Evaluating the Quality of Milk Replacers

by Robert B. Corbett, DVM, PAS, DIPL. ACAN

                Milk replacers come in a wide variety of protein and fat concentrations. The type and quality of the ingredients also vary greatly. In order to determine the quality of a milk replacer, the dairy owner must become familiar with the ingredients and guaranteed analysis listed on the milk replacer.

Both the percent of protein in the milk replacer and its source must be evaluated before one can determine its quality. Most milk replacers contain 20 to 28% protein with the major portion of the protein being derived from milk products or by-products of the milk processing industry. These would include dried skim milk, sodium caseinate, whey protein concentrate, dried whole whey, delactosed whey, dried buttermilk and milk albumin.

In the past, dried skim milk was used as the major source of protein in calf milk replacers. When the demand for skim milk for human consumption increased significantly, whey protein concentrate was used to replace a major portion of the protein previously supplied by skim milk. Currently, the price of skim milk protein and whey protein varies to the point where it may be more economical to use one over the other. The major difference between the two is that skim milk protein contains casein and whey protein does not. Skim milk protein will form a curd in the abomasum and whey protein will not. However, multiple studies have not shown any significant difference in the performance of calves regardless of which of these two milk protein sources were used. Milk proteins contain the highest quality protein and are more easily digested than other protein sources.

In an effort to reduce the cost of milk replacers, most manufacturers will offer products that substitute some of the milk-based protein with vegetable protein. Commonly used proteins would be soy proteins and hydrolyzed (soluble) wheat gluten protein (SWGP).

Soy proteins are often used in less expensive calf milk replacers. Unprocessed soy proteins contain numerous anti-nutritional factors (ANF). These ANF interfere with normal enzyme function and can bind to specific sugars or glyco-proteins, which result in decreased absorption of nutrients and damage to the gut wall. Soy proteins have also been shown to produce a marked allergic reaction in the gut, which may result in damage to the microvilli that line the small intestine. As a result, most milk replacer manufacturers that include soy proteins in their products will utilize soy proteins that have been processed in a manner which eliminates the majority of the problems previously stated.

The soy proteins used in milk replacers most commonly are soy flour, soy protein concentrate, and soy protein isolate. All three products are obtained from defatted soy flakes through different processes. Soy flour is obtained simply by grinding the soy flakes. The protein in soy flour is the least utilizable of the three products but may be improved slightly through a heat treatment process. Soy protein concentrate and soy protein isolate are obtained through different chemical processes and are more available to the animal than the soy flour.

The calf cannot utilize soy proteins very well during the first 2 to 3 weeks of life. Therefore, milk replacers that contain soy protein should not be fed to calves younger than 3 weeks of age. Some of the manufacturers have tried to disguise soy protein on their label by calling it Glycine max, which is the scientific name for the soybean. Other companies have tried to use fiber levels to prove the quality of their product. A fiber level of 0.15 has been used to implicate a high-quality milk replacer with all of the protein being derived from milk products. However, soy protein isolate carries no fiber with it and thus invalidates the assumption that a milk replacer with a 0.15 fiber level contains all milk protein. Other protein sources such as blood, plasma, and albumin are less available than milk protein and contain no fiber. Also, the method of analyzing the fiber content of a milk replacer is not extremely accurate, and therefore should not be accepted totally at its face value.

Wheat gluten protein is one of the largest proteins in nature. This makes it very difficult for the milk-fed calf to be able to digest and absorb this protein. It is also not soluble in water and therefore would not stay in suspension if used as a protein source in milk replacers. However, wheat gluten protein can be processed using enzyme hydrolysis to produce hydrolyzed (soluble) wheat gluten protein (SWGP). This process breaks down the large protein into smaller segments that are more easily digested and absorbed as well as being more soluble and able to remain in suspension when mixed with water. If the process of enzyme hydrolysis is allowed to continue beyond the optimal point in time, the product becomes bitter and less palatable. If the process is carried out for an insufficient amount of time, the proteins will be less digestible and remain unsoluble in milk replacer. SWGP has a different amino acid profile than milk proteins. It is much lower in lysine and contains less threonine than milk proteins. For this reason, these amino acids should be added to milk replacers to improve the amino acid profile when using SWGP as a protein source. It is generally recommended that SWGP should not exceed 5% of the total milk replacer. This would replace approximately 20% of the milk-based protein.

There have been several trials evaluating the use of SWGP in milk replacers with varying results. The general consensus is that if using a high-quality SWGP in the formula, it will perform quite well when compared to an all-milk protein product. However, it would still be preferable to use an all-milk protein product in calves less than 3 weeks of age.

One of the ways to reduce the cost of the milk replacer is to increase the amount of vegetable protein in the formula. However, the label on the milk replacer bag does not stipulate what the exact percentage of vegetable protein that is contained in that product. The labels of two competitive products may look almost the same but vary in price significantly just because there is a higher percentage of vegetable protein in the cheaper product. This makes it very difficult for the dairy owner to make a well-informed decision on which product to purchase. The preference is usually to purchase the less-expensive product, not knowing that it might contain a higher percentage of vegetable protein. If in doubt, a reputable milk replacer manufacturer should be willing to disclose the percentage of vegetable protein that is contained in their products.

Another source of protein in milk replacer is bovine plasma protein. It is not as common as the vegetable protein sources since the cost of it is very similar to milk-based proteins. Some reports have suggested that the health of the calf is improved since it contains immunoglobulins, but the studies are not conclusive. The recommended level of inclusion is about the same as vegetable protein which is around 5% of the milk replacer formula. Bovine plasma has a lower level of the amino acid isoleucine, so milk replacer formulas containing bovine plasma should be supplemented with isoleucine.

There has been a tremendous amount of research in the last 10-15 years on the nutrition of the milk-fed calf. There has been a general trend to move away from products that contain vegetable proteins and to use products which are defined as being “all milk”. Most veterinarians and nutritionists are in agreement that using a high quality “all milk” milk replacer will provide the best results for the health and growth of dairy calves.

