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Liquid Feed Management

Recommendations on how much to feed birth to weaning

Whole Milk

Whole milk can be used to feed baby calves. Calves should be fed daily approximately 10% of their body weight (1 quart of milk weighs 2 pounds). For example, a Holstein calf weighing 90 pounds at birth would be fed 4.5 quarts (9 pints) of milk daily or 2.25 quarts per feeding when fed twice daily. Feeding less milk than this amount results in poor growth due to lack of needed nutrients. Overfeeding and sudden changes in the amount of milk can cause digestive upsets and scouring.

Waste Milk

Waste or mastitic milk can be used to feed calves. Calves should be fed approximately 10% of their body weight (1 quart of milk weighs 2 pounds). Milk from treated cows should only be used to feed calves raised for herd replacements or those kept for eight to 12 weeks after the last feeding of such milk. Do not feed waste milk containing antibiotics to calves intended for slaughter. Do not feed calves waste milk that is watery or that comes from quarters showing signs of severe mastitis, from cows with an elevated temperature, from cows that are off-feed, or from cows shortly after they have been treated with antibiotics.

Milk Replacer

Calves should be fed high quality milk replacer containing 28% protein. Start with 1 lb of milk solids (1 gallon) in the first week and gradually increase to 2 lbs/day (2 gallons of milk) in the first 4–5 weeks of age. Gradually decrease the amount offered after the 5th week to avoid weaning stress. At 7 weeks of age, calves should be fed only 0.5 lbs of milk solids (½ gallon of milk). Calves should be weaned when grain intake is approximately 3 lbs/day, which typically occurs at 7–8 weeks of age in the Step method. Maintain calves in the same environment for at least 1 week after weaning. When moving them to group pens at 9–10 weeks of age, most calves should be consuming 4–5 lbs of grain per day.

Milk provides the primary source of feed for young calves before they are able to digest solid feeds. The standard program of feeding pre-weaning calves 1 gallon of milk replacer reconstituted at 12% dry matter is insufficient for optimum development. In this system, the calf consumes approximately 1 lb of milk solids per day, which is sufficient only to meet the need to maintain body weight of a 100-lb calf. Although this system enhances grain intake, it causes calves to have low weight gains in the first month of age.

Calving Ease

January 2001
Sam Leadley (Attica Veterinary Associates) and Pam Sojda (Offhaus Farms)

Cold Weather and Energy for Calves

This month we focus on relatively small calves that are consuming only milk or milk replacer. The chart above shows how many quarts of 20-20 milk replacer (mixed according to the manufacturer’s instructions of eight ounces of powder to make two quarts of mix) are needed for maintenance and growth. We compared a smaller eighty pound calf to a larger one weighing one hundred pounds. Three different temperatures of the surrounding air are shown as well. The dark horizontal line marks the "usual" amount fed by producers; four quarts daily usually in two feedings.

Calf Health Cold Weather Feeding Chart

First, note that as the air temperature goes down the amount of milk replacer needed for maintenance goes up. The dark part of the bar shows how much is needed for maintenance alone. Three of the dark bars that indicate maintenance needs go above the four-quart line. When fed only four quarts a day these calves are not maintaining their weight. They are losing weight.

Second, notice that for the same air temperature the dark bars are taller for the 100-pound calf than for the 80-pound calf. This means the larger the calf the greater the amount of energy she needs to keep warm, healthy and alive. At 10° the 80-pound calf needs 4.1 quarts and the 100-pound calf needs 4.9 quarts. That’s nearly an extra quart of milk replacer for the larger calf’s maintenance.

Third, you also want the calf to grow. The white part of each bar represents the number of quarts of milk replacer needed to gain one pound a day. The tops of all six bars are well above the line marking four quarts daily.

How Can I Feed More?

One way is to feed bulk tank milk. Holstein milk has about 25 percent more energy than does 20-20 milk replacer. Jersey milk has about 50 percent more energy. Or, save heifer colostrum and second and third milkings from fresh cows.

