Waste milk’s nutrient values can change daily, failing to meet nutritional requirements to support calf health and development. Fortifiers can help give calves a healthy start.

Waste milk typically provides calves an adequate supply of B-complex vitamins and vitamin A. But it doesn’t meet National Research Council recommendations for iron, manganese, zinc, copper iodine, cobalt, vitamin D, vitamin E and selenium in pre-weaned calf diets.

Those vitamins and minerals are essential for calf growth, immunity and synthesis of hormones that regulate energy metabolism. They’re also essential for bone formation and maintenance of cellular membranes. By feeding supplements dairy farmers have made progress in addressing selenium deficiencies. But problems such as calf weakness continue to appear.

Waste-milk selenium levels vary depending on farm location. Cows receiving inadequate nutrition are more likely to produce milk with inadequate selenium levels. Some regions have selenium-deficient soils, resulting in deficient feedstuffs. Selenium deficiency can result in calf weakness, injury and white-muscle disease.

Variability of macro-nutrients in waste milk makes nutrient intake a guessing game. Fortifying waste milk provides a balanced and consistent daily ration of selenium and other trace minerals. Nutrient variation and greater fat content, in particular, can deter dry-starter intake. Fat, protein and lactose concentrations of pasteurized waste milk vary greatly.

Farmers using a complete waste-milk diet often are unhappy with starter intake. Those problems can compound vitamin and trace-mineral variability. A fortifier can be the simplest and most efficient way to consistently deliver a balanced ration.

Waste milk should be monitored and adjusted based on variable fat, protein and lactose content to help ensure a consistent nutrient ration that supports starter intake. Time and labor constraints as well as access to on-farm analytical tools often make that impractical.

Adding a fortifier helps support a calf’s immune system during periods of illness and reduced feed intake. A healthier immune system improves wellness. Starter intake stimulates growth of rumen papillae and increases the rumen surface area to absorb nutrients. That potentially could allow earlier weaning.

Calves aren’t born with complete immune defenses. They’re built in time with help from vitamins and trace minerals. Waste-milk changes based on a cow’s late-gestation feed intake as well as feed and forage quality. Resulting deficiencies in calves can contribute to reduced disease resistance and increased probability of morbidity and mortality. 

Fortifiers can provide vitamin A and other key nutrients and trace minerals to build calf immune defenses. They also can deliver additional beneficial agents to calves through their milk ration. Examples include coccidiostats, ionophores, larvicides, yeast-derived supplements and essential oils.

Coccidiostats support intestinal health. Ionophores enhance cattle efficiency by altering ruminal-fermentation patterns. Larvicides provide feed-through fly control, helping to prevent associated diseases in calves.

Visit extension.psu.edu and search for "rumen development" for more information. 

Skip Olson is a technical services veterinarian for Milk Products. Visit CalfSolutions.com for more information.