The fat level in most milk replacers generally varies from 18 to 22%. Some milk replacers have been formulated more recently to contain fat levels as high as 33%. It is important to keep in mind that Holstein milk is 26-28% protein and 30-32% fat on a dry matter basis. The source of fat is usually tallow or lard. In order for these fats to be easily mixed in water, and be more easily digested, they are homogenized and emulsified during the manufacturing process. Emulsifiers such as mono and diglycerides and lecithin are often added to aid in this process.

In addition to the fats being emulsified, they may also undergo an agglomeration process. This increases the surface area of small fat particles thus allowing them to be easier to mix into water and to stay in suspension once mixed. This process is often referred to as “instantized”. This process adds some cost to the milk replacer, so it is often optional.

Fat digestion is complex, but the most important enzyme involved in fat digestion is lipase. There are several management procedures that result in an increase in the amount of lipase produced by the calf. The first is the ingestion of adequate amounts of colostrum immediately after birth. This results in higher amounts of lipase being excreted into the gastrointestinal tract. Interestingly, this increased amount of lipase persists through weaning and beyond. The second factor is utilizing a nipple to feed milk to the calf. Saliva is an important source of lipase, and nipple-fed calves produce 3 times more saliva than bucket-fed calves. The other main source of lipase is the pancreas, but maximum pancreatic lipase secretion does not occur until the calf is 8 days of age. The calf depends heavily on salivary lipase the first 8 days of life so using a nipple at least during this time period will significantly enhance fat digestion.

Some of the main fat source may be replaced with a source of short-chained fatty acids such as coconut oil. Lipase is more efficient in the digestion of short-chained fatty acids resulting in enhanced fat utilization. Replacing 20% of the animal fat with coconut oil gives a fatty acid profile that is more similar to that of whole milk. The addition of coconut oil or other sources of short-chained fatty acids depends mainly on the cost of these products.

Calves less than 3 weeks of age can adequately digest up to 2.5 grams per pound of body weight per day of a high-quality fat source. If a newborn calf weighing 80 lbs. is fed a 20:20 milk replacer mixed at a rate of 1 pound per gallon and fed 2 quarts twice per day, it would receive 0.2 lbs. (90.8 grams) of fat per day. This is less than half of the amount that it can adequately digest (2.5 grams/lb. X 80 lbs. = 200 grams).

Even though this mixing rate and feeding rate is commonly used for young calves, it is obvious that this amount does not provide the nutrients needed to maximize the genetic potential for growth of the young dairy calf.

Lactose is the main carbohydrate added to milk replacers since it is a naturally occurring sugar in milk and is efficiently digested, especially by younger calves less than 3 weeks of age. Recent research has suggested that glucose (dextrose) can replace some of the lactose in milk replacers. Lactose concentration in milk replacers is rarely discussed, and most dairymen are unaware of its importance. Lactose plays an important role in the osmolality of the milk replacer. Osmolality is defined as the number of solute particles in a kilogram of solvent. In simpler terms, it is basically the concentration or amount of particles in a solution. If the osmolality is too high, then it will cause fluid to cross the intestinal wall into the lumen of the intestine to reduce the concentration of particles to a more physiological level. This will result in diarrhea.

The percent lactose in milk or milk replacer can roughly be calculated by subtracting the amount of protein, fat, and ash (mainly minerals) from the total amount of solids. The amount of lactose in whole milk is approximately 30%. However, the amount of lactose in a 20:20 milk replacer is approximately 48%. This is a 60% increase in the amount of lactose. This has a profound effect on the osmolality of the milk replacer. If the percent solids is increased as well, then the total amount of lactose consumed per day is also increased. The enzyme lactase is necessary to digest lactose. The total amount of lactase can be overwhelmed by the amount of lactose entering the GI tract. With an insufficient amount of lactase produced to digest the extra lactose consumed, a significant amount of lactose will pass into the large intestine undigested, resulting in hind gut fermentation of lactose.

The higher the percent protein and fat in milk replacer, the lower the percent lactose. The milk replacer formulas that contain more protein and fat come closer to achieving the normal amounts of these nutrients found in whole milk and have lower amounts of lactose, thus decreasing the chances of developing diarrhea due to high osmolality.

Newborn calves have little to no reserves of vitamins A, D and E. Good quality colostrum has high levels of these vitamins and can provide adequate levels to the calf provided she has received sufficient colostrum. Good quality milk replacers should also contain vitamins A, D and E in the appropriate levels which range from 10,000 to 30,000 USP Units of vitamin A per pound of milk replacer, 2,000 to 6,000 international units of vitamin D3 per pound, and 25 to 125 international units of vitamin E per pound. Some replacers also contain vitamin C since it seems to boost the immune response along with vitamin E.

Even though cow’s milk contains a fairly high level of calcium, milk replacer should be supplemented with a calcium source since the fat interferes with calcium digestibility. Iron should also be supplemented since the iron content of whole milk is low.

Most milk replacer manufacturers provide the option of medicating the product with DeccoxR or BovatecR (lasalocid) for the prevention and control of coccidiosis. It is advisable to use the same product in the milk replacer that you will be using in the calf starter if possible.

There are many ingredients that must be purchased from other manufacturers that are important in the formulation of a high-quality milk replacer. Many of the more reputable milk replacer manufacturers have their own quality control laboratories with stringent requirements in place to ensure that the products they produce are of the highest quality. These laboratories have two main goals when it comes to the products they are purchasing for inclusion into their milk replacers. One is to find out with company or companies meet their qualifications for that particular product, and second is to test the product to make sure it is up to their standards. If a product is found not to meet their qualifications, it is rejected. Where does this product end up?

