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Multi-benefits of milk replacers

Milk replacers are increasingly seen as a safer option than untreated whole milk, which carries the risk of transmitting Johne’s, BVD, salmonella and other diseases such as Mycoplasma bovis.

Interest is also growing in the use of quality calf milk replacer – beyond providing a safer, more convenient way to rear beefies, or extending stocks of transition milk for dairy replacements (when milk replacer becomes more cost effective than taking milk out of the vat).

Fortifying whole milk with milk replacer can help support the growth potential of stock with a high genetic merit while restricting the volume fed. This has both practical implications (in terms of volume of milk that has to be carted around) and health implications (in terms of overloading the abomasum with too much milk per feed).

Whilst there is some concern that increased liquid feeding might allow dairy calves to become too fat; adding milk replacer to whole milk is likely to increase the protein-to-fat ratio, which is likely to improve stature and muscle development while decreasing fat deposition. Feeding just two to three litres of milk fortified with 220-300g milk powder is like feeding another 1.5 to 2.4 litres of milk equivalent as milk replacer (depending on the product). Super-concentrated milk should be avoided however, as it may increase the risk of diarrhoea and/or abomasal bloat.


Top tips for milk replacers

The goal should be to deliver the correct concentration in a drinkable volume, produced hygienically.

  • Choose a product to suit your calves, feeding system and growth goals.
  • Ensure it is mixed properly.
  • Feed at the correct level to meet growth targets.
  • Avoid abrupt changes – to reduce stress and nutritional scours.
  • Use a thermometer to ensure water is added at the correct temperature, as indicated on the bag.
  • Do not feed milk replacer with a coccidiostat to bobby calves.


NRM Calf Milk Replacer is well suited to earlier weaning and can also be used in accelerated feeding programmes using fortified whole milk. It helps keep calves content and robust so is a good choice if rearers are inexperienced or weather conditions are inclement.

NRM Calf Milk Finisher incorporates some vegetable proteins so is a great second stage product and is popular with dairy farmers after the transition milk stocks have been exhausted.

To get the most from your milk replacer, aim to reduce the risk of diarrhoea. An interesting survey of 45 Waikato dairy farms in 2010 (Denholm 2012) which looked at pre-weaning calf disease and mortality found:

  • Disease risk was lower when hygiene methods such as gloves and footbaths/boot washing was applied in rearing sheds.
  • Disease decreased with increasing herd size – possibly because bigger units can support dedicated calf rearing staff.
  • Disease decreased when herds were vaccinated with rotavirus and/or salmonella vaccines.
  • Disease was decreased when water was offered in calf pens and when bedding was replaced in calf sheds.


Anyone wishing to learn more about calf rearing should check out the practical videos on the Farmlands website.



For further information, contact your local Nutrition Specialist.

K Denholm 2012 Risk factors for pre-weaning calf morbidity and mortality due to farmer-diagnosed diarrhoea on 45 New Zealand dairy farms, Massey University, Manawatu.

Article supplied by Dr. Rob Derrick, Lead Nutritionist.