Calf Feeding Best Practice

Over 50% of calf rearing costs are due to feed, however this is an area that shouldn’t be scrimped on. Investing in quality Calf Milk Replacer (CMR) will pay off in terms of age at first calving and future yield.

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Saleable Whole Milk (WM) is still a viable choice for calves but is not necessarily a cheaper option. Unpasteurised whole milk can pose a risk to the calf in the form of bacterial contamination including E. coli, Salmonella and Campylobacter as well as Johne’s disease. Antibiotic (waste) milk should never be fed to replacement heifers because of the effect on the protective gut bacteria and the proven increased risk of antibiotic resistance.

Consistency is extremely important when it comes to feeding baby calves. Whether you choose to feed whole milk or CMR, it should be warmed to 40-42C before feeding. Feeding at the same time of day is also important. Calves should be fed at least twice a day; three times or ad lib is even better.

Feeding Heifer Calves for Accelerated Growth to calve down at 24 months. A sensible target for the pre-weaning period should be to double the birth body weight in the first 2 months of life. The aim should be to get calves up to 900g of Calf Milk Replacer (CMR) per day as quickly as possible after their colostrum, and then to tail off towards weaning at around 8 weeks. If making up the CMR by hand, this means 150g/850ml water to make up a litre of milk. Calves should be fed 6 litres per day at this 15% inclusion rate. Note that with automatic calf feeding machines, the powder is added to a litre so it is important to up the powder inclusion rate accordingly. Calves should also eat 1.5kg/day of concentrate feed in the week before they are weaned. Water should be available from birth to ensure good feed intakes and to promote rumen development.

Whole Milk


  • 100% dairy protein
  • Rich in fat therefore high in energy
  • Contains immunoglobulins not present in milk replacers


  • Can be a carrier of disease from cow to calf (vertical transmission)
  • Contains pathogens (particularly raw waste milk, but also pasteurised milk)
  • Transmission of Johne’s disease
  • Low in certain vitamins and trace elements
  • Can contain antibiotic traces contributing to resistance
  • High fat content can actually cause scouring and can impede rumen development after weaning

Calf Milk Replacer (CMR)


  • Has a constant composition
  • Is processed to minimise contamination and disease transition
  • The composition is tailored to the nutrition program and calf’s needs
  • Easy to verify DM and feed amount
  • Can be used to achieve accelerated growth when associated with an appropriate feed rate


  • Is less digestible when the formulation is high in vegetable protein
  • Lower quality CMRs can have low stability, causing scouring
  • Less reputable suppliers may use degraded or damaged milk ingredients

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