Both research data and practical experience has clearly shown that the pre-weaning nutrition and subsequent development of young animals impacts lifetime performance.
For dairy heifers, ewe lambs and doe kids, pre-weaning nutrition has a dramatic impact on lifetime milk production.
Where animals are reared for meat production, faster growth rates mean animals make more efficient use of available feed and are ready for market sooner.
With so many different milk replacer options available, choosing a milk replacer which will help you achieve your rearing goals may not be the easiest decision.
Regardless of whether you have decided to use a whey-based milk replacer or a casein (or skim milk) based product, there are some key factors which you should consider:
1. Balanced amino acids for tissue development
Proteins play an important role in many bodily functions, including formation of muscle tissues, hormones, and structural tissue. Each of these different types of proteins are made up of a different combination of amino acids, the individual building blocks of protein.
Much like the letters in a game of scrabble, having a whole lot of one amino acid is not useful if you don’t have enough of some of the others. As you will be limited in the number of words you can make, so the young animal is limited in the amount of protein it can produce and all the excess amino acids will be excreted in urine or manure.
Not only is this expensive but it also contributes to the nitrogen loading which can lead to elevated levels of ammonia in the shed.
Crude protein levels stated on milk replacer bags don’t give you any detail about the amino acid composition of the milk replacer and more is not necessarily better.
When choosing a milk replacer, look for one which has a balanced amino acid profile so that the animal gets the nutrition it needs, and you get what you have paid for.
2. Fat source and processing for high energy digestibility
The fat in milk replacer provides a concentrated energy source for young animals helping to drive early weight gain and development. Fat also provides essential fatty acids which are an important component of cell membranes.
As one of the more expensive components in a milk replacer, the fat content is typically declared on the bag (e.g. 20% fat) and it seems easy to compare milk replacers based on their fat content.
Unfortunately, it is much more difficult to assess fat quality and digestiblity.
Choosing a milk replacer that contains high quality fat sources like milk fat, palm fat or coconut oil ensure that the fat in the milk replacer will be highly digestible.
High quality milk replacers will often contain more than one of these high-quality fat sources, helping to ensure that all the essential fatty acids required by the young animal are provided.
Homogenisation of the fat in a milk replacer also helps to increase fat digestibility as the very small particles are more easily absorbed from the digestive tract.
3. Ease of use
An important consideration for any milk replacer is that it should be easy to use: from easy-to-follow instructions on the bag right through to easy mixing and feeding.
Sprayfo milk replacers are made with unique spray dry manufacturing technology which dramatically reduces the size of the fat molecules in the milk replacer and then encapsulates these with protein.
Not only does this help to make the milk replacer powder highly soluble, but it also helps to ensure that these tiny molecules stay in suspension and don’t settle over time – so you know that the animal is leaving nothing behind!
And there is less scrubbing to get feeding equipment clean.
Sprayfo particles, similar in size to whole milk have the valuable protein on the outside, with fat contained inside. This unique fat processing method ensures optimal digestibility and solubility.
4. Vitamins, minerals, and osmolality
A good quality milk replacer will contain added vitamins, micro minerals (like selenium and zinc) and macro minerals (like calcium and phosphorus).
Any added vitamins and minerals should be formulated to complement the nutrients provided by the other ingredients in the milk replacer.
Importantly, the balance of macro minerals and lactose relative to other nutrients should be such that the osmolality of the milk replacer is close to that of the milk which the milk replacer is replacing.
Too high or too low osmolality can affect digestibility and can increase the risk of nutritional scours.
5. What do your neighbours say?
The best way to tell if a milk replacer is going to perform is to find out from someone you trust how it has worked for them.