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Protocols for correctly mixing milk replacer

Anne Proctor for Progressive Dairyman Published on 23 May 2019

Mixing milk powder in water doesn’t seem like a complicated task, but mixing properly is one of the most important things you can do for your calves. Milk replacer tags usually say to mix a specific number of ounces of powder with a specific volume of water. The confusion arises in interpretation of those simple instructions.

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Determine the amount of milk needed

For purposes of illustration, let’s use a milk replacer tag that reads “Mix 10 ounces of milk replacer powder into 2 quarts of warm water and mix thoroughly.” The tag may also indicate calves of different weights should be fed different volumes of milk.

First, you need to know the amount of milk replacer powder you need. Multiply the number of calves by 10 ounces. Since most scales weigh in pounds, we’ll need to convert those ounces to pounds. Take your total number of ounces and divide by 16 to know how many pounds of powder you will be feeding.

Next, determine how much milk you need to feed at this feeding. If all calves are fed the same amount of milk regardless of size or age, the math is easy. Count your calves and multiply the number of calves by 2 quarts to determine how many quarts of milk to make. If your measuring system measures in gallons, you’ll need to divide the number of quarts by four to convert to gallons. This number will be the final volume of milk replacer you will mix, not the amount of water to add.

When mixing milk replacer, you will put water into your pail or mixer to fill it to about half of the volume you just calculated. You’ll then add the milk replacer powder and mix it until the powder is in solution. You will then stop mixing and allow the milk in the mixer to stop swirling. Carefully add water to fill to the volume you calculated that you need to feed.

Make sure to measure to the top of the liquid in the pail or mixer, not the bubbles that sometimes form during mixing. Mix the water into the solution. This method should give you exactly the amount of milk you need. If you are short of milk or have milk left over, check your math and accuracy in measuring.


It is helpful to have a mixing chart, and most consultants will make one for you. Be sure you and your employees understand how to read the chart.

I need this much milk:

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Don’t use the cup to measure

While cups used to be the norm, cups only approximate the amount of powder to feed and lead to inconsistency in a calf feeding program. Milk replacers differ in density between companies, between lot numbers and even between a bag from the top of the pallet and a bag on the bottom of the pallet. When we use volume rather than weight, the amount of powder in the cup can vary dramatically.

And that inconsistency is small compared to differences in the amount of powder in a “scoop” when measured by different people. It can be eye-opening to get a scale and have each person who feeds calves weigh a scoop of milk replacer. While the difference between 10 ounces and 9 doesn’t sound like much to us, it’s a 10 percent reduction in nutrients you are feeding, and it is a source of inconsistency from feeding to feeding. The weight of the powder is important to the calf; it doesn’t care about the volume.

Use a thermometer

Another critical component of mixing milk replacer is mixing it at the proper temperature. Follow instructions on the tag. The milk replacer manufacturer knows how the ingredients in the bag go into solution. Some go into solution at feeding temperature, while others require hotter water. Remember, the milk replacer is the temperature of the environment in which it is stored. In the summer, it may be 90ºF when added to the water and have little effect on the final temperature. In the winter, it may be 30ºF and the equivalent of putting ice into your water. You’ll need to adjust your starting temperature so you’re mixing the milk replacer at the proper temperature, whether winter or summer.


Also take into account you’re pouring milk replacer into a bucket or bottle that is the same temperature as the environment. The milk replacer temperature can drop dramatically when put in a cold bucket. Carry your thermometer along when you feed calves, and check the temperature of the milk in the bottle or bucket as it is fed to the last calf. If the temperature is less than 105ºF, start with hotter water.

Mixing milk replacer seems like an easy task until you think about all the things that can go wrong. Make sure you are weighing milk replacer powder to improve accuracy and consistency from day to day, batch to batch and employee to employee. Calculate the amount of milk you need for the feeding and weigh out the appropriate amount of milk replacer powder.

Add the milk replacer powder to a portion of the warm water, mix until the powder goes into solution, then add water to reach the volume you need for the feeding. Adjust the temperature of the water you start with to account for difference in the environmental temperature so you are consistent in the temperature of the milk when it is put in front of the calf. Follow these simple steps to mix for success.  end mark

Anne Proctor
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Example 1

We need to feed 64 calves, and they each get 2 quarts of milk this feeding.

  •  of powder: 64 calves x 10 ounces = 640 ounces of powder

  • Convert to pounds: 640 ounces / 16 = 40 pounds

Weigh out 40 pounds of milk replacer powder. Be accurate with your weighing.

  • Quarts of milk replacer needed: 64 calves x 2 quarts = 128 quarts

  • Convert to gallons: 128 / 4 = 32 gallons

Put about 16 gallons of warm water into the mixer and add the 40 pounds of powder.

Mix until the powder is in solution.

Fill the mixer to the 32-gallon mark with warm water and mix again to blend the water into the solution.

Example 2

We need to feed 16 calves fed 2 quarts of milk and 48 calves fed 3 quarts of milk. We want all the calves to get the same concentration of milk replacer; it is just the volume that will differ, so calves fed 3 quarts of milk will be getting 15 ounces of powder.

  • Ounces of powder: 16 calves x 10 ounces = 160 ounces

  • 48 calves x 15 ounces = 720 ounces

  • 160 ounces + 720 ounces = 880 ounces

  • 880 ounces / 16 = 55 pounds

Weigh out 55 pounds of milk replacer. Since milk replacer bags contain 50 pounds of milk replacer, you can use one full bag and weigh out the additional 5 pounds of powder you need from another bag.

Amount of finished milk replacer:

  • 16 calves x 2 quarts = 32 quarts

  • 48 calves x 3 quarts = 144 quarts

  • 32 quarts + 144 quarts = 176 quarts

  • 176 quarts / 4 = 44 gallons

Put about 22 gallons of warm water into the mixer and add the 55 pounds of powder.

Mix until the powder is in solution.

Fill the mixer to the 44-gallon mark with warm water and mix again to blend the water into the solution.