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It's Not Just Corn Prices That Are High!
Dairy Pipeline: August 2007
Extension Dairy Scientist, Dairy Nutrition
(540) 231-4770; firstname.lastname@example.org
Anyone feeding calves recently has noticed that
the price of milk replacers (and whole milk) is up
drastically. Milk prices now exceed $20/cwt. Dried
whey and whey protein concentrate, two principal
sources of proteins in milk replacers, increased
from $.52 to $.80/lb. and from $1.00 to $1.65/lb,
respectively, since January. Whey protein prices
have increased due to its popularity as a protein
source for health foods and it is also used as a
substitute for skim milk powder in baking. Edible
lard, a primary fat source in milk replacers increased
from $425 to over $700/ton during the
same time period due to demand for its use as
How should one respond to these prices increases?
First, remember that the calves’ nutrient
requirements have not changed. These are young
animals that require large quantities of high quality
energy and protein for optimal growth. Deficiencies
cause increased illness, mortality and poor
growth. As calf feed costs have increased so have
the value of calves with day old calves selling for
more than $500. At these high prices a saving of
$50 in calf rearing costs can rapidly be offset by
increased illness or death of one calf. What’s the
best strategy to control costs? Some do’s and
- Wean calves early. It costs more than $1.50/
day to feed even the lowest quality milk replacer in
limited amounts. Most calves can be weaned by 6
weeks when they are eating at least 1.5 to 2.0 lb.
of calf tarter per day. There is no advantage to
feeding milk for extended periods of time. Early
weaning requires good ventilation and an abundant
supply of water. Each extra week of milk or
milk replacer feeding adds more than $10 to the
cost of rearing the calf.
- Feed the highest quality milk replacer to calves
during the first month of life as it’s the sole source
of nutrients and they don’t digest vegetable proteins
well. Milk replacers with all milk based protein
sources will typically be low in fiber (<.15%). Beware of off brand milk replacers that seem very
low in price. Reputable manufacturers of milk replacers
test incoming loads of whey proteins and
reject sources which are high in Salmonella, E. coli
or may be heat damaged.
- Economize by feeding milk replacers with soy or
wheat proteins only to older calves (over 4 weeks of
age) since they more readily digest plant proteins
than the younger calves.
- Provide fresh clean water every day. Consider
wiping or rinsing water buckets in dilute chlorinated
water to retard growth of algae and harmful bacteria.
- Use waste milk. Every farm has unsalable milk
which has no value and might be dumped. Although
it can be an economical source of nutrients,
there are significant risks involved in feeding raw
waste milk. Milk is a great growth medium and field
studies have shown that it can transmit Johne’s,
BVD, Staph and E. coli to the calf. On-farm pasteurizers
are available but they require a significant
investment in equipment and facilities as well as
labor and supervision. Waste milk must be refrigerated
if not pasteurized immediately after milking.
Allowing it to warm to room temperature results in
rapid bacterial growth and significant risk of digestive
- Purchase milk replacer on a lowest cost per bag
basis. Low cost milk replacers use vegetable proteins
in place of milk proteins. Avoid milk replacers
containing egg products or unprocessed soy flour.
These proteins are not digested well by the calf and
may cause allergic reactions in the intestine.
Regardless of the economic conditions, it’s necessary
to maintain a high quality nutrient supply to
baby calves. Would you feed low quality or limited
feed to a human infant? Why should the calf be
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