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Consistency counts when feeding pasteurized waste milk

Tom Earleywine Published on 11 November 2010

Waste-milk pasteurizers are being utilized by a number of dairies and calf ranches across the country. They can be a good tool to help producers capture the value of a waste product for calf feed, while still working to protect the health of their herds.

But successfully feeding pasteurized waste milk comes with its own set of challenges and management considerations. Delivering optimal nutrition to support the most efficient growth and development of a herd’s future replacements takes some fine-tuning.



Maximizing calf potential
Considerable research has focused in recent years on the potential merits of feeding preweaned heifer calves on a higher plane of nutrition than is provided by the standard two quarts of 20:20 milk replacer fed twice a day. This latter, “old stand-by” ration provides little more than maintenance-level nutrition, allowing for minimal resources to promote growth and support immune function. This is especially true in periods of cold stress, during which calves expend a great deal of their energy resources just to maintain body temperature.

Increasing protein and energy of the preweaned ration promotes enhanced lean tissue growth, meaning that first-calf heifers reach puberty faster and can potentially be bred at a younger age and start contributing to the bulk tank sooner. On U.S. dairies, the average age at first calving is 25.4 months, and 88 percent of heifers calve at 24 months of age or greater. For every month beyond 24 that heifers “wait” to calve, dairies sacrifice about $100 per month per heifer, as a result of feed costs and lost milk sales.

What’s more, a number of studies tracking heifers fed higher planes of nutrition into lactation have shown an advantage in milk production for those heifers versus their traditionally-fed counterparts. Averaging data of seven studies shows an increase in first-lactation milk production of approximately 1,700 pounds of milk. Statistical analysis of the data from these combined studies suggests that heifers are best equipped to capture this milk production advantage if they double their birth weight by the time they are weaned (56 days of age). They should also grow 4 to 5 inches in height in that time frame.

What does a ‘higher plane’ of nutrition look like?
Not all of the feeding programs evaluated in these studies were the same. But they had in common the fact that preweaned calves were fed a greater volume of milk or milk replacer than the standard two quarts per feeding (double this volume was common), and the liquid feed source contained a protein level considerably higher than 20 percent. Cow’s milk, which is 26 to 28 percent protein on a dry-matter basis, and milk replacer containing 28 percent protein, also were frequently fed in the milk production studies.

The traditional, two-quart, 20:20 calf milk replacer, fed twice-a-day approach, supplies less than one pound of dry matter per day. To achieve the goal of doubling birth weight by weaning, calves must be fed an average of at least 2.25 pounds of dry matter per day from milk or milk replacer through the preweaned period. Think of their milk ration as a “liquid TMR” that should contain virtually everything calves need in one consistent nutritional package.


The waste-milk TMR
While pasteurized waste milk is an excellent source of high-protein liquid feed – especially when fed at a rate of at least two gallons per day – it has an unfortunate nutritional downside compared to milk replacer. Consistency of nutrient content can vary greatly from herd to herd and even from day-to-day within the same herd. One of our studies evaluating waste-milk samples from 215 dairies showed that the percentage of protein (non-DM basis) ranged from 0.02 to 6.4 percent. The solids percentage varied from a low of 1 percent solids to a high of 36 percent. And fat content ranged from 0.20 to 28.7 percent.

Imagine feeding a lactating herd TMR that varied up to 1,000 percent in its nutritional content depending on the day, the inputs or who happened to be mixing it! This level of inconsistency would never be tolerated due to the detrimental effect it would have upon herd performance and health. The same needs to be true for a herd’s calfhood TMR.

Incorporating a pasteurized milk balancer into a pasteurized-milk-feeding program can level out the nutritional peaks and valleys of feeding waste milk and help calves make a nutritionally smooth transition between waste milk and supplemental feeding when waste-milk supplies fluctuate.

How a pasteurized milk balancer works
A pasteurized milk balancer is a powdered compound that looks much like milk replacer, but contains a higher level of protein, a lower percentage of fat and added vitamins and minerals. In some cases, an accompanying computer program is provided to help calculate the level at which it should be fed. We recommend routinely testing the nutrient content (solids, fat and protein) of your waste milk via your milk plant, DHI testing service or an on-farm refractometer.

When developing a feeding program utilizing pasteurized waste milk enhanced with a balancer, we are striving to achieve the correct protein-to-energy ratio to reach target performance levels for:

• Health
• Average daily gain
• The correct type of gain (lean tissue versus fat)
• Cost per pound of gain
• Maximum starter intake
• Maximum return on investment


A herd’s waste-milk nutritional status, combined with these performance goals, are used as data inputs to determine the level of powdered balancer that should be blended with waste milk while it is still warm (110º to 120°F post-pasteurization). Pasteurized milk balancer helps boost calf TMR nutrition to the levels needed to capture the benefits of better growth, earlier first calving and increased milk production.

For example, one gallon of whole milk contains slightly more than one pound of dry matter. Depending on the supplementation level, a pasteurized milk balancer can boost solids content to deliver an additional quarter to a half-pound of solids per gallon, which when combined with feeding more volume, can help achieve the goal of doubling every animal’s birth weight by 56 days of age and getting 4 to 5 inches of height growth.

Pasteurized milk balancer also can be used to maintain nutritional consistency when waste-milk supplies fluctuate. Based on profit targets for disease and treatment incidence, a dairy should regularly produce enough waste milk to feed just 30 percent of its heifer calves. If you continually are feeding waste milk to a much higher percentage, it is likely that you either have udder health challenges that require more intensive management and/or your calves are being underfed. When supply dips below the level needed to provide optimal liquid nutrition to your calves, more pasteurized milk balancer and water can be added to ensure consistency of nutrients delivered to each calf.

Just as targets for milk and component production and reproductive efficiency dominate lactating-cow management, so should goals for calf performance and long-term productivity drive your calf nutrition program. Achieving optimal health, weight gain and structural growth while feeding pasteurized waste milk can be much more readily and consistently accomplished by using a pasteurized milk balancer. PD

References omitted due to space but are available upon request to .

Tom Earleywine