Jan van der Werff: ‘I should have switched to calf milk replacer far sooner’

Jan van der Werff, a dairy famer based in Ravenswoud in Friesland, switched from cow’s milk to calf milk replacer around two years ago. The biggest difference according to Jan is that “the calves now suffer far less from diarrhoea. They are given milk of a constant quality and always at the ideal temperature.”

Cow’s milk for years

For the Van der Werff family, it was standard practice for more than thirty years to feed cow’s milk to the calves. The growth of the herd to around 300 milk cows naturally meant a rise in the volume of milk needed for the calves. “There were days when the calves took up to 120 litres of milk, depending on the number of calves at the time,” explained Jan. “Feeding with cow’s milk was never really a ­problem, except that some of the calves did suffer from diarrhoea.” For Jan, the fact that by feeding cow’s milk meant that the farm received around 36 euros less in milk money a day was never a major item. “I never attached much importance to the question. The most important thing is that the calves remain healthy and vital.” And as Jan has since discovered, there was room for improvement.

It is better for the calves and easier to put in practice

The dairy farm’s regular veterinarian and Coco Bruyère, the young cattle ­specialist from Nutrifeed, had on occasion suggested that it might be wiser to switch to calf milk replacer. “We found feeding cow’s milk to be easier, so why switch”, commented Jan, explaining his original thinking. “There are just two of us who carry out the milking. By withholding some of the milk during the milking process, someone could start feeding the calves, without delay,” he continued, explaining the farm’s historical practice.

However, the dairy farmer was aware that during transport from the milking room to the calf feed buckets, the temperature of the milk fell considerably. “And that meant it did not reach the calves at the ideal temperature. Now that we work with milk powder, we realise that it is better for the calves, and easier to put in practice, too.” The dairy farmer explained that his 78 year-old father still enjoys feeding the calves twice a day. “Now that we are using calf milk replacer, too.”

Constant quality at the perfect temperature

The farmer decided to make the switch around two years ago. The Kalvolac Power CAIR product was introduced to the farm. “I wanted a good-quality milk powder,” explained Jan, underpinning his choice. “The result of the rearing process is more important than saving every euro on the purchase price for a sack of milk powder.” The switch to milk powder also meant the introduction of a milk shuttle for the simple and rapid transport of large quantities of milk to the calves, on a daily basis. It saves on having to lug buckets around the farm. “After two to three days on colostrum, all the calves are switched to milk powder,” explained the dairy farmer, clearly satisfied. “Diarrhoea rates have fallen because we now feed a more constant product which is also administered at the ideal temperature.” Young cattle ­specialist Coco has also seen an improvement. “Jan now also uses feed buckets with teats, which ensure an ideal posture for the calves. That in turn stimulates the oesophageal groove reflex. All in all, it has led to a positive change in a number of basic aspects.”
As Jan has noted, little can go wrong with this approach to calf feeding. “All my father has to do is press a button to deliver the perfect portion of milk to each calf. As well as the temperature, the quantities are also pre-programmed so that more than in the past, the feeding is identical, every day.” And the calves?

“They are fit and healthy, and that is what it is all about.”