Growth, health, and economics of dairy calves fed organic milk replacer or organic whole milk in an automated feeding system

Kirsten T Moser, B. J. Heins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


The objective of the study was to investigate the growth, health, behavior, and economics of dairy calves fed organic milk replacer (n = 41) or organic whole milk (n = 40) in an automatic feeding system. Calves were fed either organic milk replacer or whole milk (assigned to treatment in birth order) during 2 seasons from March to July 2018 and from September to December 2018 at the University of Minnesota West Central Research and Outreach Center in Morris, Minnesota. The treatment groups were (1) pasteurized whole milk fed at 13% total solids of organic milk (WM), or (2) milk replacer fed at 150.98 g of dry replacer powder per liter of water (MR). Milk replacer was fed at 14.65% total solids based on the manufacturer's recommendation. Calves were introduced to the automated feeder at 5 d and allowed to drink up to 8 L/d at the maximum allowance. At 50 d, the allowance was reduced by 0.2 L/d and calves were weaned at 56 d. Milk feeding behavior (feeding station visit behaviors and drinking speeds) were collected from the automatic feeding system and analyzed by feeding group. Body weights were recorded at birth and then weekly until weaning (56 d). Health scores of calves were recorded twice a week. Data were analyzed using PROC MIXED (SAS Institute Inc.). Independent variables for analyses were the fixed effects of breed group, season of birth, and treatment group, and the interaction of season and treatment group along with pen as a random effect. No differences were found between treatment groups for average daily gain, weaning weight, hip height, or heart girth. Milk feeding behavior varied between the 2 feeding treatment groups. The WM calves had shorter visits to the feeding station (2.44 vs. 3.01 min, respectively) compared with MR calves. Overall drinking speeds of the WM calves were higher (1,301 mL/min) than those of the MR calves (581 mL/min). The MR calves had higher fecal scores than WM calves. The average cost per kilogram of gain was lower for WM calves ($6.35/kg) compared with MR calves ($8.82/kg). The results of this study indicate health and economic advantages to feeding organic dairy heifer calves whole milk during the preweaning period.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)319-323
Number of pages5
JournalJDS Communications
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 2021

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