Which key factors play a role when selecting a replacer

Which key factors play a role when selecting a replacer

Which key factors play a role when selecting a replacer?

Are the different brands of calf milk replacers exchangeable just like that? Absolutely not! There are essential differences in solubility, intake (what can and will the calf drink?), digestibility (making use of nutrients) and consistency of quality. The differences have a major impact on the health and growth of young calves. What are the distinguishing elements of Sprayfo?

The differences in calf milk replacer are mainly a reflection of the raw materials used and method of production. Sloten – producer of Sprayfo – has developed a vegetable-based fat blend for all sorts of animals. This blend is combined with dairy ingredients using a unique proprietary production process. 

Miniscule fat globules

Sloten has its own dairy factory where it actually produces its own raw materials for Sprayfo. The process begins with mixing fresh dairy products with vegetable oils and fats. This mix is pasteurised and then high-pressure homogenized and spray-dried using advanced technology. This results in minuscule fat globules of uniform size, similar to the smaller fat molecules in cow's milk. Homogenization sort of ‘encapsulates’ the fat globules in protein and lactose. In this form and with these constituent parts, the globules and nutrients are easy for the calf to process and digest in the abomasum and the small intestine. 

Solubility, digestibility, consistent quality

The differences in production methods and composition determine how the milk replacer performs on three key factors: solubility, digestibility and consistency of quality.

1. What is effective solubility?

After mixing with water, good calf milk replacer will generally mix without forming any small lumps. Such undissolved lumps cause digestive problems, even when they are very small and difficult to detect with the naked eye.

Specifically products using skimmed milk powder often dissolve poorly at temperatures below 50 degrees. Sloten's production process as described above ensures that dissolvability is still optimal at temperatures of 40 degrees, even in products with high levels of skimmed milk powder.

2. It's all about digestibility

Digestibility is all about making use of the available proteins, lipids (fats) and carbohydrates the milk contains. The more digestible the replacer is, the more a calf will drink, as it will not feel satiated so quickly. Good calf milk replacer at just the right temperature induces the required reflex in the oesophagus, directing the milk to the abomasum and not the rumen. 

Protein for growth

The abomasum metabolizes some of the proteins in the milk, with the rest being metabolized in the small intestine. The metabolizing products – amino acids – are absorbed by the calf and primarily used for growth.

Fats and carbohydrates for energy

The fats in the milk are already partially metabolized by digestive enzyms in the saliva. Other lipids are metabolized in the small intestine and converted into energy for the calf. The small intestine also metabolizes carbohydrates (mainly lactose) into glucose and galactose. Uptake in the small intestine also acts as a source of energy for the calf.

Skimmed milk powder: gradual digestibility

The microscopically small fat globules, encapsulated in protein and lactose, easily find their way from the abomasum to the small intestine and are then metabolized and transported further. Additionally, some products in the Sprayfo range contain skimmed milk powder. This ingredient causes curdling in the abomasum, which in turn helps to predigest proteins, and ensures greater uniformity of transport to the small intestine and further effective digestion there. This is thanks to the protein casein in the milk powder. Casein curdles in the stomach at low pH levels.

It might sound complicated, but this casein is slightly different than the caseinate often found in calf-milk replacer. That is an ingredient that comes from processing casein protein. In nutritional terms, caseinate is a good product but, contrary to casein from skimmed milk powder, results in considerably less curdling in the stomach.

3. Focus on consistently high quality

Do you get the same constant quality from your supplier? The market for raw materials is quite volatile, as are prices. So how do you ensure consistent quality over the long term?

Sprayfo buys its dairy ingredients in liquid form from renowned dairy companies in the Netherlands and neighbouring countries. The fact that we can trace the origins of our dairy flows means we also always process only the highest-quality raw materials. And the fact that we only use liquid flows means we always work with the freshest ingredients. This is a major factor in ensuring consistent quality of the Sprayfo products.

Of total Sprayfo production, 90% is destined for export. Our brand is trusted by dairy farmers across the world. Which is why quality is for us a top priority, and we refuse to be seduced into changing the composition just to profit from price fluctuations when purchasing raw ingredients. 

Mediocre or good calf milk replacer? - It does make a difference!