It is a well-known fact that there are milk replacer manufacturers that always seem to have a lower priced product with the same protein and fat content compared to other companies. How can these companies make a profit by selling their product at a price significantly lower than other companies? One way is to purchase these ingredients that do not meet the quality standards of other more reputable companies. These less expensive products often do not stay in suspension as well, have lower digestibility and often result in poor performance. It is common to see an increase in health issues such as diarrhea and abomasal bloat when switching from a high-quality milk replacer to a lower quality product.

Ease of mixing and the ability to remain in suspension are two important things to consider in the quality of a milk replacer. The percent solids should remain the same from the first bottle to the last. The ability of a milk replacer to stay in suspension can be easily observed by pouring the recently mixed product into a glass cylinder and allowing it to sit for 30 minutes. A brix refractometer can also be used to determine the percent solids to see if there is a change over time.

When considering which milk replacer to buy, price is certainly an important consideration, but it should not be the only consideration. The overall quality of a milk replacer plays an important role in the average daily gain, efficiency of feed conversion, health of the calf, as well as future productivity. The economic emphasis should be placed on the cost per pound of gain, not the cost per calf per day.

This article was originally published by IBA Inc. in the September-October 2022 issue Dairy World and is reprinted with permission from Editor Jessica Belsito.

Managing Change on the Farm

By Grace Kline

Dairy farmers can be very stubborn. I say this because my grandfather was a stubborn dairy farmer, along with my dad, my husband, and myself on occasion. To be a good dairy farmer, it takes a good bit of stubbornness. I mean, how else are you going to get yourself out of bed at 4:30 every morning, determined to take on another day – no matter what it throws at you?

At the same time, stubbornness can let you fall behind. For years, farming traditions have passed through many generations, teaching the same techniques. My grandfather taught my father how to farm, and my father taught me. I’m sure many of you can say the same. The other thing I can say is that I have had many opportunities to work away from our herd and learn new things. New is not always better, and may not always work for your farm, but you don’t know unless you try. I was grateful that my father let me implement new techniques when I came home from different jobs and internships, and we played trial and error with many things. Those experiences made me the farmer I am today.   

Change can take an emotional toll on some farms, while on others it simply takes a toll on logistics. However, we will be taking a look at how our brains view change to better equip ourselves for the future.

At the Northeast Dairy management Conference in Liverpool, NY, an article from The Human Factor by Holly G. Green was featured when discussing change in the workplace. The article was titled “Adapting & Thriving in an Ever Changing World: Using Your Brain to Win.” The first concept to understand when discussing change, according to Holly, is that “we are pattern seeking, structure loving animals.” We know this to be true about farmers because we often hear them say something like “we’ve always done it this way.” We form habits and routines, often doing just about the same thing every day, whether it is beneficial or not.

The next concept from Holly is to be aware of your brain in unexpected changes. She writes of 6 phases we tend to go through when confronted with the unknown. Not everyone goes through every single phase, but try to find which ones you connect to the most. The first phase is shock. If it is something small we may think of it as curiosity, however large changes will be shocking and unsettling. The second phase is denial, which consists of “looking for evidence it is not true or won’t affect me.” Both the second and third phases resonate with me the most, because I know that they are exactly how I react when I am confronted with change. I immediately try to find a way that it will not work, or that what I am hearing cannot be true. That being said, the third phase is a stage of annoyance or frustration. When faced with the unknown, we put up a mental wall (like a stubborn farmer) and refuse to accept the new concept. For some, change can bring about a lack of motivation, lack of energy, or depression as stated by Green. “We withdraw, disconnect.” We try to reason that avoiding the subject may make the issue go away, or at least we will not be dealing with it directly.

The final two phases can be the most difficult ones, but they are the most positive. The fourth phase is acceptance and the beginning of experimentation. I mentioned earlier that my father sounded similar to this fourth phase, but that is not to say that our family always operated that way. It took some time for us to learn to communicate to achieve the acceptance phase. When proposing new ideas, it is important to consider your audience and the work they have done both with you and for you in your dairy operation. Highlighting what is working and appreciating those doing the work may make your team more receptive to new ideas. Take time to learn the communication strategies of those around you, so that you are better equipped to introduce new ideas and get a more accepting response.

The final phase is integrate – working “with the new parameters/situation, become more positive.” Patience is key when working to the integrate stage. We can always fall backward and try to reject the idea even after we’ve convinced others that we have accepted it. Green highlights that a change in perspective can be helpful for all parties, asking ourselves “what if I was in their shoes? How do these options compare, my feelings aside?” It is important to take a step back and examine the whole picture, gaining control of our own minds by making an honest assessment of the changes being brought before us. You can let these changes tear your team apart, or you can use them to bring your team closer together through learning, acceptance, experimentation and integration.

Managing change is as much of a struggle in our minds as it is out in the barn. Taking control of your own mind and recognizing your resistance to change can open you up to experimentation discussions faster with less frustration. Technology is constantly changing the way we do things because we are able to learn more about different subjects and do a better job taking care of our cattle.

We should view change as a way to grow and better ourselves, rather than a disruptive force that is harming generations of hard work. My grandparents love visiting our farm and marvel at the technologies and set ups we get to work with, and it is fun to share with them.

Green, Holly G. Using Your Brain to Win. The Human Factor, 2013.

Grace Kline operates Diamond Valley Dairy with her husband Jacob, and brothers-in-law Josh and Jesse Kline. Grace is the calf and heifer manager, working on the farm full time. She graduated the State University of New York at Morrisville with a Bachelor’s degree in Agricultural Business Development in 2021.

Hampel’s Calf-Tel Welcomes Emmanuel de Chorivit as Sales Manager for Western Europe & North Africa

Germantown, Wis. [March 31, 2023] – Hampel’s Calf-Tel is thrilled to announce the addition of Emmanuel de Chorivit to our team as Sales Manager for Western Europe & North Africa. Emmanuel is a highly skilled, multilingual individual with high proficiency in English, German, and his native language, French. He brings a wealth of experience to our organization, having worked for more than 15 years in the agricultural industry in various sales and business development leadership roles. His first day with Calf-Tel will be on April 1st, 2023.

