A question of management

Successful calf rearing with whole milk

Whole milk is a high-quality feedstuff that fully meets a calf’s nutritional needs. Giving whole milk saves work, time and money. These are the most frequently cited reasons why farms only give calves whole milk. Dominique Jeske, Miravit Product Manager, explains the facts about whole milk.

Can whole milk always be recommended?
Jeske: To answer this question, we must first clarify what the term “whole milk” means. Very often, whole milk that is fed to calves is not only high-quality raw milk but also milk that is not marketable. Milk that is not marketable can, for instance, be colostrum, but also milk produced by a cow that is suffering from mastitis or has been treated with antibiotics. I reject the use of milk from sick or treated animals because even very minute quantities of pharmacological substances can produce resistance in animals.

That means a milk replacer is better than whole milk after all?
Jeske: It is important to realise the differences and to opt for a system that suits the particular farm. Both feed strategies can work well if they are set up on a farm as a stand-alone system.

What do you mean by a stand-alone system? Milking and feeding whole milk is not sufficient?
Jeske: Things are not quite that simple. Even with rationed liquid feed portions, maintaining an appropriate drinking temperature is already quite a challenge. A temperature of approximately 39 °C would be optimal. If the milk is pasteurised in order to keep the germ pressure as low as possible, it is briefly heated to 62 °C or up to 65 °C depending on the process used. It has to be cooled before it is drunk. Pasteurisation reduces the germ content significantly, but a small number of germs remain in the milk depending on the process used. Cooling involves the risk of germs remaining present in warm milk for a relatively long time and warm milk is a perfect medium in which germs can flourish. If high-quality milk is available, it is best to warm it briefly after milking and feed it immediately. This way there is only a brief time window in which germs can reproduce.

How can milk be made available both warm and ad-lib?
Jeske: If milk is available ad-lib, it must not be kept warm. The calves know that milk is always available and drink small meals over the course of the day. The milk should be acidulated in order to inhibit the growth of germs and aid the calves’ digestion. The use of acids in powder form is useful for this purpose, i.e. Miravit MilchStabil. One advantage over using pure formic acid is the fact that Miravit MilchStabil does not need to be documented in accordance with the Animal Feed Regulation.

What else needs to be borne in mind?
Jeske: Whole milk feeds supply calves with 100% milk protein. Calves’ enzyme systems are designed to utilise these proteins. The enzymes needed to digest vegetable proteins are only produced gradually at a later stage. That is why using a milk replacer that contains vegetable proteins at an early stage can cause digestive problems. From a protein source viewpoint, whole milk and milk replacer are only comparable if a milk replacer that contains at least 40% skimmed milk powder without any vegetable proteins is used. Whereas whole milk, for example, only contains around 0.55 mg of iron per litre of feed, the average milk replacer contains 15 mg of iron per litre of feed. A calf requires around 100 mg of iron per animal per day. If only whole milk is used as a feed, a calf needs to drink 200 litres in order to get sufficient iron. This means that whole milk must always be enriched by adding a suitable supplement feed. This is the only way of adequately meeting all of a calf’s needs for iron, other trace elements and vitamins. This is where the Miravit MilkIdeal product has proven itself as a whole milk booster.

What about cost?
Jeske: Either 6.5 litres of whole milk or a kilogram of an equivalent milk replacer must be used per calf per day in order to ensure a comparable amount of energy is provided. If marketable milk is used, the cost of whole milk, including Miravit MilkIdeal, is roughly the same as that of an equivalent quantity of milk replacer. If permitted, unmarketable milk is used, such as colostrum, costs are lower. Nevertheless, the decision to opt for a particular system should not be made primarily on cost grounds. Both systems can contribute towards successful rearing if they are used correctly and are compatible with the way a farm is managed.

Further information can be obtained from Dominique Jeske, Tel.: 0173 7293226 or by emailing dominique.jeske@agravis.de.