Mix this in with your milk replacer to boost the energy inexpensively. Another way is to mix more 20-20 milk replacer powder with the water. Adding two extra ounces of powder per feeding in the same amount of liquid will increase the energy by 25 percent. If the calves have access to water adding an extra four ounces powder per feeding will add 50 percent more energy – but do this only if the calves have free-choice water to drink in addition to their milk.

Another way is to feed more of the standard mix of milk replacer. While this option works okay with calves big enough to consume more than four quarts daily it’s not as effective with small calves. Smaller calves tend to eat well one feeding and poorly the next when larger amounts are fed. Also, some producers add commercially prepared fat supplements to boost energy per quart.

Spreadsheet Helps Calculate the Cost of Pasteurizing Milk for Calves

A new tool designed to help evaluate the decision to feed pasteurized waste milk is available. This spreadsheet developed by Penn State and Virginia Tech extension educators calculates the cost of owning and operating a calf milk pasteurizer as well as costs to feed milk replacer or whole, saleable milk.

A new tool designed to help evaluate the decision to feed pasteurized waste milk is available. This spreadsheet developed by Penn State and Virginia Tech extension educators calculates the cost of owning and operating a calf milk pasteurizer as well as costs to feed milk replacer or whole, saleable milk. The spreadsheet also compares the nutrients provided by milk replacer, waste milk, and whole milk. All nutrient values can be edited to compare a variety of feeding programs.

The spreadsheet calculates costs and nutrients fed, but does not evaluate calf health or growth for each option, because many variables other than nutrient intake affect the actual growth and health performance of calves. Additionally, the spreadsheet offers tables that compare the costs of alternatives to feeding pasteurized milk when the supply of waste milk is not adequate to feed all calves. The final components of the spreadsheet are two simple calculators that estimate the supply of and demand for waste milk and calculate the amount of powder to add to waste milk to increase solids or volume. This spreadsheet can be used when planning for a new pasteurizer and for managing systems already in place.

To download your copy of the Calf Milk Pasteurization Evaluator Spreadsheet, visit A manual with complete instructions and background information is available at the same location.

This spreadsheet was designed for you to use your own farm data and specifics related to the feeding system changes that you are proposing. To provide an understanding of what the spreadsheet can do for you, we have put together some examples of some typical situations. Table 1 shows some of the key inputs for two situations. Example 1 is an HTST system that recycles 66% of the heat generated and is shown for an operation with approximately 750 cows. Example 2 is a batch system that can process up to 30 gal/batch and is shown for a farm of about 200 cows.

In both examples, calves will be fed 1 gal/day of pasteurized waste milk, which contains 3.2% true protein and 3.9% fat and is assigned a value of $3/cwt. This will be compared in our examples to milk replacer containing 20% protein and 20% fat fed at 1.25 lb/calf each day, which costs $75 for a 50-lb bag. In Example 1 an electric mixer is used for milk replacer; Example 2 uses hand-mixed milk replacer due to the smaller number of calves fed. Whole milk in both examples is worth $19.40/cwt, contains 3.0% true protein and 3.5% fat, and would be fed to calves at 1 gal/day.

Table 2 shows the spreadsheet output comparing the nutrients and feed costs of the three feeds in these examples. On a dry matter basis, the waste milk provides more protein and fat than the other options, which would probably result in better growth in calves fed waste milk. A high protein, low fat milk replacer would be more similar to waste milk in the amount of nutrients fed to calves. It is beyond the scope of this spreadsheet to compare growth differences, so growth and health performance of calves are assumed to be equal for the economic comparison. The daily cost of each feed considers the cost on a dry matter basis and the amount of dry matter fed. These values are the same in our two examples. Waste milk is the cheapest of these feeds when its value is set at $3/cwt.

To download the spreadsheet, visit A manual with complete instructions and background information is available at the same location.

