These factors can affect feeding characteristics and nutritional value. CMR’s that include skim milk powder are considered premium products.
Table 1: Constituent level ranges for CMRs

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