Calf feeding came under the spotlight during Bonanza Calf Nutrition’s recent CalfChat, in association with JFC Agri.

With input from all CalfChat participants, some interesting trends were established.

The majority of participants said they fed their calves six litres daily in contrast to traditional thinking that suggests four litres is adequate for all calves.

Dr Christine Cummins of Bonanza Calf Nutrition said four litres is, in fact, only sufficient for the maintenance requirements of the average-sized calf.


However, she pointed out that breed was not accounted for when this question was put to participants.

For those farmers with smaller breeds, such as a Jersey, four litres daily is a good target, she advised.

She cautioned that when feeding milk replacer, it is important to consider the number of grammes of powder, not the volume of mixed milk.

“Milk replacer can be fed at different concentrations, as can be seen in Table 1," she says.

Table 1. Comparison between 6 litres of whole milk and 6 litres of milk replacer mixed at various concentrations

Based on cows’ milk, the average concentration of a Holstein Friesian’s milk is 12.5% - this means that in every litre of cow's milk there is 125g of solids.

When mixing milk replacer, 750g of powder is similar to six litres of cows’ milk - but farmers have the control on what volume to feed it at.

Milk replacer equivalent

“It can be mixed to make up three litres or it can be mixed to make up seven litres, the farmer has the control," said Dr Cummins.

When feeding 125g in one litre of mixed milk replacer, the volume is comparable to that of cows’ milk.

However, feeding 150g in one litre is equivalent to more than 750g.

“Your total amount of mixed milk replacer is 900g, equal to 7.2 litres of an average cows’ milk," said Dr Cummins.

This is an important consideration, as it can be easy to mistake the level of nutrition calves are receiving.

The discussion suggested that milk replacer is now commonly used to feed calves, due to multiple factors such as the calf shed being positioned at a distance from the milking parlour and the use of automatic feeders.

When using milk replacer, it is key to understand a calf’s needs.


Although the majority of CalfChat participants said they understood that feed should be the same for bulls and heifers, there is a misconception by some that they have different requirements.

This is not the case, especially in young, pre-weaned calves, says Dr Cummins.

“Let’s put it this way, if a cow has a bull calf one year and a heifer calf the next, there is no mechanism that tells her to change the milk she produces, it’s the same regardless of what sex her calf is.”

“When feeding milk replacer, it is important not to lose sight of what the cow herself would produce.”

Feeding methods

Another element of the CalfChat discussion was which piece of JFC Agri equipment was a favourite with participants.

The mixing trolley and automatic calf feeder were the top favourites - demonstrating a trend for both manual and automatic feeding methods.

Although this reflected a contrast in feeding management, it highlighted a desire by farmers to adopt simpler, time saving feeding methods.

“As farms have expanded in recent years, there isn’t the same time available to put into each individual calf and so methods of feeding are being looked at to save time on jobs such as feeding, hence not cutting corners on other jobs such as health checking and bedding,” says Dr Cummins.

This week’s CalfChat will examine the protein requirements of calves and the differences between proteins in milk and milk replacer.

Maximising digestibility is key to getting the calf off to the right start and a young calf must receive the optimal amount of the right protein.

In the first weeks of life, the calf’s ability to convert feed to growth is the most efficient it will ever be so more feed equals more growth. Correct?

“Not necessarily,” says Dr Cummins. “More feed can overload some calves, depending on the breed and moreover, more feed of the wrong kind can equal poor growth and increased susceptibility to illness.”

“If only calf rearing were that simple, as described in previous CalfChats. The calf’s digestive system is still developing and different breeds have different requirements, therefore it is optimal feeding not maximum feeding as well as knowing your proteins.”

CalfChat will be live at 8pm on Thursday 26 November on Twitter and Facebook under the username @CalfChat. Join in and have your say.