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Be Confident in a Switch to Whey for Young Calves

Be Confident in a Switch to Whey for Young Calves

If you are looking for the most cost-effective way of rearing pre-weaned youngstock, studies have now confirmed that whey protein concentrate and skim are equivalent sources of dairy protein in milk replacers for high performing young calves fed up to 1,050g of milk solids per day.

This latest independent research – confirmed in recent trial (2019) work by AFBI at Hillsborough in Northern Ireland – will be well received by farmers wedded to skim, who at times may be interested in a cost-effective alternative when global skim prices rise.
“This new work clearly shows once and for all that the presence of skim – and therefore the clotting effect of casein – is not the fundamental element within a calf milk formula influencing optimum calf growth,” says Volac Research Scientist Dr Jessica Cooke.
In the study, there was no significant difference on calf growth between the different milk replacer formulations (see table). The work highlights that if the important milk components are processed correctly, as they are by Wynnstay’s whey calf milk replacer manufacturer Volac, both skim and whey proteins will be highly digestible by the high milk-fed calf and will deliver good performance.
Importantly though, Dr Cooke stresses that good nutrition and calf performance is linked to more than just the type of dairy protein included in the finished milk formula.
“Important differences in amino acid and fatty acid profiles, amount of lactose, vitamins, minerals and trace elements, processing conditions and overall digestibility also all contribute to calf performance,” she says.
In summary, this means that when processed under carefully controlled conditions, both skim and whey protein concentrate-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.
Table 1: Growth and health of calves fed four milk replacers differing in sources of dairy protein (skim milk powder and/or whey protein concentrate) up to 8 weeks of age.

Milk replacer composition

  66% Skim 44% Skim 22% Skim 0% Skim
Number of calves 20 20 20 20
Bodyweight (kg) at birth 40.8 41.3 41.7 41.5
Bodyweight (kg) at weaning (day 56) 73.2 74.5 71.9 73.5
Daily live weight gain (kg/day)        
Day 0-14 0.38 0.34 0.31 0.4
0.4Day 14-56 0.64 0.66 0.61 0.63

Source: AFBI, Hillsborough, Northern Ireland (2019)

Calf feeding regime and notes:

  • Milk replacer (26% crude protein; 16% fat; mixed at 150g/L) fed at 5L/day (day 5-10)
  • 7L/day (day 11-34), 5L/day (day 35-49), 2 litres/day (day
    49- 55)
  • Ad-lib calf starter and water available from birth with the addition of chopped straw from day 56

a. scour episode defined as the number of sustained periods over which a calf has had scour (score >2) for which it has received treatment

b. pneumonia episode was defined as calf displaying a symptom of pneumonia over a sustained period of time for which it received a treatment

6 Key Points

  1. Not all whey is the same. High quality concentrated whey protein (such as Volac’s Imunopro® calf milk base) contains the valuable bioactive components for optimum performance and will give calves the best opportunity for growth and development.
  2. Dairy ingredients are the main source of protein in modern calf milk replacers – these include both skim (casein) and whey.
  3. Research clearly shows that calves can digest and utilise milk replacers based on whey as the main dairy protein just as efficiently as skim-based products, despite the whey proteins not forming a clot in the abomasum.
  4. Milk replacers including good quality skim or whey as the main dairy protein can both deliver good calf performance.
  5. The processing method of the dairy protein (for both skim and whey) is fundamental for digestibility and calf performance.
  6. Whey protein contains naturally occurring bioactive proteins (e.g. immunoglobulins and lactoferrin) that help support the calf’s immune system and positively influence the young animal’s growth and development.

Dr Jessica Cooke

Research Scientist with Volac


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