Review dairy protein fed to calves

15 Nov 2019

Calf rearers facing high skim milk powder costs should review the dairy protein they feed to their calves.

“The reality is that modern, precision-formulated whey protein-based calf milk formulas deliver comparable young animal performance to skim milk-based products. And producers should be confident in making the switch to whey,” says Volac’s Jessica Cooke.

Protein options

She points out that the price of skim milk powder has been rising steadily during the past year and, with the recent sharp price increase, many producers will already be exploring alternative pre-weaning calf feeding options.

“But review the available dairy protein options carefully,” she stresses.  

Dr Cooke explains that dairy ingredients are the main source of protein in calf milk replacers and these include both skim (casein protein) and whey.

Clot formation

“Skim milk powder is simply whole milk with the fat removed and whey protein is a co-product of cheese production.”

She adds that milk replacers containing a high content of skim will result in clot formation in the acid conditions of the calf’s stomach (abomasum).

Primary source

Whereas milk replacers with whey as the primary source of milk protein do not form a clot and pass readily into the small intestine for digestion.

“Despite these differences, whey protein concentrate and skim milk powder are comparable sources of dairy protein in milk replacer products.”

Calf performance

That said, good calf performance depends on more than just the type of dairy protein – the quality and processing of the ingredients used in a milk replacer are also important.

“When processed under carefully controlled conditions, both skim and whey-based milk replacers can deliver excellent calf performance,” says Dr Cooke.

Health issues

“But poorly processed milk-derived protein, be it skim or whey, can have poor digestibility and increase the risk of health issues.

“So it’s key is to evaluate value for money carefully when purchasing a calf milk replacer and only buy a precision-formulated product with a proven track record of performance.”