What feeding system to use?
Feeding calves

There are two main feeding systems commonly used by New Zealand calf rearers, twice-a-day and once-a-day. Rearers can use calf milk replacers, liquid whole milk systems or a combination of both. Many dairy farmers now fortify liquid whole milk with calf milk replacer and use the once-a-day method. More meal is consumed with the once-a-day system and the calf grows more quickly as a consequence of earlier rumen development and costs are reduced.

Milk Feeding Comparison
Once a day feeding Twice a day feeding
Milk fed once a day Milk fed twice a day
Volumes low - 2 litres a day Volumes high - 6 litres a day
Concentrated Milk Replacer Ordinary Milk reconstitution
19-20 kg CMR per calf 23-30 kg of CMR per calf
Ad lib access to meal Less meal
Intensive rumen development Slow rumen development
Less labour intensive Labour intensive
Intensive rumen development Slow rumen development
Environment monitored and controlled indoors More environmental problems outdoors
Transition from meal to pasture must be managed Calves weaned easily to pasture
Calves have clean ad-lib water to hand Outdoor calves must have access to clean water at all times

Once a day feeding
  • Add CMR to 40deg Celsius warm water and cool until 36 deg to feed
  • Fortify whole milk with CMR – aiming for 600 gms milk solids daily
  • Once a day feeding systems work by restricting the increasing the concentration of milk and decreasing the volume encouraging meal consumption, an earlier rumen maturity and higher weaning weights
  • Feed in morning and use compartment feeders for two weeks
  • Feed concentration varies and is increased as calf matures
  • Calf weaned off milk at 65 kgs, when meal concentration is increased
Suggested feeding rate
Calf Age Volume per feed
(200 gm/litre water*)
CMR per feed CMR per day
0-4 days Colostrum fed
5-9 days 1.0 litre twice a day 200 grams 400 grams
10-20 days 2.5 litres once a day 500 grams 500 grams
21 days until weaning 3.0 litres once a day 600 grams 600 grams

*After 5 days only


Twice a day feeding
  • Add CMR to 40deg Celsius warm water and cool until 36 deg to feed
  • Feed in morning and evening – leave 8 hours between feeding
  • Feed concentration is constant at 150 grams until weaning
Suggested feeding rate
Calf Age Volume per feed
(150 gm/litre water)
CMR per feed CMR per day
0-4 days Colostrum fed ad-lib
5-9 days 2.0 litres twice a day 300 grams 600 grams
10-21 days 2.5 litres twice a day 375 grams 750 grams
22 days until weaning 3.0 litres twice a day 450 grams 900 grams

Whatever system you employ, use your common sense and always:

Follow the same calf feeding routine each day

Ideally the same person should feed the calves. The calves will be more comfortable getting into a routine, especially over the first few days. A constant rearer gets to know the individual calf and steps in to manage feeding issues. Feeding, cleaning and animal health requirements must be adhered to rigorously and immediately.

Bring milk to calves

Where practical, bring the milk to the calves, not the other way around - the calves will be more relaxed and more likely to drink their share if not frazzled and disorientated. Quiet handling will reduce calf stress – NEVER use dogs on young calves.