Keep the Growing Going with Milk or Milk Replacer for Calves

Bottle Calves Need Proper Nutrition for Optimal Growth


A young jersey calf in his stall being bottle fed.

Your calves are off to a great start. But, is their nutrition program on par? By ensuring proper care and nutrition for your calves, you can set them up for a healthy and productive life. Milk or milk replacer for calves is the primary source of nutrition for calves during the first two to three months of life until weaning.

“The first weeks of a calf’s life sets the stage for their growth and development,” says Julian (Skip) Olson, DVM, technical services manager for Milk Products. “Providing the proper nutrition and quickly reacting to any early signs of stress or illness can help keep your calves growing and healthy.”

Provide Calves with Proper Nutrition

·       When selecting a milk replacer, look for one specifically formulated for calves. Milk replacer will provide your calves with the optimal blend of energy (carbohydrates and fat), protein, vitamins, and minerals. You’ll want to feed calf milk replacer at a temperature close to the calf’s body temperature – 100 to 105 degrees Fahrenheit.

·       Free-choice calf starter grain can be introduced to calves when they are a few days old. A good starter grain should have at least 18% protein. Calves are born as monogastrics, with a stomach adapted for digesting milk. Cows, however, are ruminants with a four-part stomach built for digesting large quantities of forage. Feeding calves starter grain will help optimize rumen development by increasing the size and population of beneficial bacteria in the immature rumen. Refrain from feeding forages, which can slow rumen development, to calves until after they weaned.

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·       Don’t forget the water! Water is another important element of calf nutrition. Providing calves with clean, fresh water will encourage them to drink plenty of water which will also enhance starter grain intake and rumen development.


“Calves thrive on routine, so it is best to feed your calf twice a day at the same time in the morning and evening,” says Olson. “If possible, a third feeding can provide beneficial added nutrition for your calves to grow efficiently.”

Keep Calves Healthy

Calves are more prone to stress during times of extreme heat or cold, vaccination, transportation or weaning. In times of stress, calves can experience health challenges such as scours.

“If your calves get scours, it’s crucial to immediately rehydrate and replenish electrolyte loss,” says Olson. “Feeding an electrolyte supplement, in addition to regular milk feedings, can help support a calf’s immune system while fighting off infection.”

It’s also important to keep feeding equipment clean when raising bottle calves:

·       Always use a separate bottle or pail for each calf.

·       Make sure to wash pails, bottles, and nipples in hot, soapy water and rinse well after each feeding.

·       Moisture can create an optimal breeding ground for bacteria, so it is important to allow equipment to dry thoroughly between feedings. If drying conditions are poor, consider drying the equipment with a clean towel.

“The first few months of a calf’s life are the foundation for their whole life,” says Olson. “By optimizing their nutrition and providing immune support during times of sickness or stress, you can help ensure calves have a healthy, productive life.”

Learn more about raising calves or like My Farm Journey on Facebook.


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Keep the Growing Going with Milk or Milk Replacer for Calves