image used as white space
MSUcares header Link to home page
Logos of MSU, Extension Service, and MAFES Links to home page of website.

Dairy Cattle in Mississippi

Milk Replacers

The purpose of milk replacers for pre-weaned dairy calves is to take the place of whole milk when whole milk is not available or not economically fed. High quality milk replacers can provide similar growth and development when compared to whole milk. One should remember that not all milk replacers are created equally and selecting a high quality replacer will require a close evaluation of the ingredient tag.

Milk replacers can be substituted for whole milk, but calves still require quality colostrum for the first 3 days of life. Whole milk may also be helpful in the transition period between colostrum feeding and beginning milk replacer at day 4 to 10 after birth.

As a general rule of thumb, milk replacers should contain 20 percent protein and 10 percent fat with the majority of these ingredients be derived from animal sources. Young calves are very inefficient at digesting most plant sources of protein and fat. The following table rates the quality of different sources of protein and fat.

Quality of Proteins and Fats in Milk Replacers
Protein Sources
Best Acceptable* Inferior
Skim milk Specially manufactured soy flour Unprocessed soy flour
Buttermilk Soy concentrate Meat solubles
Whole whey Hydrolyzed fish protein Fish Flour
Delactosed whey Distiller solubles
Casein** Brewer's yeast
Milk albumin Oat flour
Whey protein concentrate Wheat flour
Fat Sources
Lard Hydrogenated vegetable oils Liquid vegetable oils
Stabilized greases


* These specially processed products are acceptable when used with one or more sources from the "best" column. ** It is desirable that at least half of the protein be derived from casein.

Lactose (milk sugar), glucose and dextrose are the best sources of carbohydrates for calves. Common sugar and starch are poor sources of energy for young calves because they are hard to digest.