The quality of calf milk replacer can make a big difference to the growth and vitality of your calves. But what happens inside a calf after drinking calf milk replacer? And what effect does quality have on the digestibility and utilization of the available nutritional elements?

“The quality of Sprayfo is high and consistent”

Wendy Duker rears her calves in accordance with the principles of rest, routine and cleanliness. Sprayfo milk replacer perfectly reflects this approach. “The quality is high and consistent. You just know that it's always good.”

The Duker family's dairy farm in Nijeveen, the Netherlands, has 100 dairy cows and about 80 young cattle. Wendy Duker takes care of calf rearing, which she combines with a part-time job as a doctor's assistant for 18 hours a week.

Some 100 calves are born each year on the farm. The bullocks are placed in igloos and are sold off after 14 days. The heifer calves spend their first 10 days in individual stalls in the cowshed. They are then transferred to straw-bedded pens for six to seven animals. From that moment on, they start suckling at the drinking machine.

“Our calves are fed colostrum for the first three days. Strong colostrum intake within the first 24 hours is half the battle, as this forms the best foundation for vibrant health.

3 times a day, 2 litres CMR in the single pen

After day three, we switch to Sprayfo. In the single pens, they receive two litres three times a day. This is a strategic decision as it allows me to maintain tight control.

The calves are given Sprayfo Vitesse at a concentration of 140 grams per litre. In winter, we give them Sprayfo Excellent, which contains a slightly higher level of skimmed milk powder. And due to higher energy needs in colder periods, I also make the milk slightly thicker.

'Sprayfo always dissolves well'

Although it sounds a bit clichéd, rest, routine and cleanliness are essential factors during rearing. Each new-born calf is given a clean pen with fresh straw. And that's exactly how it's supposed to be. Good-quality and consistent calf milk replacer is also indispensable. Feeding always runs smoothly with Sprayfo, as it dissolves well without forming lumps. The calves enjoy greater vitality, and growth is exceptional. They are visibly fitter and more playful and gain a shiny coat, and their manure is also of a healthy consistency. Sprayfo is a great and pure product. It smells good and is easy to store. In addition, quality is very consistent, and you can count on that.

Growth in the first 2 weeks is crucial for calf rearing

Practical experience and research gives ever greater understanding of the growth potential of young calves. Potential that turns out to be very high, though growth differentials are enormous per farm in the initial weeks. This is certainly worth attention, as growth in the first two weeks is essential for further development of each calf. This article explains the minimum volumes you should feed.

Sprayfo closely monitors the impact of nutrition in the first eight weeks on the growth of calves before and after weaning. We gather data from dairy farms and conduct our own research in collaboration with Schothorst Feed Research in Lelystad, the LFA MV research institute in Dummerstorf (Germany) and the Nutreco Calf Research Centre.

Calves often take too long to regain birth weight

In practice, we see great differences in the volume of calf milk replacer fed to calves in the first two weeks in particular. The volumes vary from less than 6 kilos to more than 10 kilos. We also see great differences in the dosage: from less than 120 grams to 160 grams per litre.

Calves are generally switched to calf milk replacer from day 4. They are fed 2 times 2 litres per day in the first week and 2 times 2.5 litres in the second week. At a normal concentration of 125 grams per litre, these calves are fed 7 kg of milk replacer. This translates as slightly more than 500 grams per day, which they roughly need as a maintenance level. Daily growth will therefore be very limited; around 100-150 grams per day. Besides this slow growth, these calves have very little immunity, leaving them open to bacteria and viruses. 

Dairy farmers are too conservative in feeding calves

We can therefore conclude that many dairy farmers are too conservative in feeding their calves in the first 2 weeks. By conservative, we mean: less than 8 kg of powder in the first 2 weeks. At that rate, calves grow too slowly and will take 7 to 10 days to regain their birth weight. That is too long, as the calves lag behind in development and are unnecessarily prone to illness. It is essential to prevent that, as every case of illness costs growth. In this important phase, each growth stop is at the expense of udder development, while also slowing the development of the digestive and immune system.

