• Yes or no?

    The pros and cons of feeding
    cow's milk to your calves

Cow’s milk not for heifer calves

Can you feed the milk from the first 3 days after calving to calves without any problems? How suitable is this milk for rearing calves? What are the benefits or the disadvantages? And what kind of risks would you run? Sprayfo presents a number of important facts about feeding cow’s milk here.

Which cow’s milk and which not?

 Cow’s milk is not the best option for the growth and development of your heifer calves (see the table below on the needs of calves). It is nevertheless quite understandable that you would consider it. After all, in the first 3 days after calving you have a lot of surplus colostrum or ‘colostrum milk’ which you cannot supply to dairy factories.

 If you feed cow’s milk, make sure you only use milk from healthy cows. Do not give your calves milk with penicillin, even if the dose of antibiotics might appear very small. Giving low concentrations of antibiotics to cow calves over a long period of time speeds up the development of resistance when heifers are fed milk. This is undesirable and is easily prevented.


For which calves and for how long?

'Colostrum milk' from the first day are of course for newly born calves. If the dairy farm has the correct disease status, it can change over to mixed beestings after 1 to 1.5 days. Heifer calves are fed 6 to 8 litres of 'colostrum milk' per day for the first 3 days. Bull calves are given the same, but in that case until they leave the farm at 14 days old.

Risks of transmission of diseases

 The transmission of diseases from cow to calf is a matter of increasing interest to milk processing factories and the Animal Health Service. Feeding cow’s milk is a risk factor in this regard. The risk of transmitting Para tuberculosis via cow’s milk is well known. But there are other diseases and viruses which can be transmitted via cow's milk. You can read more about this in the article ‘Prevent spreading disease via cow’s milk’.

Temperature and hygiene risks

 Feeding cow’s milk to calves requires a lot of care and attention. The milk is often too cold when it comes straight from the milking parlour. If it is not properly warmed up, feeding diarrhoea may occur. Cow’s milk very quickly becomes contaminated. It is therefore advisable to feed the milk directly after milking. Milk is a breeding ground for the rapid growth of bacteria as a result of which the calf is at risk of catching infectious diarrhoea.

The constitution of cow’s milk is not enough for a calf’s needs

Due to changes in rations and concentration on milk production, the composition of cow’s milk has changed in recent decades. The fat content has risen and, because of the high milk yield, the vitamin and trace element content has greatly declined. The result is that cow’s milk is no longer sufficient for the long-term needs of calves. The nutritional elements shown in red below deviate from the requirement. The excess fat often causes diarrhoea. The deficits in vitamins and trace elements result in reduced immune system functioning and worse digestion.

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