“Emmanuel’s extensive knowledge of the dairy industry, his experience leading sales teams and connecting with dealers will be a valuable asset to Calf-Tel as we continue to expand our global footprint. We’re excited to have him on board and look forward to the contributions he’ll make to our organization,” said Bernd Kleiner, Brand Development Manager & Managing Director for Hampel’s Calf-Tel, Europe.

Emmanuel has a B.A. in Economics and an M.B.A from the ESSEC Business School in Paris, France. In his new role, Emmanuel will be responsible for managing sales operations and driving revenue growth for Calf-Tel in Western Europe and North Africa.

“I’m excited to join the team at Calf-Tel and to have the opportunity to work with a company that is at the forefront of innovation in both the dairy industry, and the calf housing space. I look forward to leveraging my previous experience in the dairy milk-replacer knowledge and livestock machinery industry to contribute to Calf-Tel’s continued success,” said Emmanuel.

Emmanuel can be reached at:

+33 6 72 05 38 24


As a leader in the calf housing industry, Hampel’s Calf-Tel is committed to providing high-quality products and exceptional customer service to our clients worldwide. With the recent addition of Emmanuel to our team, we’re confident that we’ll be able to continue to deliver on that promise and achieve our ambitious growth goals for the future.

For more information on the Calf-Tel line of products, visit www.Calf-Tel.com or call (262) 255-4540 or email: sales@calftel.com.

Hampel’s Calf-Tel, a division of Hampel Corporation, began serving the agriculture industry in 1981 with the introduction of Calf-Tel housing systems. Today it is the number one choice for calf housing, worldwide. For more information, visit www.Calf-Tel.com or learn more at www.facebook.com/calftel and www.youtube.com/calftel.

Hampel’s Calf-Tel Welcomes Clay Franklin as Southwest Territory Manager

Germantown, Wis. [March 20, 2023] – Hampel’s Calf-Tel is excited to welcome Clay Franklin as our new Southwest Territory Sales Manager. Clay was the Sales Manager at Feed Innovations, where he worked from 2015 to present. Clay was in Charge of Sales, Distribution, and Customer Service of multiple products distributed throughout the United States. Clay has over 20 years of experience in the dairy industry ranging from assistant livestock judging coach, to herdsman, to territory manager.

“I am very excited for the opportunity to join Calf-Tel’s elite sales team. I cannot wait to get started with the new designs and technology from Calf-Tel along with their uncompromised quality,” says Franklin.

 “There is tremendous opportunity in the Southwest and we are confident that with Clay’s knowledge and experience he will curate authentic relationships with producers and provide the best care to calves in this region,” says Brandon Sowder Director of Global Business Development.

Clay holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Animal Science from Kansas State University.

His first day with Calf-Tel will be March 20th, 2023.

Clay can be reached at:



Hampel’s Calf-Tel, a division of Hampel Corporation, began serving the agriculture industry in 1981 with the introduction of Calf-Tel housing systems. Today it is the number one choice for calf housing, worldwide. For more information, visit www.Calf-Tel.com or learn more at www.facebook.com/calftel and www.youtube.com/calftel.

Evolving Calf Care

By Grace Kline

My husband and I recently reorganized our calf housing on our dairy farm. We covered a section of lawn with gravel, and added stone dust on top of the gravel to make a flat and even surface that allows moisture to pass through. We have 15 individual hutches, and 4 super hutches for the weaned calves. Shortly after finishing this project, my grandparents came to visit, which always includes a walk around the farm. My grandparents owned and milk cows several years ago. That experience gives them a deep appreciation for what we do, and for the changes and advancements the industry has made over the years.

After seeing our hutch area, my grandmother made a comment along the lines of; “Wow. I wish I had something like this when I raised calves. We used to tie them up in front of the cows next to the feed troughs!” Even 10 years ago, I saw an example of this myself when walking a tie stall barn that had already filled their hutches and had extra calves.

This comment had me thinking about how different calf care ideas and protocols had been put in place. While there are different ways of doing them, the basics come down to colostrum within the first hour, dip the navel, and house in a clean environment. Today, we know how important it is to do each of these things. But, I want to review a study from 1986 that was published in The Journal of Dairy Science by William J. Goodger and Eileen M Theodore. This is a study that was done 37 years ago, which “examined 10 separate management areas with a total of 83 potential management decisions to provide a more comprehensive view of management practices.” I would like to compare the dairy manager’s answers to the interview questions and the observations of those conducting the study to what we consider the standard today.

We know that it is important to feed colostrum within the first hour of birth as that is when the calf can achieve the highest IgG (immunoglobin G) absorption. Considering that fact, it is also important to check the calving areas regularly to identify cows in labor and be prepared to take care of the newborn. Today, dairies can use activity monitors and cameras if the manager cannot be physically present to check the calving areas as often as they see fit. During this study, it was found that the majority of managers did not have a schedule to check the calving areas, which can result in many different calving/newborn issues.

When it comes to actually feeding the colostrum, there are 3 different ways to complete this task that come to mind. It can be fed by a bottle, an esophageal tube feeder, or by the cow herself. Opinions differ on which is the best option. Feeding by a bottle allows the calf to nurse the way it naturally would, however the calf may not drink the entire gallon that is recommended. Feeding by an esophageal tube feeder ensures the calf takes the entire amount of colostrum, but the user runs the risk of drowning the calf if it is not done properly. A calf may nurse off the cow if the calf has not yet been seen and removed from the cow. Calves can struggle to stand within the first hour of birth without assistance and will not be able to reach the udder. Some cows do not allow the calves to suck and may injure them by kicking or trying to get away from the calf. If a cow does allow the calf to suck, the teat may not be properly cleaned which could introduce unwanted bacteria to the calf. The calf’s teeth may also damage the cow’s teat, making milking difficult and/or painful.

