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Mind the gap: Nutritional strategies for feeding pasteurized milk

Tom Earleywine for Progressive Dairyman Published on 09 June 2017

High-quality nutrition isn’t just a goal to shoot for in your calf-feeding program; it’s a necessity when it comes to raising healthy, productive calves.

If you feed pasteurized milk, providing a consistent, nutritious diet can be especially challenging. Variations in milk solids, fat and protein percentages caused by mixing milk from cows in different lactation stages and health statuses combined with a lack of essential vitamins and minerals can cause gaps in your calf nutrition plan which you might not be aware of.



Consider these nutritional strategies to help boost performance in calves fed a pasteurized milk diet.

Phase feeding

Consistency in feeding is especially critical in the first few weeks of life. An inconsistent diet can impact the natural maturation process of the digestive tract of young calves, affecting calf growth and performance. Implementing phase feeding into your pasteurized milk feeding program can help bring consistency to young calves to protect digestive development.

With phase feeding, calves are fed high-quality milk replacer for the first two to three weeks of life before gradually transitioning to pasteurized milk with a balancer. Milk replacer provides consistent solids levels along with additional nutritional value to help facilitate gut development.

It can also help protect calves from high levels of bacteria found in some waste milk. Even with pasteurizing, there can still be bacteria remaining if not regularly monitored and pasteurized correctly.

Older calves have further developed digestive tracts and are better able to tolerate variations from a pasteurized milk diet. When making the switch from milk replacer to pasteurized milk with a balancer, it’s important to make the change as gradual as possible to reduce stress.


Slowly transition away from milk replacer by blending with pasteurized whole milk for two to three days before feeding all pasteurized milk.

Pasteurized milk balancers

Feeding a pasteurized milk balancer can help fill in nutritional holes naturally found in milk. Whether it’s waste milk or milk from the bulk tank, whole milk lacks essential vitamins and minerals crucial to calf growth and development. Balancers add important nutrients such as vitamin D, vitamin E, vitamin C, B vitamins and trace minerals to your calves’ diet.

How to feed a pasteurized milk balancer

Click here or on the image above to view it at full size in a new window.

Supplemental technologies such as fly control can also be found in balancers, giving your calves a boost in comfort and performance.

Any time pasteurized milk is fed, consider including a balancer.


Growth and performance

Pasteurized milk balancers can provide an advantage to help boost those average daily gains. Adding a balancer to your pasteurized milk will help raise the solids percentage without increasing volume, and more milk solids can help calves grow.

By adding a balancer to pasteurized milk, calves have been shown to take full advantage of this highly efficient time by significantly increasing growth.

A portion of the growth improvement may be attributed to increased starter intake. Milk is naturally high in fat, which can hinder starter intake. Adding a pasteurized milk balancer low in fat can level out fat percentages to help boost starter consumption, leading to increased growth.

Look for a pasteurized milk balancer with 10 percent fat and 25 percent protein to match the natural protein levels in milk.

Feeding options

There are two different options for integrating a balancer into your pasteurized milk feeding program. The most common way is to add a set amount of balancer per gallon of milk. The amount of balancer can vary from farm to farm depending on nutritional needs and feeding goals.

To boost nutrition, a good benchmark to start with is:

  • Mix 0.25 to 0.5 pound of balancer with at least 1 gallon of pasteurized milk and split between two to three feedings per calf daily. The amount will depend on your desired solids level.

To boost nutrition and increase milk volume, a good benchmark to start with is:

  • Mix 1 pound of balancer with 2 quarts of water plus 1 gallon of pasteurized milk and split between two to three feedings per calf daily. For a full-potential diet, feed 2 gallons of final solution per calf daily.

pasteurized milk balancer

A second feeding option is to truly balance your pasteurized milk to reach a targeted solids level. This involves regular monitoring of solids levels using a refractometer and increasing or decreasing the amount of balancer added based on the readings. Work with your nutritionist to determine a solids level to meet your calf goals.

With any of the feeding options, it’s ideal to look for ways to bring consistency to the milk supply by regular monitoring of the milk for solids content and bacteria levels.

Talk with your calf and heifer specialist about implementing these feeding strategies into your pasteurized milk program to improve calf nutrition, performance and growth.  end mark

Tom Earleywine, Ph.D., is director of nutritional services with Land O’Lakes Animal Milk Products. Email Tom Earleywine. Call at (800) 618-6455.

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

Tom Earleywine
  • Tom Earleywine

  • Director of Nutritional Services
  • Land O’Lakes
  • Email Tom Earleywine