Considering the cost of pasteurizing milk is the next step. The spreadsheet calculates the cost of owning the equipment (an annual cost that spreads the cost over the life of the machine and considers the amount of interest that could be earned if the money was not tied up in the equipment). The pasteurizer also has operating expenses, including energy costs, cleaning, and extra labor to run the system.

In Example 1, owning and operating the HTST machine adds about $1 per calf to the feed cost (the total cost per day is about $46). Mixing the milk replacer adds $0.18 per calf. So the total daily cost for the 44 calves fed pasteurized waste milk is $1.25 per calf. For the remaining 6 calves, feeding milk replacer would cost $2.06 per calf; feeding whole milk would cost $2.60 per calf (the spreadsheet assumes that whole milk is pasteurized). Looking at this another way (Table 3), the total daily feed cost if all 50 calves were fed milk replacer would be $95.42. If we fed all 50 calves pasteurized waste milk, the total daily feed cost would be $59.32. Thus, feeding pasteurized milk would save the farm $36.10 per day. However, we don't expect to have enough waste milk to feed all 50 calves. This expectation is based on the spreadsheet's waste milk supply estimator and assumes typical waste milk volumes found in university field studies. The cost of feeding 44 calves pasteurized waste milk and 6 calves milk replacer is $67.25, which still saves $28.16 per day compared to feeding milk replacer to all calves.

In Example 2, the batch pasteurizer adds $1.55 to $1.70 per calf to the feed cost. The reason for this large increase is the small number of calves being fed on this smaller farm. The total daily cost of the batch pasteurizer is under $25, but that is only spread out over 13 or 15 calves. Hot water used to mix the milk replacer adds $0.01 per calf. So, in this scenario, the total daily cost for the 13 calves fed pasteurized waste milk is $1.95 per calf. For the remaining 2 calves, feeding milk replacer would cost $1.89 per calf; feeding whole milk would cost $3.22 per calf. As shown in Table 4, the total daily feed cost if all 15 calves were fed milk replacer would be $28.32. If we fed all 15 calves pasteurized waste milk, the total daily feed cost would be $27.14. So in this case, feeding pasteurized milk would save the farm $1.18 per day. But again, we don't expect to have enough milk to feed all 15 calves. The cost of feeding 13 calves pasteurized waste milk and 2 calves milk replacer is $29.19, which costs $0.87 per day more than feeding milk replacer to all calves.

Keep in mind that changes in the number of calves and the supply of waste milk can modify your interpretation of the cost calculation. For instance, the farm in Example 2 may decide that seasonal fluctuations in the number of calves on milk would allow them to more easily justify this purchase.

Making a management change to using a pasteurizer is a complex decision that requires several coordinated changes on the farm. Using a spreadsheet such as this can help you make more informed decisions and may prompt you to think more carefully about what system is best for you.

Table 1. This is a summary of the detailed input considered in the spreadsheet calculations.

Example 1 Example 2
Pasteurizer type HTST Batch
Purchase price and installation cost $20,000 $7,350
Capacity 600 gal/h 30 gal in 45 min
Energy source Natural gas Electricity
Energy cost $1.25 per 100 cubic feet $0.11/kwh
Extra labor 1 hour@ $8/h 1 hour @ $8/h
Times used per day 2 2
Total calves on milk each day 50 15
Calves fed pasteurized waste milk 44 13

Table 2. Nutrient and feed cost comparison of liquid feed options

Crude protein, % dry matter 20.6 26.1 25.5
Fat, % dry matter 20.6 30.0 28.0
Cost per lb of dry matter $1.55 $0.23 $1.55
Dry matter fed, lb/day 1.21 1.12 1.08
Crude protein fed, lb/d (DM) 0.25 0.29 0.27
Fat fed, lb/d (DM) 0.25 0.34 0.30
Daily feed cost, $/calf (DM) $1.88 $0.26 $1.67


