ArticleVolume Number April 20, 2020

Feeding raw milk to dairy cows is not without RISKS

Feeding raw milk to dairy cows is not without RISKS

Due of the current context, producers are looking for ways to safely use their excess milk on farm. Among the strategies considered is the use of milk as an ingredient in the total mixed ration, for which serious caution should be taken.

  1. Consider the recommendations listed on the Lactanet website as a more feasible and labor efficient alternative
  2. Consider milk for its nutritional contribution to the TMR, with careful planning:
    • Milk is a source of many nutrients (fat, protein, sugars and minerals) which can promote growth of harmful pathogens. Consider using batch pasteurization, 63°C for 30 minutes with agitation, if possible.
    • Only feed milk produced on your dairy to avoid exposing animals to unfamiliar pathogens and contagious diseases. Test your milk for pathogens but take into consideration that there have not been any controlled scientific studies evaluating the potential long-term risks of feeding raw milk to adult cows.
    • The uniformity of milk is critical. The method of collecting the milk and stirring it before each usage is detrimental to nutrient stability (Example:  mix tank 5 minutes prior to transfer)
    • Milk can affect stability, odor and quality of the TMR since it supports bacterial growth, which will likely be favoured with the warm weather.
      • Consider adding acid to TMR, required amounts for optimal stability are still under investigation
      • Plan for storage (max 24 hrs uninsulated), cooling and cleaning/sanitizing to reduce growth of pathogens
      • How to keep the milk mixed in the storage tank (cream separates)
      • Feed push-ups, disposal of refusals and cleaning of feed mangers
      • Fly control (a consideration in the following weeks)
  3. Nutritional considerations:
    • The approximate nutritional value of milk is 32% Fat, 26% Protein, on a DM basis, but varies across dairies and should be adjusted to each
    • Consider rumen health, forage length, quality and DM intake prior to adding milk
    • Final TMR should be around 42-44% DM (lower DM values promote heating of the ration)
    • Maximum milk inclusion of 10-15% of ration (3-6 kg) or 0.4-0.7 kg of DM
    • Initial fat content of ration can be a limitation on inclusion rates
    • Feed type and processing being replaced (meal mixes and mineralized supplements have limitations)
    • TMR instability could affect DM intake (milk causes it to heat)
    • Strategies to limit impact on high producing cows can be put in place
    • Do not feed to young animals were rumen development is not complete
    • Do not feed to dry cows, intake and immunity are more fragile, and milk also contributes Ca and K to the ration
    • In heifers watch for gains in body condition score, if it stimulates intake
    • Cannot be used if other wet feed types are already in ration (whey/corn steep water)
    • Don’t feed leftovers to other groups of animals
  4. Economical considerations:
    • Feed cost, savings variable from farm to farm,
    • Operating Costs and set up for storage tank, agitator, refrigeration, cleaning and sanitization equipment
    • Labour
    • Refusals (cannot be used for a second group and must be discarded)
    • Response in milk production and components may vary

The use of raw milk in meeting nutritional requirements is not without its challenges considering labour requirements and the potential health risk to your herd. Your on farm advisor can help you find the best strategies to reach your goals.