When we look back to 37 years ago, allowing the calf to nurse was a common practice among farmers. While the answers were pretty close across the board, the most popular answer was to allow the calf to nurse first, then step in and supplement to be sure the calf received the full amount. For hygiene and efficiency reasons, calves should receive colostrum from a bottle or esophageal tube feeder. Immunoglobulin absorption recommendations were not listed in this study, and IgG levels were not checked or reported on these dairies for the purpose of the study. However, one paragraph that I found interesting stated that it was common practice to discard the colostrum from first lactation animals and only use colostrum from 2nd lactation and higher cows (pg. 4). The reasoning behind that was that those animals would contribute higher antibody levels. Now, testing colostrum with a colostometer or a brix refractometer, we know that colostrum at 50 mg/mL of Ig is considered quality colostrum (Ishler, Schurman; 2023). This translates to a reading of 22% or higher on a brix refractometer, or the green section of the colostrumeter tool. Testing colostrum allows us to only discard the inadequate colostrum, instead of basing the quality on lactation number or age of the cow.

When the calf is born, the exposed naval can act as a pathway for bacteria to reach the calf’s body. An infected naval will become swollen, and if not treated in time, begin to cause joint illness and swelling in the knees. To prevent the navel infections, dipping in a 7% iodine (Godkin, 2019) helps clean and dry out the navel. This should be done for all calves, as bacteria can be picked up just about anywhere. Dipping the navel is a widely used protocol, however, it did not used to be for all dairies. The study showed that over half of the participating dairies were selective when it came to dipping navels.

Calf housing can be a hefty discussion. It is done in a few different ways, with new ideas and studies coming all the time. My personal preference is individual housing in a calf hutch. I chose this as I prefer my calves separated to minimize the spread of disease, and I can see each calf’s individual development. I also find that the calves are comfortable in hutches that have superior ventilation such as Calf-Tel strives for. However, as I said before, I only have 15 hutches. Larger dairies have been making use of calf barns, which allows you to reduce labor when you have more calves. During this study, it was found that 76% of dairies had their calves in group pens while 24% of dairies used individual housing. At the time of this study, individual calf housing was being pushed as the most effective way to raise calves to prevent disease. It was stated that the most common individual housing was constructed of wood, which can hold onto bacteria and moisture. Today, the use of plastics has allowed farmers to keep a cleaner living area for their calves, but the housing situations still differ. Calf barns can contain both individual and group housing, and new studies show that some calves perform better when paired with a partner. That idea encouraged the paired housing units now sold by Calf-Tel. When deciding what housing design is right for your dairy, it may be helpful to visit other farms (with the owners permission) and ask the manager why they decided on their design. You will be able to compare their thoughts to your needs and see what is right for you.

As you can see, we have come a long way in a relatively short period of time. The advancements in technology and new ideas have allowed us to discover new and more efficient methods of calf raising, which will only improve with time.

Raised on a dairy farm, Grace Kline now manages the calves and heifers at Diamond Valley Dairy, owned by her husband, Jacob Kline, and two brothers-in-law, Josh and Jesse Kline. They milk 60 cows in Southeast Pennsylvania and raising their calves and calves born of embryo transfers from brood cows that have competed well in the show ring.

Ishler, V., & Schurman, E. (2023, January 4). Colostrum management tools: Hydrometers and refractometers. Penn State Extension. Retrieved March 20, 2023, from https://extension.psu.edu/colostrum-management-tools-hydrometers-and-refractometers#:~:text=A%20Brix%20value%20of%2022,be%20considered%20high%20quality%20colostrum.

Godkin, A. (2019, August 1). Preventing navel infections in newborn calves. CalfCare.ca. Retrieved March 20, 2023, from https://calfcare.ca/management/first-24-hours/navel-care/preventing-navel-infections-in-newborn-calves/

Goodger, W. J., & Theodore, E. M. (1986). Calf Management Practices and Health Management Decisions on Large Dairies. Journal of Dairy Science, 69(2). https://doi.org/https://www.journalofdairyscience.org/article/S0022-0302(86)80442-8/pdf

Transition Milk Increases Intestinal Development in Neonatal Holstein Calves

By Kourtni Curry

Artwork by Tyler Bell

It is known that colostrum contains elevated concentrations of immunoglobulins, nutrients, and bioactive compounds, such as IGF-1, insulin, and growth hormone. Therefore, feeding colostrum to calves provides an array of health benefits, such as passive immunity, increased cell regeneration after inflammatory damage, and stimulated growth of the gastrointestinal tract (GIT). Much like colostrum, transition milk (TM), which are the 2nd to 6th milkings after calving (Godden, 2008), contains increased levels of nutrients and bioactive components that are not found in whole milk or milk replacers (MR). Although the nutrient levels of TM are lower than that of colostrum, a study conducted by researchers at Michigan State University (J. Dairy Sci. 105:7011-7022) observed that feeding neonatal Holstein calves TM following colostrum further promotes intestinal development.

This study consisted of 23 neonatal Holstein bull calves. Every weekend, 4 calves that were born within the previous 12 hours were selected and given 2.84 L of stored colostrum, which was from the same dam, within 20 minutes of birth. Calves were blocked by bodyweight (BW) to 2 blocks per weekend and randomly assigned to the TM or MR treatment diet. The TM used during this study was collected from the same 16 cows for the entirety of the study. All calves were bottle-fed 1.89 L of their assigned treatment diet 3 times a day at the same times per day for 4 days before being euthanized for tissue sampling on day 5. 

The calves fed the TM consumed 13% more solids, 30% more metabolizable energy (ME), and 20% more protein than those fed MR. In comparison to the MR fed group, the TM fed group gained twice as much BW over the course of the study and tended to increase gain in heart girth and hip height. With the increased maturation of the GIT of calves fed the TM, it is suggested that feeding TM over MR increases the ability of the calves to absorb more of their diet sooner and grow more efficiently. Based on calf growth prediction of the NRC (2001), most, if not all, increases in calf growth could be attributed to the increased ME contributed by the TM.

