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Calf rearers being forced to swallow high skim milk powder costs are being urged to review the dairy protein they feed to their calves.

“The reality is that modern, precision-formulated whey protein-based calf milk formulas deliver comparable young animal performance to skim milk-based products and farmers should be confident in making the switch to whey,” says Dr Jessica Cooke from Volac.

She points out that the price of skim milk powder has been rising steadily over the past year and with the recent sharp increase many farmers will already be exploring alternative pre-weaning calf feeding options. Review the available dairy protein options carefully though, she urges.

Dr Cooke explains that dairy ingredients are the main source of protein in calf milk replacers and these include both skim (casein protein) and whey.

“Skim milk powder is simply whole milk with the fat removed, whilst whey protein is a co-product of cheese production. For example, at Volac’s factory in Wales, incoming whey from cheese manufacturers using milk from British farms is concentrated through a unique, low temperature ultrafiltration and evaporation process. This concentrated milk protein (Imunopro®) contains beneficial ingredients (found naturally in milk and colostrum) that help support the immune system, growth and development of the young calf.”

Dr Cooke further explains that milk replacers containing a high content of skim will result in clot formation in the acid conditions of the calf’s stomach (abomasum). Whereas milk replacers with whey as the primary source of milk protein do not form a clot and pass readily into the small intestine for digestion. “Despite these differences, whey protein concentrate and skim milk powder are comparable sources of dairy protein in milk replacer products,” she says.

However, she does stress that good calf performance depends on more than just the type of dairy protein – the quality and processing of the ingredients used in a milk replacer is also key.

 “When processed under carefully controlled conditions, both skim and whey-based milk replacers can deliver excellent calf performance but, on the other hand, poorly processed milk-derived protein (be it skim or whey) can have very poor digestibility and increase the risk of health issues.

“The key is to evaluate value for money carefully when purchasing a calf milk replacer and only buy a precision-formulated product with a proven track record of performance,” Dr Cooke says.