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How much milk replacer to feed a calf

Updated November 21, 2016

A calf will consume 1 to 2 gallons of mother's milk a day. If you are raising a dairy calf that has been pulled from its mother or a beef calf that has been orphaned or abandoned, there are two types of milk replacers to choose from. They are formulated with varying amounts of protein and other nutrients. It is important to read and follow the mixing instructions on each bag you use. Along with the milk replacer, your calf will need fresh water.

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The most important feeding period for a calf is the first 24 hours. It is essential that you feed your calf colostrum immediately after birth. Colostrum is the cow's first milk. It has twice the solids, three times the minerals and five times the protein of whole milk. It also contains antibodies to fight against disease. These antibodies are vital for the calf's survival because they are born with very little immunity. Colostrum can be milked from the cow or purchased in powder form. One gallon of colostrum should be given to the calf immediately after birth and again after 12 and 24 hours (See Reference 1).

Milk Replacer

You can choose from two types of milk replacer. Standard milk replacer is formulated to be as close to whole milk as possible. High protein milk replacer has added protein and fat to enhance your calf's growth. This protein and fat usually comes from dried whey, animal fat and vegetable oil. High protein milk replacers cost an average of 10 per cent more than standard types. Before you begin feeding a milk replacer, choose one type and stick with it until your calf is weaned. If you choose standard milk replacer, feed your calf 2 to 3 quarts of milk replacer per feeding twice a day for six weeks. It should be fed three times a day during the cold winter months. Standard milk replacers contain 18 per cent to 20 per cent protein (See Reference 2).

High protein milk replacers contain 22 per cent to 30 per cent protein. How much milk replacer you feed your calf depends on its body weight. For the first week, feed your calf 1 1/2 per cent of its body weight in dry powder per day. This means if your calf weighs 45.4 Kilogram, feed it 1 227gr of dry powder. The dilution rate of water is 15 per cent; broken down into two feedings a day, you would feed your calf 3/4 pound of dry powder mixed with 2 1/2 quarts of water. The second week on through weaning, you need to feed your calf 2 per cent of its body weight. This equates to 0.907 Kilogram of dry powder for every 45.4 Kilogram of body weight (See Reference 1).

Calf Starter

Begin offering a calf starter grain when your calf is 3 to 4 days old. Calf starter should be offered as free choice by placing the grain in a feed pan in the calf's pen and allowing the calf to choose when and how much it wants to eat. Set a routine for giving the calf starter by refilling the feed pan after it has finished its milk replacer. Most calves will only nibble on the grain for the first week, so don't be alarmed if the calf does not eat much in the beginning. Make sure you use a calf starter that is at least 26 per cent protein. When your calf eats an average of 0.907 Kilogram of starter a day, around 8 weeks old, you can begin the weaning process. Add 56.7gr of yeast culture to the starter to encourage consumption. Reduce the amount of milk you feed by half and offer 5 to 6 pounds of calf starter a day. At this time you can begin to supplement your calf's diet with hay (See Reference 1 ).

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