Why Not To Feed High Protein Milk Powders

I recently saw the notes from a discussion group that read, “When selecting milk powder go for the highest oil and protein you can get as these will help to increase growth rates….  While some of this statement is true, not all of it is.

Let’s start with the protein content of a milk powder.  Being blunt you don’t want to be feeding the highest crude protein milk powder you can find because this will not get the best growth rates for your calves.

I’ll explain why. Usually, the crude protein levels in milk powders can vary between 18-26%, depending on the product.

When asked what powder I would recommend, my first choice is always the Energized Calf Milk (ECM) powder from Trouw, that has been available for about three years now, and after much research Trouw settled on a crude protein value of 22.5%.

However even before this I knew that the highest crude protein wasn’t always the best thing to feed your calves.  

A research paper published in 2008 in the Asian-Australian Journal of Animal Science demonstrated that for calves split into three groups and fed either a low crude protein milk powder (18%), a mid crude protein milk powder (22%) and a high crude protein milk powder (26%) it was the calves fed the mid crude protein milk powder (22%) that grew the best.

The belief is that the calves fed the high crude protein were being fed too high a protein for their requirements and were therefore using energy to expel the excess protein, energy that could have been used to improve the animals’ growth.

Often higher crude protein milk powders contain poorly digestible sources of protein that make it look good on paper but aren’t needed by the calf!  A classic example of this is a milk powder that contains soya.  We all think soya is a great feed for cows, but as a calf it just isn’t needed and has a very poor level of protein digestibility, another product like this would be pea protein. 

An example of a product with better protein digestibility is hydrolysed wheat protein.

Therefore, that is two sources of research that show the ideal crude protein level of calf milk is around the 22% level.

As for Oil, then definitely higher is better.  Most products are 15-18% Oil, but again the latest research from Trouw has seen the oil level in ECM increased to 25% because the extra oil means extra energy for the calf to help it grow quicker.

While the calf is effectively a “monogastric”, before the rumen develops, it is the best time you have to give the calf a great start to life when it is at its most efficient at converting feed into growth.

To help do this ensure that the calf is allowed to drink as much milk as it possibly can.  I still hear of people that only feed their calves 2 litres twice a day, so 4 litres in total.  This will only restrict growth.  Calves are capable of drinking 8 litres milk a day, sometimes more, if they have a quality powder to meet their needs.  I’ve even heard of little Jersey calves achieving this!

If you wish to discuss your potential milk powder options, then call FAR registered Dairy Nutritionist & CowSignals® Master Andrew Jones on 07717 44288 or email andrew@dblbuyinggroup.co.uk