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Milk replacer storage, handling and mixing: What every calf manager should know

Kayla Aragona for Progressive Dairy Published on 01 September 2020

Properly storing, handling and mixing milk replacer not only helps the product retain its quality, it also ensures calves are consistently fed. Although it seems that mixing powder and water is simple, many issues can occur that impact both powder quality and animal performance.

Proper milk replacer storage

Proper milk replacer storage is imperative to help the product retain its quality. Milk replacer quality can be negatively impacted by changing humidity and temperatures, which can result in spoilage, fat oxidation and issues with mixing and reconstituting powder. As a result, the best storage method for milk replacer powder is in a temperature- and humidity-controlled area. If it is not in a temperature- and humidity-controlled area or room, stored milk replacer can absorb moisture, leading to condensation and clumping. Fat oxidation, rancidity and spoilage that follows can impact odor and taste and even the nutritional value of the powder.

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Proper storage once open is also crucial. The milk replacer bag should be in an airtight container to help minimize exposure to any humidity, as well as pests. Another thing to consider when storing milk replacer includes storing bags on a pallet to aid in preventing moisture absorption and not stacking pallets to prevent compaction. If space is an issue and pallets must be stacked, they should not be more than two pallets high. While not every farm may be able to meet all of these conditions, they should strive to meet as many as they can.

Proper milk replacer handling and mixing

Even if proper storage of milk replacer occurs, improper handling and/or mixing can still lead to additional issues with both powder and calves. Most milk replacers come with simple, easy to follow instructions. First, it is important to ensure you are measuring milk replacer powder correctly. It is advised to weigh the powder. If it is not possible to weigh the powder at each feeding, then frequently weigh the powder in the measuring scoop to ensure the weight is accurate – even if it is the scoop is provided by the manufacturer, as the density of powder can change. The amount of powder and water to mix will depend on many things. For instance, the number of calves and what percent solids you plan to feed (see Table 1). It is important to note that as percent solids increase, the osmolality of the milk replacer also increases, which can potentially lead to abomasal bloat and other digestive disturbances, therefore considerations should be made when increasing solids percentage of milk replacer.

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Milk replacer quality can also be affected by improper mixing. If mixing water is above 145°F, milk replacer powder will be negatively impacted. High water temperatures can denature proteins, leading to poor digestibility. High temperatures can undo the emulsification process that occurs during manufacturing, leading to clumping of fat molecules, which can cause fat deposits on mixing and feeding equipment. This can also lead to some calves consuming more fat than others.

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Proper milk replacer feeding

It is important that milk replacer is fed around 102° to 107°F, which is close to the body temperature of a healthy calf. If milk replacer is colder than body temperature, the calf will warm the milk after it is consumed, leading to a loss of energy. Warm milk replacer also stimulates the esophageal groove to close to prevent liquid from entering the rumen, where it can lead to undesirable bacterial growth.

Keep in mind that during winter months, cold feeding equipment (bottles or pails) can reduce the temperature of milk replacer. It is also beneficial to bring the next bag(s) of milk replacer into a warm room prior to use to prevent it from cooling down the mixing water. Mixing water temperature can also be increased in the winter to up to 130°F, if powder is cold, but dilute it with colder water to bring it back down to feeding temperature. Use of a thermometer is strongly recommended and will ensure calves receive milk replacer at the proper temperature. While the temperature may start at 102°F, it can easily cool 10º or more by the time it’s fed to the last calf.

Many of these suggestions should also be considered when using an automated calf feeder, including checking that the machine is properly calibrated and that milk replacer powder is at room temperature prior to adding it to the machine to ensure calves are fed liquid that meets target solids percent and temperature.  end mark

Kayla Aragona
  • Kayla Aragona

  • Calf and Heifer Specialist
  • Provimi
  • Email Kayla Aragona

Take home points:

1. Storing milk replacer in an airtight container, as well as in a temperature- and humidity-controlled environment, will ensure it retains its quality.

2. It is important to follow manufacturer’s instructions to properly mix milk replacer. It is best to frequently weigh powder to calibrate measuring cups, as the density can vary.

3. Avoid using water over 145ºF to prevent undoing emulsification and denaturing proteins.

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4. Make sure temperature of milk replacer fed is between 102º and 107ºF for every calf, to prevent issues.

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