Milk and milk replacer

Europe produces 136 million tonnes of milk per year, but only 12.4% ends up in the shops for general consumption. The majority, 36.1%, is used in cheese production followed by butter, 28.7%, and cream, 11.5%.

As explained earlier, the modern veal sector utilises three products from the dairy industry that used to be considered waste. These are the newborn bull calves that the farmers have little use for, the whey that is a by-product of cheese making and the skimmed milk powder that is produced when making butter. The combination of the whey and skimmed milk powder, added fats, vitamins and minerals, has proven to be the ideal recipe for formula milk for the calves, but is this a development that will continue into the future?

The dairy industry is in for some turbulent times. Dairy and food: dairy and feed has been in equilibrium for many years, yet more recently, new technologies have discovered alternative applications for redundant milk components, making them important even for non-food products. Sixty years ago, whey was a relatively useless product, but now, that very same whey plays a significant role in a cheese factory’s results. Take a look at lactose, a substance that is used by the pharmaceutical industry as a filler in pill manufacture. Then consider the quantity of pills we all consume. Another example is the anti-inflammatory protein, lactoferrin from cow’s milk, which is used in the chemical industry for its ability to bind two ions of iron, in the field of alternative medicines as well as for its use as a preservative. Similarly, dentistry, which uses lysozyme as an anti-microbial protein, has also adopted lactoperoxydase and immunoglobuline.

The whey (also known as lactoserum) from colostrum has anti-bacterial and healing properties and is growing in popularity. New techniques for membrane emulsification have even made it possible to isolate the tiniest of particles. Nobody knows what the limits are in this kind of research, but we do know that milk is becoming more interesting and therefore more expensive as a result, especially with respect to elements that have generally been regarded as useless in the past.

Our need for milk fat is on the decline and with it, the consumption of butter and the supply of skimmed milk powder. Whey powder, an essential ingredient in formula milk for veal calves, is expected to be stripped even further, creating a whey powder that is not just whey powder anymore. This is going to be a challenge for the milk replacer industry. One of which it is already well aware, and for which it is already in search of a solution.


As soon as a calf is born, it is important that it gets as much colostrum from the mother as possible. This is the first milk that the cow produces after giving birth, and is rich in essential antibodies for helping the calf grow into a healthy animal. European legislation dictates that all calves need to stay with their mothers for two weeks to allow it to suckle. After two weeks, when they have been transported to a specialised calf rearing farm, they are given a milk replacer that closely resembles cow’s milk. This contains lactose, starch, fats; a combination of milk proteins, soya, wheat, vitamins and minerals. After a few weeks, they are given roughage which has a positive effect on their health and they learn how to chew, which is good for their digestive tracts. By this time, the calves should each weigh about 80kg, and they will be weaned on to a milk replacer with a different ratio of fat to protein. The amount of iron in the replacer can be reduced, and the haemoglobin levels in the blood of each of the calves is monitored regularly. Calves that are destined for rosé veal are taken off milk and put on to solids after eight to ten weeks. Other animals being reared for white meat continue drinking the milk replacer in combination with roughage.

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