Compared to calves fed MR, calves fed TM had increased villus length and mucosa thickness in several sections of the small intestines. The villi of the intestines play a significant role in nutrient absorption, and the increased size of villi further increases the surface area available to do so. Having thick intestinal mucosa also plays a large role in increasing surface area for nutrient absorption. Due to the increased size of the villi and thickness of the mucosa in the TM calves, the quantity of immune cells and nutrients absorbed from the TM increased.

Overall, the calves fed TM had improved health scores. In the first 4 days after colostrum, calves fed TM had a 46% reduction in fecal scores, a 95% reduction in nasal scores, a 62% reduction in cough scores, and a 60% reduction of ear scores when compared to the calves fed MR. The increased immune cells in TM, such as T cells, may have helped TM calves defend against illness at the level of the GIT.

When analyzing blood measurements for days 2 to 5 before feeding time, in comparison to MR, TM increased the average concentrations of serum IgG by 20%, and serum total protein by 11% within the blood. TM tended to increase the average pre-feeding concentration of non-esterified (unsaturated) fatty acids (NEFA) by 16%. This is an indication of how beneficial TM is and its ability to passively transfer immune cells from cow to calf. Even though calves fed TM consumed less lactose on day 5, this group showed an increase in glucose and plasma insulin blood concentrations. This may be due to the TM’s influence on the greater glycogen reserves, increased function of the digestive tract, and more adaptable systems that used the available nutrients most efficiently. On the other hand, calves fed TM had decreased lipopolysaccharide binding protein (LBP) and haptoglobin concentrations, indicating a more effective functioning of the intestinal barrier.

When implementing this practice onto a farm, the milk from cows that are 2 to 4 days in milk can be collected and given to neonatal Holstein calves to drink during their first 2 to 4 days of life after receiving colostrum immediately after birth. As demonstrated from this study, feeding TM to a neonatal calf during the first 2 to 4 days of its life can prove to be very beneficial in the most critical first 3 weeks of its life. Overall, feeding TM versus MR increases most measures of intestinal development by at least 50%. Feeding TM has also shown to increase health, growth, and nutrient digestibility.

Kourtni Curry is a recent graduate from North Carolina State University where she received a Bachelor of Science degree in Animal Science with a concentration in Veterinary Bioscience. Kourtni is currently a Dairy Research Intern at the William H. Miner Agricultural Research Institute. In the future, she desires to become a large animal veterinarian, contribute to farm animal research, and serve in rural communities that are lacking accessible and reliable veterinary services.


Godden, S. (2008). Colostrum management for dairy calves. Veterinary Clinics of North America: Food Animal Practice24(1), 19-39. https://doi.org/10.1016/ j.cvfa.2007.10.005

National Research Council. (2001). Nutrient requirements of dairy cattle: 2001. National Academies Press.

Van Soest, B., Weber Nielsen, M., Moeser, A. J., Abuelo, A., & VandeHaar, M. J. (2022). Transition milk stimulates intestinal development of neonatal Holstein calves. Journal of Dairy Science, 105(8), 7011–7022. https://doi.org/10.3168/jds.2021-21723

A Spot of Tea

By Cari Reynolds, W. H. Miner Agricultural Research Institute

Artwork by Tyler Bell

One thing that I will never tire of is watching all the different ways that calves drink from a pail. Some cleanly and efficiently finish their offering in a matter of seconds, some sink their heads up to their eyeballs longer than a Navy diver on a recovery mission, and some slurp loudly enough to be heard at the other end of the barn. Our calf manager observed recently that one of our calves daintily sips at her milk, as though she’s having tea. Lady Sippinsby, as my overactive imagination immediately coined her, would likely be very excited to know that research examining possible benefits of green tea extract to newborn calves has recently been published in the Journal of Dairy Science. Could a spot of tea provide benefits to calves born by dystocia?

Calves experiencing dystocia, or difficult birth, can often experience poor vigor. Indicators of poor vigor can include delayed suckling reflex, slower standing time, and failure of passive transfer due to inadequate colostrum ingestion, all of which can have long-term consequences on calf performance. Absorption of immunoglobulin G (IgG) from colostrum can also be affected by poor vigor. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) have been administered to calves to alleviate effects of dystocia, but some results suggest that they may also interfere with IgG absorption. Since parturition is an inflammatory process for the calf, the anti-inflammatory properties of green tea extract may improve stimulation and early life vitality as an alternative to NSAID. The antioxidants, flavonoids, and polyphenols of green tea extract- all exhibiting antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory benefits- have demonstrated health effects in preweaning calves, but no studies have evaluated effects of administration immediately after birth. Researchers at the University of Kentucky were interested in determining if green tea extract had any association with apparent efficiency of absorption (AEA) and would improve vigor if administered after birth. It was hypothesized that green tea supplementation would not affect AEA, and that vigor would be improved within 72 h after birth.

The 24 calves enrolled in the study (10 heifers and 14 bulls) were randomized to receive either a 15 mL dose of green tea extract or a control of distilled water, which was administered 3 h after birth. Three liters of colostrum replacer with 150 g of IgG was tube-fed 4 h after birth. Blood samples were collected from the calves at 2.5 h after birth, and again at 6, 12, 24, 48, and 72 h after birth. Vigor assessments, such as heart rate, respiration rate, initial movement, rectal temperature, and response to stimulation (a piece of straw in the nasal cavity) were performed on the calves before removal from the dam, after placement in an individual pen, after green tea supplementation, and at 6, 12, 24, 48, and 72 h after birth. Vigor was scored on a scale of 0-3 (0= poor vigor, 1= reduced vigor, 2= normal vigor, 3= alert).