Table 3. Comparison of various feeding systems, Example 1 HTST pasteurize

Feeding system Total cost $/day Savings or loss compared to feeding all calves milk replacer
All milk replacer $95.42
All pasteurized waste milk $59.32 $36.10
Pasteurized waste milk and some milk replacer $67.25 $28.16
Pasteurized waste milk and some whole milk $67.78 $27.64

Total of 50 calves; 44 fed waste milk, 6 fed an alternative feed

Table 4. Comparison of various feeding systems, Example 2 batch pasteurizer

Feeding System Total Cost

Savings or loss compared to feeding

all calves milk replacer

All milk replacer $28.32
All pasteurized waste milk $27.14 $1.18
Pasteurized waste milk and some milk replacer $29.19 -$0.87
Pasteurized waste milk and some whole milk $29.96 -$1.64

Total of 15 calves; 13 fed waste milk, 2 fed an alternative feed Coleen Jones, Research Associate Jud Heinrichs, Professor of Dairy and Animal Science Department of Dairy and Animal Science

Feed More as the Weather Gets Colder, Or, Seasonally Adjusted Nutrient Intake

Regardless of your growth goals, if you were achieving these goals during the summer and you continue the same feeding program as the weather gets colder you will not see the same level of success. So, what to do now fall months are upon us?

What is "colder?"

Use the sweatshirt test. Do you need to wear a sweatshirt when working with the calves before 8:00 AM? For most of us that means it is in the 60’s. The bottom of the thermoneutral zone for young (less than three weeks old) calves is about 60°F.

Below 60° these young calves use body stores of energy to maintain their core body temperature. Older calves are another management group. The bottom of their thermoneutral zone is close to 40°. And, their ration is usually both milk and calf starter grain. In the area where I live nighttime temperatures regularly fall below 60° starting in mid-September and continue through May. Average daily temperatures for the Rochester, New York, weather station in 2006-7 were below 60° for close to 245 days. For a rough approximation of your climate use this URL

How does cold weather affect the amount to feed?

For calves more than three weeks old and eating calf starter grain the answer is simple. Provide free choice water and calf starter grain. Assuming that you are feeding at least one pound of milk replacer powder or four quarts of whole milk daily, the calf starter grain often doubles or even triples the amount of energy available for growth beyond maintenance requirements. It is straightforward. Grain and water. Everyday even when the weather is below freezing. All they want to eat and drink. It is a real chicken: egg relationship. Water intake drives grain consumption. Grain intake drives water consumption. For young calves that depend on milk or milk replacer for both energy and protein the answer is nearly as simple. Colder weather requires more dry matter intake to achieve the same growth goals compared to "summer" weather.

How much is "more?"

The amount of milk replacer or milk dry matter required to meet the maintenance requirements of calves at varying temperatures. The calculations assume 2.45 mcal ME per lb. dry matter.

Bodyweight (pounds) 68°F 50°F 32°F 15°F 5°F -5°F -20°F
60 lbs 0.6 0.8 0.9 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.4
80 lbs 0.8 0.9 1.1 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.7
100 lbs 1.0 1.1 1.3 1.6 1.7 1.8 2.0
120 lbs 1.1 1.3 1.5 1.7


2.0 2.3

Note that the values in the body of the table are dry matter, not as-fed liquid. This table is all about maintenance needs. So, let’s look at a 100 pound calf at 50 degrees. The table value is 1.1 pounds of dry matter needed just for maintenance. That is equivalent to 8.8 pounds of milk or milk replacer as-fed (assumes 12.5 percent dry matter – average value for tank milk and milk replacer mixed 0.5 pound powder makes two quarts). That is about 4.25 quarts. My example 100 pound calf could be between five to fifteen days old. She is eating very little calf starter grain. She is depending almost entirely on milk or milk replacer for both energy and protein.

