Milk substitute feeding of calves is widely used in the leading dairy countries because it is cheaper than using whole milk. Reconstituted skim milk powder, with 1% fat, is not suitable on its own as a milk substitute because most of the carbohydrate, in the form of fat, has been removed, so that there is no source of energy for the calf. Commercial milk substitutes are based on skim milk powder with added fat and carbohydrate. These substitutes contain from 15% to 20% fat, and are made up from the following ingredients:

  • Skim milk powder, spray dried
  • Vegetable or animal fat
  • Soybean flour
  • Glucose
  • Cereal flour
  • Minerals and vitamins

These powders are designed for feeding calves, and are easily soluble in water. The advantages of the high fat powders are:

  • The calf has a ready source of energy, comparable to whole milk which contains 28% fat on a dry matter basis. It has enough energy for growing and at the same time, it can build up reserves of body fat;
  • The fat has a costive effect (this is the opposite to laxative, and means a binding effect) and this helps to prevent the calves from scouring; and
  • If fed at low levels to early weaned calves, the calves can build up reserves of body fat which they can draw on after weaning. This is important in all early weaning systems which must be done with either whole milk or a high fat milk substitute.


When feeding milk powders you must remember that you can control two things; the amount of liquid fed, and the strength of the liquid. When feeding whole milk you can control only the amount fed, but with milk powder, you can alter the strength of the mixture of water and powder; you can feed a weak mixture or you can feed a strong mixture – this is an important fact to remember.

The strength of the mixture has to be measured very accurately, by weighing the amount of powder and measuring the amount of water, so that the calves get a consistent mixture at each feed. Any alteration in the strength of the mixture must be done gradually.


This is a mixture of 1kg of powder and 10 litres of water, a ratio of 1 to 10. This is the mixture fed to calves that are being weaned at 8 weeks or 12 weeks. This mixture is fed from 4 days old, when the calf has been taken from its dam, until it is weaned. The best way to introduce the substitute is to feed a mixture of half milk and half powder and water for two days, gradually increasing the amount of substitute mixture until it is at full strength.

When feeding calves on the early weaning system using milk substitute powder, the quantity of liquid fed is reduced, from 4.5 litres a day to 3 litres a day, but the strength of the mixture is increased, so that the calves are getting the same amount of powder but in smaller amount of water. The powder is mixed at the rate of 150gm per litre giving 150 x 3 = 450gm of powder a day.

Where milk powder is fed to the large numbers of calves, special mixing machines are used to mix the hot water and powder. The one shown below has a capacity of 90 litres of water.

Figure 1: A powdered Milk Mixing Machine and Operation

Source: extension

These machines make sure the water and powder are mixed properly and without any lumps. On large dairy farms, or on veal units, the calf house will have a room at the end for preparing the feeds for the calves.


The production of veal is a specialised enterprise. It requires a high level of skill in calf rearing, together with good management.

In most countries veal production is based on Friesland bull calves. There is always a ready supply of these from dairy farmers, who have little or no use for their bull calves. To be successful financially, the new calf must be big, strong and healthy. Small or weak or sickly calves never do well in such an intensive calf rearing system, and will always be a financial disaster.

In South Africa for a calf to qualify as veal, it must be no more than 4½ months (19 weeks) old at slaughter. The abattoir where it is slaughtered can assess the age by the teeth – calves start cutting their 4th molars at about 4½ months old.

To get the top grade for the veal carcase at slaughter, the carcase must be relatively well muscled, with only a thin layer of fat. To achieve this, a Friesland bull calf would need to weigh about 150kg at slaughter. This requires intensive feeding for the whole period, from birth to slaughter. The calves must be reared according to the “early weaning system” described in Lecture 6, and there must be no restriction in the amount of meal fed. The meal used should be a calf starter meal until weaning, and thereafter, changed to a complete calf meal. This must be fed ad lib right through to when the calf is marketed. By then the calf should be weighing about 150kg.

In order to assess the feasibility of veal production, the following are the approximate quantities of feed that will be consumed by a calf from birth marketing: 90 litres milk (or milk substitute), 20kg calf starter meal, 350kg complete calf meal. 80% of calves raised for veal must achieve the top grade.