Why is that in my milk replacer?

Posted on June 27, 2024 in Starting Strong - Calf Care
By Dr. Noah Litherland, Vita Plus dairy youngstock technical specialist

2017 Litherland - webHave you ever found yourself reading a milk replacer tag and trying to understand what additives are included, what those additives do and whether or not they are right for your calf program?

If so, you are not alone. A large body of research has been aimed at discovering milk replacer additives that help calves grow faster, more efficiently and with fewer health constraints. Results of these trials greatly depend upon the environment in which they were conducted. Factors such as maternity management, disease exposure and thermal stress impact results.

Additionally, additive amount and quality, method of delivery, plane of nutrition, and timing of dosage all play key roles in impacting calf response to additives. Table 1 describes some common milk replacer additives, their modes of action and Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) terms used to describe them.

Calf raisers may come across these terms on feed tags, advertisements and marketing literature. Take some time to familiarize yourself with these additives and ask your calf nutritionist to share his or her thoughts on applications for your farm.

When evaluating an additive, consider whether it is proven through research and field trials. Controlled research and field trials provide trends in direction and magnitude of calf response to milk replacer additives.

Published data showing consistent positive responses – especially in situations of pathogen challenge or environmental stress – provide insight into how to use additives on your farm. In addition, consider whether the additive is easy to use and consistently provides a return on investment (ROI).

You may also ask the following questions when considering and/or evaluating new milk replacer additives:

  • Does this additive contribute to increased intestinal health?
  • The plane of nutrition can affect the response to a milk replacer additive. Could that be happening here?
  • Since most additives have the greatest impact during the first two to three weeks of life, am I using this additive at the right time
  • Am I consistently tracking calf performance (ex. weighing calves at beginning and end of nursery phase) to effectively track whether the additive works?
  • Is another factor in the calf’s environment (ex. weather extremes) preventing this additive from doing what it should?
  • Am I gaining enough from the additive to justify its cost?

Youngstock are the savings account of the dairy farm. Investing in milk replacer additives can have a significant impact on your nursery calf program if they are implemented during the right time and used to address the right challenges.

Accurate recordkeeping will help you track the effects of additives. Work with industry professionals to select a milk replacer feeding plan that maximizes your ROI.

This article has been updated from a previous version published in Progressive Dairy. Click here for the original article. 

Category: Calf and heifer nutrition
Starting Strong - Calf Care