Nineteen of the 24 calves enrolled in the study experienced normal births. Mean serum IgG concentrations for the green tea and control groups were 13.56 ± 0.80 and 12.38 ± 0.80 g/L, respectively, with AEA for both groups at 24 h averaging 25.73 ± 1.17%. Average AEA in healthy calves is typically between 20-35%, so while there were not enough calves born by dystocia to evaluate a true effect, these results support the hypothesis that the green tea supplementation did not affect AEA. However, no evidence of difference in overall vigor scores was observed, and all but five calves demonstrated either normal or alert vigor scores at 72 h after birth. The authors also suggested that the 15 mL dose of green tea extract may not have been enough, so a higher dosage may be a consideration for future study. These results invite further exploration of green tea extract on the health and vitality of newborn calves, and future work should include more calves born under stressful conditions to determine if green tea extract provides any therapeutic effect.

Standing, walking, exploring the pen environment, and vigilance behavior (ears forward toward pen entrance) within the first 24 h after birth are some easily-observed examples of vitality in newborn calves. Calves that have experienced a difficult birth should be monitored for any signs of poor vigor, and intervention provided if the calf is struggling to breathe, cannot stand, or appears to be in pain. As always, provide high-quality colostrum (Brix >22% or >50 g/L) within 2 h of birth to facilitate adequate absorption of IgG. Calves who demonstrate poor suckling reflex should be tube-fed to ensure that the whole allotment is received. Pens should be dry and clean to reduce exposure to enteric pathogens such as E. coli, and calves should be dry and kept warm with a bed of straw or dry sawdust. Toweling off the calf after removal from the dam also be an encouraging stimulant.

With the opportunity to further explore the use of green tea extract in newborn calves, perhaps improving vitality could be added to the list of life’s tribulations that are able to be solved with a cup of tea.

Cari Reynolds can be reached at reynolds@whminer.com with questions or comments.


Godden, S.M., J.E. Lombard, and A.R. Woolums. 2019. Colostrum management for dairy calves. Vet      Clin North Am Food Anim Prac. 35(3):535-556. DOI: 10.1016/j.cvfa.2019.07.005

Quigley, J.D., C.J. Kost, and T. M. Wolfe. 2002. Absorption of Protein and IgG in Calves Fed a   Colostrum Supplement or Replacer. J. Dairy Sci. 85(5): 1243-1248.

Reis, M.E., M. Cantor, C. M.M. Bittar, and J.H.C. Costa. 2022. Association of a green tea extract with     serum immunoglobulin G status and neonatal vitality in newborn calves. J. Dairy Sci. 105:2022- 2029. DOI: https://doi.org/10.3168/jds.2022-22099

Streamlining Communication

By Grace Kline

While standards and methods for caring for dairy cattle has evolved over the years, we are able to learn more about cattle now than we ever have. We have increased cow comfort capabilities and become a more efficient industry. Over the years, there have been varying opinions, each farm doing what works best for them. One thing that has remained true over the history of dairy farming, is that cows like consistency.

Consistency does not happen without communication.

Record keeping is a huge part of communication. Keeping accurate records allows other team members to see an animal’s history, as it can impact future decisions. This can be done with computer apps such as Dairy Comp 305, PC Dart, or even an excel spreadsheet. It can also be done with a simple notebook and pen.

One method of record keeping I have seen is a pre-printed “questionnaire.” This will make sure all the right questions are being asked, and you will have the same information for each calf. For example, you can record calvings this way. Marking the sex, calving ease, when colostrum was fed, how colostrum was fed, and a variety of other essential information that could be useful later.

Whether you have a calf care team of 5 people or one single calf manager, employees get sick, need time off, etc. It is almost impossible to have a single person care for your calves every single day. We will go through a few different communication methods that can be applied to both small and large teams.

One thing I have seen time and time again is a white board with a map or grid of the calf hutches. The grid would be made of several boxes/rectangles modeling the hutches, with the calf’s name or number written inside of it. Using different color markers, you can indicate if the calf is sick, what stage of weaning they are at, or even if they are still bucket/bottle training. I would not recommend leaving notes of vaccinations, treatments, symptoms, or missed feedings on a whiteboard as they are easily erased. This should be written in a notebook or into a computer system where it is not so easily removed. One tactic my family used required ankle bands, similar to the picture here. We used the plastic ones that would last longer than fabric ones, as the calves enjoyed playing with them on the hutch fence. We fed 3 times a day and used a step-down weaning program. The colors and instructions were as follows:

No band: feed 3x/day.

Green– skip noon feeding. Fed 2x/day for 2 weeks.

Yellow– skip morning and noon feeding. Fed 1x/day for 1 week.

Orange– weaned, consuming grain, and awaiting weight measurements to move to group pen.

These can also be used to indicate calves that are sick or being treated, they are not just for use in weaning programs- the above is merely an example.                              

One item Cal-Tel provides are stickers for the indoor calf pens. The stickers can be used for the calf’s basic information, such as birthday, parentage, number, etc. Whatever works for you!

Similarly, a clothespin would work just as well for the group pens.

These can be used to identify calves that may drink slower than others, or that they are sick/being treated.

Wall signs with instructions are also very helpful to maintain consistency. These can contain milk mixing instructions, a bedding schedule, or even vaccinations. If wall signs are not of interest to you, having clip boards placed around the facility with checklists/reminders can be helpful to team members as well.

Our cell phones are useful communication tools, especially apps that allow you to leave notes/memos for multiple people. One of the apps that we use on our dairy is Slack. It is not specific to agriculture, but you can create different channels that allow conversations to be more specific, all in the same app.

For example, we have channels labeled treated cows, days off, and a general channel. Some of the app’s features require payment, but most of the use is free. Another very common one is Microsoft Teams, which also allows you to have different members and channels but requires a Microsoft payment plan.

While apps and computer programs can be helpful, nothing will beat in-person team meetings. Employees like to see managers taking an interest in their feelings and opinions, and a good manager will accept different points of view to find ways to improve. Within these meetings, you can also decipher what learning/communication styles your employees have, which will build a stronger team.

