If waste milk came with a product label that listed nutrient values and fat, protein and lactose concentrations, then dairy producers would know exactly what calves take in each day without needing testing equipment.
A majority of waste milk doesn’t contain all of the essential nutrients calves need, but without a nutrition label or sophisticated testing equipment, it’s hard to tell if calves are getting what they need.
“Fortifying the liquid ration with a vitamin and trace mineral pack, at a minimum, helps ensure that calves receive a balanced, consistent ration of essential nutrients each day to support healthy development,” said Skip Olson, technical services veterinarian for Milk Products.
Waste milk’s nutrient values can change daily, often falling short of nutritional requirements to support calf health and development, Olson said, providing a look at how fortifiers can put calves on a path to success.
Hits and misses
Waste milk typically provides calves with an adequate supply of B-complex vitamins and vitamin A. When it comes to macrominerals that are essential for calf development, however, waste milk falls short, Olson said. In fact, waste milk does not meet National Research Council recommendations for iron, manganese, zinc, copper, iodine, cobalt, vitamin D, vitamin E and selenium in preweaned calf diets, he added.
These vitamins and minerals are essential for calf growth, immunity, synthesis of hormones that regulate energy metabolism, bone formation and maintenance of cellular membranes. Thanks to waste milk supplementation, dairy farmers have made progress in addressing selenium deficiencies, but associated problems like calf weakness continue to appear, Olson noted.
“Waste milk selenium levels are highly variable depending on where your farm is located,” Olson said. “Thin cows fed inadequate nutrition are more likely to produce milk with low selenium levels. Some regions have selenium-deficient soils, resulting in deficient feedstuffs, too. When passed on to calves, selenium deficiency can result in weakness, injury and white muscle disease.”
Macronutrient variability in waste milk can make calf nutrient intake a guessing game, Olson said, adding that fortifying waste milk provides a balanced, consistent ration of selenium and other trace minerals every day.
Linking waste milk and starter intake
Waste milk variability can slow starter intake because nutrient variation, particularly a higher fat content, can deter dry starter intake. Olson said research shows that fat, protein and lactose concentrations in pasteurized waste milk can vary from 22.3% to 37.6%, 23.1% to 40.8% and 30.2% to 38.4%, respectively.
“Farms using a complete waste milk diet are often unhappy with starter intake,” Olson said. “Problems with starter intake can compound vitamin and trace mineral variability. A fortifier can be the simplest and most efficient way to deliver a balanced ration consistently.”
Waste milk should be also be monitored and adjusted based on variable fat, protein and lactose content to help ensure a consistent nutrient ration that supports starter intake, Olson said. Time and labor constraints on dairy farmers and access to on-farm analytical tools often make this impractical.
Adding a fortifier to ensure consistent nutrient body stores helps support the calf’s immune system during periods of illness and lower feed intake, he added. A healthier immune system improves wellness and starter intake, which stimulates growth of the rumen papillae and increases the rumen surface area to absorb nutrients, meaning that calves potentially can be weaned earlier.
Promoting calf half and delivering medicine
Calves aren’t born with complete natural immune defenses. They’re built over time with the help of vitamin and trace minerals. However, waste milk has highly variable levels of vitamins and trace minerals, Olson said. It changes based on a cow’s late-gestation feed intake as well as feed and forage quality. Resulting deficiencies in calves can contribute to reduced disease resistance and increased probability of morbidity and mortality.
“Aside from providing vitamin A and other key nutrients and trace minerals to build calf immune defenses, fortifiers can also deliver a host of additional beneficial agents to calves through their milk ration,” Olson said. “Examples include coccidiostats, ionophores, larvicides, yeast-derived supplements and essential oils.”
Coccidiostats support calf intestinal health by acting on coccidia parasites, ionophores enhance cattle efficiency by altering ruminal fermentation patterns and larvicides provide feed-through fly control to help prevent associated diseases in calves, Olson explained. So, in addition to supporting immune defenses, fortifiers can go a step further in ensuring healthy, efficient calf development.