As long as the weather stays warm she may very well stay healthy until her grain intake comes up to supply nutrients needed for growing. What if she is unlucky and is born in late fall or winter? If we fail to feed enough to meet both maintenance and growth needs there is a good chance she will get sick during those critical first three weeks of life. If you want to do some calculations for your calves to provide for maintenance and one pound of gain per day, just add 0.5 pounds of dry matter to the table values. Thus, for the example 100 pound calf at 50 degrees the required dry matter intake for both maintenance and growth increases from 1.1 to 1.6 pounds or 6 quarts as-fed milk per day.

Feeding strategies for cold weather are discussed in several resources. If you go to the Internet site check on Calf Facts.

6/09 Calf Connection: Water: Essential Element for Profitability

By Sam Leadley, DairyBusiness

What’s "normal" water intake? When water is offered free choice to calves starting the second day of life, we expect three major factors to influence consumption:

  • Individual animal variation
  • The greater the amount of milk or milk replacer fed, the lower the level of water intake
  • The higher the environmental temperature, the higher the level of water intake

On one hand, individual calf variation is a huge factor. You probably have had a calf that started drinking water at day two. Or remember the calf that would not touch water until you drastically cut back the milk or milk replacer? One study found that even though the average amount drunk was 2.4 quarts daily, the individual variation was from none to 19 quarts. So much for “normal.”

On the other hand, probably at least two-thirds or even three-quarters of our calves do fit a pattern. During week one there may be minimal consumption. By week three, many calves offered free choice water are regularly drinking at least one quart daily.

One study feeding acidified milk replacer free-choice found that calves would drink a lot of milk and very little water. At 7 weeks calves were up to 13.6 quarts of milk replacer daily and less than 1 quart of water. For those of us manually feeding calves, the difference between 4 and 6 quarts a day probably won’t have much effect on water consumption. With calves in cold housing, we’ve all observed how low water intakes fall during subfreezing weather. Jim Quigley, director of calf operations for American Protein Corp., measured water intake with air temperatures between 32 and 95 degrees (See Calfnote #68). An 18-degree change in temperature from 32 to 50 degrees increased water intake by about 0.4 quarts daily. But a much smaller, 9-degree change from 86 to 95 degrees increased intake 0.5 quarts daily. Increases at higher temperatures mean drastically greater increases in water needs than similar temperature changes when it is cool.

Clean water in clean pails

One common challenge is regularly providing clean liquid water in clean pails. A research project measured the effect of the availability of clean water on growth rate. Researchers assumed that calves would drink more water if it was fresh and in a clean container. For preweaned and transition calves they varied the interval at which the water pails were rinsed and cleaned.

In both instances the researchers measured 0.2 pounds per day difference between clean and "not so clean" water. This supports their assumption that fresh, clean water in clean pails and tubs promotes higher growth rates. With higher water consumption associated with greater dry matter intake (DMI), the calves gained 0.2 pounds average daily gain, or 14%, more than calves with lower intakes. Similar findings came out of a comparison of the placement of water and grain pails. When the pails were separated physically or by a barrier there was a 33% increase in water consumed and an 18% improvement in body weight gain per day.

Table 2. Water impact on starter grain consumption

Water Feeding Method

Free Choice

No Water

Number of calves 20 21
Calf starter grain intake (lbs) in first 4 weeks 25.8 17.8
Weight gain (lbs) in first 4 weeks 18.6 11.6
Water consumed (quarts) in first 4 weeks 47 None

Calves with free choice water consumed 45% more starter grain than the calves without water.

The biggest benefit to providing free choice water to preweaned calves is increased DMI. This translates into a higher rate of gain and indirectly to improved health. In Table 2, we see that calves with free choice water consumed 45% more starter grain than the calves without water.

These "free-choice water" calves also gained 60% more weight in the first four weeks. Estimates are that for efficient feed conversion, calves need to consume at least four pounds of water for each pound of DMI.

