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Feeding pasteurized waste milk is nutritious and economical

Brent Cousin Published on 22 August 2014

As margins become tighter for dairy producers, prioritizing the investment in raising healthy calves can pay large dividends down the road.

Professional heifer growers and dairy producers need to pay close attention to rearing costs, especially liquid feed costs, while ensuring calves meet their nutritional needs and performance targets.



Producers have a variety of liquid feeds available to choose from for their calves, including surplus colostrum, whole saleable milk, transition milk, non-saleable or waste milk, and milk replacer.

Feeding non-saleable milk, or waste milk, can offer an economical advantage to producers. It is estimated that dairy producers discard between 48 and 136 pounds of milk per cow per year. To reduce some of the economic loss, up to 38 percent of producers are estimated to feed that waste milk to calves.

There are several advantages of feeding waste milk to calves. Studies show an increased average rate of gain in calves fed waste milk versus milk replacer. Waste milk also provides more energy and protein to the calf, and it is more economical on a daily gain basis than milk replacer.

Benefits of feeding waste milk
Two field studies have been published measuring the health, performance and economics of feeding pasteurized waste milk to dairy calves. A 2005 study in Minnesota compared pre-weaning health, growth and economics of feeding a conventional 20-20 milk replacer program versus batch pasteurized waste milk. The study results showed the following ( Table 1 ):

  • The authors concluded the improved nutrient intake is a possible explanation for the improved rates of gain and improved health of calves fed pasteurized waste milk.
  • Researchers also estimated a $34 per-calf advantage at weaning, or breakeven at 23 calves on milk, for calves fed the pasteurized milk.

stats on calves drinking waste milk


How to manage waste milk
Non-saleable, or waste, milk typically includes transition milk from the first six milkings after calving as well as the milk discarded after antibiotic treatments for mastitis or other diseases.

The University of California – Davis did a study to compare pre-weaning health, growth and economics of feeding raw colostrum and waste milk versus pasteurized colostrum and waste milk. The study found:

  • Calves fed the pasteurized colostrum and milk had fewer sick days, lower mortality rates and lower treatment costs than the calves fed the raw product.
  • Calves also had higher weaning weights and were worth about $8.13 more at sale time.

Precautions with feeding waste milk
Waste milk comes from transition and sick cows and cannot be sold for human consumption. And there are a few precautions producers should consider when feeding it to calves:

  • Always pasteurize waste milk to reduce the microbial load.
  • Do not feed waste milk to newborn calves on the first day of life. Those calves have the greatest chance of contracting illness through bacteria found in the milk.
  • Use caution when feeding waste milk to calves destined for beef production. Antibiotic residues may build up in their tissues.
  • House heifer calves separately to avoid calves suckling each other’s teats. This reduces the chances of young calves contracting mastitis early.
  • Refrigerate waste milk or feed it immediately after pasteurization. Do not let it sit at room temperature for long periods of time.

Feeding pasteurized waste milk to calves is one way to gain important economical and nutritional efficiencies for calf growers and dairy producers. Using waste milk not only gives calves important nutritional and health benefits not always found in milk replacers, it also gives producers means to use a product that would otherwise be discarded.

It is recommended that all dairy producers and calf raisers examine their liquid feeding program to consider adding non-saleable milk to their calves’ diets.

Replacement heifers represent the future of the dairy operation, which makes raising healthy calves one of the most important responsibilities of dairy producers. Raising heifers into productive milk cows represents a considerable investment, and feed cost makes up the majority of that expense.


Supplying young calves the nutrients needed to maintain calf health and promote growth in a cost-effective manner represents a major advantage to dairy producers. PD

Brent Cousin was a partner in a large animal hospital in Wisconsin before joining the professional services team at Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica, Inc. in the spring of 2013.

References omitted due to space but are available upon request. Click here to email an editor.

brent cousin

Brent Cousin
Professional Services Veterinarian
Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica, Inc.

A complete calf health program

Feeding your calves pasteurized waste milk is just one part of a complete calf health program.

With a strong vaccination program and supplemental energy, you can help calves reach their fullest potential. Below is a short checklist to use to start your calves off healthy:

  • Provide good-quality colostrum at birth to help develop a healthy immune system.
  • Choose a nutritional supplement to provide added energy and electrolytes.
  • By vaccinating early, calves stay healthy and growing to their full potential.

At birth:

  • Clostridial vaccines help reduce disease caused by five species of clostridia.

Six weeks old:

  • Vaccinate against respiratory disease caused by five main viruses: BVD Types 1 and 2, IBR, BRSV and PI3, plus pneumonia caused by Mannheimia haemolytica.

Six months old:

  • Booster both the respiratory and clostridial vaccinations.
  • Provide clean, fresh water to calves, even when feeding a liquid diet.
  • Give calves adequate space, dry clean bedding and protection from weather.