This spring with many dairy farmers over quota large amounts of milk will be fed to calves. This is according to Oliver McGrath of Teagasc.

“Many experiments were done in the past adding probiotics to milk for calf feeding with an average five per cent increase in the calves liveweight gain.”

The best products, McGrath said, were the ones containing large amounts of lactic acid bacteria. “These bacteria reduce the PH in the calves’ stomach to a point where E.Coli bacteria cannot survive.  E.Coli, bacteria can cause calf scour.”

He outlined that a natural source of lactic acid bacteria is yoghurt and when you add yoghurt to milk you are directly adding lactic acid bacteria to the calves’ stomach.

Below are the latest Teagasc guidelines for adding yoghurt to milk

1.      Add 3 bottles of actimel natural yoghurt to 2 pints (1.1litres) of warm milk approx.  Store in a flask and stand for 12 hours.  The flask will keep the milk warm for a long time allowing the bacteria to multiply quickly.

2.      Empty the flask into 3 gals. of warm milk and keep for 24 hours.  If possible this should be kept in a warm room.  After 24 hours the milk will be thick and sour.

3.      Now add this 3 gals. of sour milk to 40 gals. of warm milk and leave overnight. Smaller amounts can be made up if required.

This is now ready for feeding the following day.  This milk should now have a thick consistency.

4.       When you feed this milk always leave 3 or 4 gals. of yoghurt milk in the container.  This is your starter for the next feed.  Repeat this daily keeping 3 or 4 gals. In the container always.

5.      Most dairy farmers add the warm milk at the evening milking and this is suitable for feeding to calves the following day but warm milk can be added at both milkings if needed.

6.      If the milk turns very thick, cold milk can be added and the early procedure followed again.

7.      Washing the container is not required but a new mix should be started every 2/3 weeks.

Teagasc stressed that farmers should never use milk containing antibiotics to the yoghurt milk as they will completely destroy the culture killing all the good bacteria. This includes milk from treated cows or milk from freshly calved cows during the dry cow therapy withdrawal period, it said.

In terms of a feeding routine, McGrath said yoghurt milk can be fed in troughs, buckets or through nipple feeders but since its mostly fed cold calves take a bit of time to get used to it.

Feeding cold milk ensures calves don’t drink too much at any one time, he added.

He also said calves should always get three litres of colostrum (biestings) in the first two hours from their own mother.

“Calves should always get colostrum for the first few days but can be put on yoghurt milk at seven days of age. Calves should drink between five and 10 litres per day when they get used to yoghurt milk. Make sure calves are batched in similar age groups and always watch out for slow or shy feeders as they may not get enough.”

Calves on grass. Photo O’Gorman Photography.