Practical summer tips

For summer management many farms keep an extra supply of water pails. A number equal to about 20% of calves on milk makes sense. Then each day of the week, one-fifth of the pails can be replaced with clean ones and the dirty ones can be scrubbed for the next day. In five days all the pails have been cleaned. Algae and mold are controlled.

For calves in the weaning process or already weaned, water consumption in hot summer weather is often very high. Many will drink more than ten quarts daily. This may be a point where larger pails may be added to the hutches or pens. Some farms have a collection of 5-gallon pails that are clipped to the hutches or pens around weaning time. These larger pails permit once-a-day watering.

Does Water Make a Difference?

Calving Ease, June 2011


We all know that the biggest danger from scours is dehydration of the calf. Thus, we ask, “Will a scouring calf drink water?” That sounds like a cost effective way to keep sick calves hydrated.

Give them all the water they want and they will manage their hydration levels by themselves. As calf care persons we know that every generalization like the one above has conditions. When is it true? When is it false? So, when will calves effectively manage their own hydration needs by drinking water?

  1. They are familiar with the source of water; bottle, pail or waterer.
  2. Water is provided regularly and often enough so calves expect to find water. This what we call ad lib or free choice.
  3. Calves are not so ill that they are still active, alert and drinking their milk eagerly. I always had the best experience with this strategy feeding water to young calves that was close to body temperature (that is, close to 90 to 100°F). Many of my calves 5 to 15 days old when they had diarrhea would drink 3 to 4 times the small amount they normally drank. Just to be on the safe side I usually gave them a feeding of an electrolyte solution as well.

Calf starter grain consumption Water and calf starter grain intakes go together. Research done in the US showed a 45 percent difference in calf starter consumption in the first 4 weeks between calves with and without free choice water.

These calves were all fed the same milk replacer ration. Similar work in England traced water availability and calf starter grain intakes. In addition this work compared two different milk replacer feeding rates. I had to estimate these milk replacer powder feeding rates from the data – about 0.8 pounds per day for the lower rate and 50 percent more, 1.2 pounds per day for the higher rate. For each feeding rate one-half of the calves either had free choice water or no water.

For both rations the difference in calf starter grain consumed to weaning was slightly over 1.5 times – that is, about 150 percent increase (22 pounds without water, 57 pounds with water). Conclusion?Availability of free choice water and higher levels of calf starter grain consumption go together.

Weight gains

The US research feeding free choice calf starter grain and water compared to calf starter grain without water had live weight gains in the first 4 weeks of 18.6 and 11.6 pounds respectively. Compare. Calves with free choice water ate more grain and gained 60 percent more compared to the calves with the same milk replacer ration but no water. This was in the first four weeks. The UK research had two milk replacer feeding levels where the “water” and “no water” treatments were compared (average daily gain in pounds): Low milk replacer: no water = 0.7, water = 1.2 for a 67 percent increase with water. High milk replacer: no water = 0.9, water = 1.4 for a 51 percent increase with water.Conclusion? Availability of water and higher average daily weight gains go together. An additional benefit of the higher rates of gain may very well be stronger immunity and better overall health. Generally, when I find calf programs with growth rates below 1 pound a day when measured at 7 to 8 weeks of age I also find programs with significant health issues as well. Regardless of whether or not the low growth rates by themselves actually cause the undesirably high treatment rates for scours and pneumonia, the calves have low body condition and do not appear thrifty.

Summer water feeding needs

Compared to wintertime water consumption (often only 1 to 2 quarts daily) we anticipate summer intakes to be higher. Average summertime drinking rates are around 2 to 3 quarts daily for large breed calves around 4 weeks old. Close to weaning around 6 or 7 weeks summer intakes bump up to double that amount and more. Once calves are weaned expect average consumption to double again. However, all the research seems to show that we should expect very wide differences among calves. Do not be alarmed by rates as low as 2 quarts a day and as high as 12 quarts daily.

References: American Journal of Dairy Science 67:2964-2969. James Quigley, “Methods of feeding water” Calf Note #77 accessed May 20,2011