Consistency is key when it comes to caring for all ages of cattle, and it takes a team to do so. Proper training, record keeping, and willingness to communicate creates a strong calf care team. There are many routes to achieve excellent communication skills, and it is up to you and your team to find what works for you!

Grace Kline assists in the operation of Diamond Valley Dairy in Myerstown, Pennsylvania, with her husband and brothers-in- law. There, she cares for calves and heifers that are born both naturally and as a result of embryo transfer from deep-pedigreed show cattle. Grace has been caring for calves since her first job at 12 years old and has worked on four different farms, including an internship at Budjon Farms where she specialized in calves and show heifers.

Milk Replacer Management

Written by Grace Kline (Winner of the 2022 Calf-Tel Content Contest)

As a dairy producer, you have different options for feeding milk to your calves. These options are pasteurized whole milk, acidified milk, and milk replacer. While they all have their own benefits and require different management styles, I want to discuss the management of milk replacer powder. We will touch on how to read the milk replacer label, what those numbers mean, and how to calculate pounds of solids.

Before we begin, one important phrase in calf raising is Average Daily Gain (ADG). Although self-explanatory, ADG refers to how much weight a calf should gain in a day to reach proper weaning weight. The recommended amount of ADG is about 0.8-1.3 lbs./day (Van Saun, 2022). This will vary between different dairy breeds.

When researching milk replacers, you may see them displayed as a 22:20, 20:20, or even 28:20. There are various other combinations, which are decided upon with the producer’s goals in mind.

These numbers are a protein-fat ratio, displayed as: Protein : Fat

Milk replacer formulas vary with the producer’s goals, budget, and timeline. On average, the most common replacers are between 20%-22% protein and 20% fat. Some higher-protein replacers, such as a 26:20 or higher, can be used as part of an accelerated feeding program, to grow calves faster in a shorter amount of time (Van Saun, 2022). When feeding high protein replacers, it is imperative that calves always have fresh water in front of them. While this is a good rule of thumb regardless, calves that are fed higher protein will use more water to digest after each feeding. In addition, calves that do not have access to free choice water will consume less starter grain, thus have a lower ADG (Erikson, et al., 2020).

All milk replacer bags will come with a tag. That tag will have a “Guaranteed Analysis” describing the fat and protein ratios, along with a handful of other vitamins and minerals. That will be followed by an ingredients list, and some general recommendations/instructions.

Here is an example of the Guaranteed Analysis.

Land O Lakes Cows Match Milk Replacer

You can see at the top that the example from Land O Lakes is a 28:20 replacer. This tag also comes with mixing and feeding instructions.

In the directions, you will find one other important
thing to note- water temperature. These directions
specify mixing between 110-120°F. The milk
replacer will mix more thoroughly in hot water and
should be stirred until there are no clumps or
floating bits. Furthermore, it is important to feed
calves before the solution is below their body
temperature. A good range is 105-110°F. A good
way to ensure every calf is receiving warm enough
milk is to take the temperature while it is mixing
when you feed the first calf and the last calf. This
will allow you to tell how much heat you lose from
mixing to final delivery. If the milk is falling below
105°F, you may need to either mix and deliver in
smaller batches or mix at a higher temperature to
help the heat last longer.
Weighing milk replacer ensures that a calf receives
the same percentage of solids at every feeding.
There are different scales that you can use. A
hanging scale or electric scale can let you know how much a scoop will hold, and you can then adjust accordingly.

For example, if you use the milk replacer cup that comes in the bag, the tag may tell you it holds 12 ounces of powder. Depending on how packed or loose the milk replacer is, you may only have 10 ounces or even an excess of 14 ounces in your 12-ounce scoop. This mistake is important to avoid and to maintain consistency.

When we talk about the ratio of water to replacer, we must realize that the “final solution” is the combination of water and replacer together. Notice at the top, to mix 5 gallons of milk, it is instructed to add the powder while stirring. This will bring the final product to 5 gallons, not 5 gallons of water plus 6.25 lbs. of replacer powder. This is important because we can drastically change the percent of total solids. Using the formula from Michigan State University, let’s check the difference.

Hanging Scale

Percent Total Solids = pounds of powder / pounds of solution (Cullens, 2018)
Following the directions for week 1 in the above example, the formula works like this:
(.94 lbs. of powder) / (.75 gallon * 8.6lb/gallon) = 14.6% solids.

Now, if we were to take the weight of 3 quarts and combine it with the weight of the powder, we have a weight of 7.39. divided by (.75 gallon * 8.6lb/gallon), we are down to 12.7% solids. This nearly 2% difference will directly affect your average daily gain. If your calves are consuming fewer solids per feeding, they will not be receiving enough energy to grow to their full potential. Ensuring that your calves are fed properly will give them the ability to fight off potential disease and ease the transition to weaning. Proper handling of milk replacer will help you achieve the goals within your calf herd and give your calves a good foundation to become productive cows.

Grace Kline assists in the operation of Diamond Valley Dairy in Myerstown, Pennsylvania, with her husband and brothersin- law. There, she cares for calves and heifers that are born both naturally and as a result of embryo transfer from deep-pedigreed show cattle. Grace has been caring for calves since her first job at 12 years old and has worked on four different farms, including an internship at Budjon Farms where she specialized in calves and show heifers.

Cullens, Faith. “Total Solids in Milk Replacer – It Matters!” MSU Extension, 21 Mar. 2018,
Erickson, Peter S., and Kenneth F. Kalscheur. “Nutrition and Feeding of Dairy Cattle.” Edited by
Fuller W. Bazer et al., Animal Agriculture, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 24 Jan.
Land O Lakes, Land O Lakes. “Land O Lakes® Cow’s Match® Milk Replacer – Mkcoop.com.”
MK Copp, https://www.mkcoop.com/getattachment/Feed/Cattle/lol-cowsmatch.
Van Saun, Robert J. “Feeding Young Dairy Calves – Management and Nutrition.” Merck
Veterinary Manual, Merck Veterinary Manual, 10 Oct. 2022,

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