Current Progressive Dairy digital edition

Do producers feed calves differently in hot and cold weather?

Progressive Dairyman Editor Walt Cooley Published on 11 September 2014

Poll results

As many as half of all producers who use milk replacer may change the formulation of their feed or the amount they feed as the seasons change. That’s according to recent surveys conducted by Progressive Dairyman.



We began asking readers a question about their milk replacer feed formulation practices back in May and continued polling readers throughout the summer. The online question was: Do you change the formulation of the milk or milk replacer fed to your calves as the seasons change?

Nearly 400 readers voluntarily responded to the question online, and more than 200 responded in-person when we called to ask their opinion.

More respondents to the online survey indicated they changed their milk replacer formulations than those who answered in person. (See results above.) When asked in-person, fewer than a third of producers who fed milk replacer said they changed formulations as the seasons changed.

Several explanations for the different results are plausible.

Online survey participants may have understood the “changing formulation” aspect of the question to mean that they feed more or less quantity during certain seasons, in lieu of or in addition to changing the nutritional makeup of the replacer fed.


“Your results of 53 percent of farms adjusting their feeding practices seasonally is very real,” says Larry Van Roekel, director of marketing for Land O’Lakes Animal Milk Products, which manufactures both a cool- and warm-season milk replacer formulation. “Frankly, I’m pleased to hear that. It’s what producers should be doing.”

Van Roekel says quite a few people do adjust the quantity fed or the frequency between feedings during the wint ertime.

“What people in your online survey might have interpreted the question to mean is: ‘Do I change how I feed the milk replacer?’” Van Roekel says. “There are lots of folks that maybe don’t actually switch milk replacers but feed more than they do in the summertime, which they very well should.”

Van Roekel says the logic for any seasonal feeding program is to recognize a calf’s energy requirements are higher when the temperature dips. He says research shows those requirements begin to change when the temperature falls below 60ºF.

Progressive Dairyman survey respondents reached by phone heard the question in two parts. The first part of the question asked if readers fed milk replacer to their calves. If they did not, they were excluded from the survey. We asked 342 readers that first question.

About 60 percent (215) of those called used milk replacer. Those who were qualified to answer were then asked the second part of the question: “Do you change its [the milk replacer’s] formulation as the seasons change?”


Of the qualified, in-person responses received, 29 percent said they do change milk replacer formulations as the seasons change. Those responses came from dairy producers in 32 states with herd sizes ranging from 10 cows to more than 1,000. We found the results were consistent regardless of geography or up to 1,000 cows in herd size.

The phone survey found that dairy producers with more than 1,000 cows (23) were more likely to be changing their milk replacer formulation with the seasons, although admittedly the sample size was small. 52 percent of 1,000-plus-cow dairies said they were following that practice.

“Based on our sales and my observation of the adoption of seasonal feeding practices, custom calf raisers may be less likely to feed different milk replacer formulations, but they might be adjusting their feeding practices,” Van Roekel says. “Whereas, dairy producers who are raising their own heifers may be more apt to do both – change formulations and feeding rates.” PD

walt cooley

Walt Cooley
Progressive Dairyman