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3. Medicated Milk Replacer

blackboard.jpgIntrigued, Gretchen wonders about the difference in price between medicated milk replacer and non-medicated milk replacer.  When she gets back to the veterinary clinic, she thumbs through a couple of pages in some farm catalogs and finds that the price from one company for a 50 pound bag of medicated milk replacer is $45.99 and non-medicated is $39.99.  That’s a difference of about 10%.  Using the non-medicated milk replacer could save Chuck about $600 a year.

"I guess I didn’t realize my milk replacer had antibiotics,” replied Mr. Erby.  Later, Gretchen learned that some dairy producers purchase medicated milk replacer (milk replacer to which low levels of antibiotics have been added) without really understanding that the term “medicated” means that subtherapeutic levels (concentrations lower than what is needed for effective treatment of clinical disease) of antibiotics have been added.  Other producers know that medicated milk replacer contains antibiotics, but do not realize the concentrations are too low to treat clinical disease caused by bacteria such as E. coli and Salmonella.   

Dr. Karl tells Mr. Erby, “Preventing scours needs to start right at the birth of the calf.  The calf should be isolated immediately from the dam and all other animals to prevent disease transmission.  The calf should be given good quality colostrum within one to two hours of birth (4).  The quality of colostrum can be assessed with a colostrometer to measure the immunoglobulin levels.  Total immunoglobulin concentration of the colostrum should be greater than 60 mg/ml.  A second feeding of colostrum should take place within 12 hours of birth.  Maximum absorption occurs within the first 24 hours of life, so it is important to administer the good quality colostrum within the first 24 hours.  After two feedings of good quality colostrum, you can then start feeding milk replacer or pasteurized milk.”   Dr. Karl has been telling Mr. Erby that he should occasionally test his colostrum for immunoglobulin levels.  The calf should receive the equivalent of about 10% of its body weight in colostrum each day.  The amount of colostrum for each feeding should be two to four liters depending on the size of the calf. This quantity of colostrum will likely require the use of an esophageal feeder.  Thereafter, calves should be fed milk or milk replacer at 10% of their body weight each day for six to eight weeks.  The calves should also be supplied with free choice grain and water. 

Dr. Karl explains that medicated milk replacers have a label stating they are to be used for disease prevention and growth promotion, and on this basis are often thought to be an economically sound choice.  Studies conducted under conditions of modern calf management in the 1990’s, however, showed that medicated milk replacers are not highly useful for growth promotion (5, 6).  In a 2006 study, Raymond (2) discusses several studies which have conflicting results regarding the benefits of medicated milk replacer, but points out that effective passive transfer in cattle is more effective in reducing calf morbidity and mortality compared with subtherapeutic feed additives.  With respect to medicated milk replacer, Raymond (2) reports that more than two-thirds of farms in his Washington study were not using medicated milk replacer, illustrating that medicated milk replacer is not necessary to maintain calf health. 


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