Calves, or baby cows, have special nutritional needs. If these needs are not met, the calf can run into serious health issues either as a calf or later in life as an adult cow or bull. Make sure you are following a strict feeding schedule, especially when raising a newborn calf.
A milk replacer is the primary source of food for the first few weeks of a calf's life. Young calves cannot yet digest grains or hay as an adult cow can, so find an agglomerated milk replacer whenever possible. This will help the young calf digest an even amount of nutrition throughout meals.
It is important to balance cost-savings with quality when choosing a milk replacer for your calves. When shopping for a milk replacer, ask the following questions:
What Type of Protein Source is used in the Milk Replacer?
The most digestible types of protein are derived from milk, plasma and serum. These types of proteins will help calves grow faster and live healthier as adults. Less expensive protein ingredients derived from egg or plants are less digestible for calves but can be economical for cattle owners on a budget. Finally, the least digestible protein comes from soy flour and should never be fed to a calf less than 3 weeks old.
How Much Protein, Fat and Fiber are in the Milk Replacer?
Feed calves milk replacers that use 20 percent protein and 20 percent fat. Do not give calves less than 3 weeks old milk replacers containing more than 1 percent fiber. 0.20 percent fiber is a good amount.
Does the Milk Replacer Contain Additives?
Some milk replacers come with additives, or hormones and medications that are added to the milk replacer formula which benefits the growth and health of the calf. Approved milk replacer medications are being limited, however, due to concerns that human consumption of cattle beef causes resistance to antibiotics in humans.
It is important to note that no milk replacement additive is 100 percent effective, and sound herd management, sanitation and biosecurity practices are an important part of any calf or cattle feeding program. Common milk replacer medications include:
- Neomycin and Oxytetracycline: used to facilitate weight gain in calves and treat scours.
- Lasalocid: used to control coccidiosis caused by Eimeria bovis and Eimeria zuernii.
- Decoquinate: used to prevent coccidiosis caused by Eimeria bovis and Eimeria zuernii in ruminating and non-ruminating calves and cattle.
- MOS (mannan-oligosaccharides): a non-medicated additive used to promote intestinal health in calves by preventing bacterial scours infections and support immune health.