Fourth stomach is extremely elastic

This feeding method has been advised for many years, on the assumption that the fourth stomach is very small; only holding 2 litres. However, recent research has proven the fourth stomach to be very elastic, especially if 3-litre feeds are given per meal directly with and after the colostrum. This stretches the fourth stomach and results in problem-free digestion. Consequently, the calf is more able to effectively digest higher feed intakes in a later stage of development. In other words; LifeStart feeding starts with an active approach from day 1.

Advice for first 14 days

The LifeStart Sprayfo advice is as follows:

Feed 3.8 litres of controlled quality colostrum within 2 hours of calving

Feed a further 2 to 3 litres later the same day

Days 2 and 3: 2 x 3 litres colostrum

Days 4 to 7: 2 x 3 litres Sprayfo; concentration 1 in 6, no roughage or calf pellets, provide water

Days 8 to 14: 2 x 3.5 litres Sprayfo; concentration 1 in 6, no roughage, provide calf pellets and water 

According to this schedule, calves are fed 11 kg of Sprayfo from days 4-14. Either Sprayfo Excellent or Sprayfo Yellow can be used. When fed using this schedule, the calves hardly drop below their birth weight, and grow 4-8 kg. They have the energy required to strengthen their immune system, which is very visible; healthy, well-filled calves with a good coat.

Very digestible calf milk replacer is essential

Feeding sufficient high-concentrate litres at a young age requires an easily digestible product such as Sprayfo Excellent, Vitesse or Sprayfo Yellow. The good digestive properties of the powder in combination with the added antibodies make Sprayfo even better for maximisation of the animal's growth potential. Based on a targeted feeding schedule, 6 litres of milk containing 160 grams of Sprayfo per litre can be fed in the 2nd week of life. This puts young calves on a growth curve that serves them well throughout their lives.


From 100 to 120 kg in 3 months

Although most dairy farmers do not bother weighing their calves, we know that the average weight is just over 100 kg at three months. With our latest insights, we achieve 120 kg in 3 months. The table clearly illustrates which growth curve this requires. With the knowledge of the importance of growth and development for subsequent production capacity, it is crucial that dairy farmers take advantage of opportunities for improved growth.

Weaning calves: concentrate uptake determines end of weaning

Calves are weaned at the age of 8 to 9 weeks. With a birth weight of 40 kg, the weight of a calf at that age has roughly doubled. Concentrate uptake should be around 1 to 1.5 kilos a day towards the end of weaning, otherwise you can expect growth deceleration of three weeks. If the calf is not at this level, then postpone weaning.

Post-weaning dip in calves is difficult to compensate

A post-weaning dip – growth deceleration – through inadequate rumen development is very undesirable. It is very difficult to counteract such growth deceleration periods. Attempts to compensate considerably increase the risk of fatty deposits in a calf's mammary tissue, with all the negative effects that entails.

Encourage smooth rumen development

The foundation for successful weaning without growth deceleration is laid in the first few weeks. Providing water and concentrate from week one ensures the calf enjoys smooth rumen development. This is essential, as after weaning the calf is fully dependent on feed that requires digestion in the rumen. The better the rumen develops, the easier weaning is and the more complete the transition between older calf to dairy cow.

No hay in first four weeks

The rumen develops particularly well under the influence of the starches in concentrates. That is why it is inadvisable to provide hay or other roughage before the age of four weeks. Only when the calf eats its daily portion of concentrate can you begin providing good-quality hay. This is mostly at an age of around four weeks.

Avoid stress

Weaning itself is a stressful process for a calf. This can be prevented somewhat by giving a calf milk just once a day for the last seven days of weaning. This ensures a gradual transition and stimulates the uptake of solids. During this period, avoid any extra stress-inducing events, such as dehorning, moving or vaccinating.

Use easily digestible rearing milk

Starting with a easily digestible rearing milk from Sprayfo ensures strong, healthy growth. Sprayfo's Life Start sets Life Performance concept promotes more milk at higher concentrations in the first 4–5 weeks of life. This results in strong growth from the word go, ensuring the calves eat more concentrate faster. This early concentrate uptake results in smooth rumen development, lower stress at weaning, vibrant health and proper development from calf to dairy cow.

When determining the weaning moment, a calf's development is the key factor. In other words, you must decide when the right moment is and not the feed schedule.