replicate nature for health

Feeding systems impact calf health


It can be complicated choosing the right system for your calf rearing operation.

The ideal system needs to enhance calf performance, be user friendly, efficient and add value to the farm.

At Milk Bar we think we’ve got all bases covered but the aspect that is the most important to us is calf health.

A healthy digestive system reduces the costs associated with diarrhoea, cross suckling and rumen acidosis.

Healthy calves equal happy calf rearers!


Taking out the size and design of calf feeders, there are three basic drinking systems available:

  • A fast feeding teat.

  • A bucket.

  • The Milk Bar Teat.

A Fast Feeding Teat


A fast feeding teat typically has some type of valve positioned in the teat. Because the rubber used is thin, a valve is put into the teat to try and prevent it from leaking.

Unfortunately a valve is bad news for a calf. It changes the way she drinks and instead of the controlled sucking action she needs for good health, the milk is forced into her mouth and she must gulp quickly.

She pumps the teat with her jaw and gulps.

She drinks very quickly often less than 1 minute per litre and produces very little saliva.

The signs are very clear if you know what you are looking for:

  1. She can be unsettled when drinking, coming on and off the teat

  2. She steps back and coughs during feeding

  3. After feeding she is hyperactive and tries to suck on anything around her (cross suckling)

  4. Because there is no suckling, calves in groups drink at different speeds

  5. She will have some diarrhoea


This is totally opposite to what the digestive system needs to function and results in health issues. Problems can be managed with an experienced team and this is often the case. A good team can keep calves growing although often the time cost of this management is not calculated and simply accepted as part of raising calves.

A Bucket

Bucket feeding is interesting, it is common in some parts of the world and unheard of in others! Buckets themselves are cheap to buy and so can be an attractive option to those wanting to reduce costs.

For a calf, learning to drink from a bucket is a crazy idea! Her instinct is to suckle, she was born with this natural instinct and so training her to drink from a bucket can take time. There are many devises like floating teats to make training easier, however troublesome training is only the start of the problem!

When the calf drinks milk from a bucket the oesophageal groove stays open and milk flows into the rumen as well as the abomasum. We know that the rumen is not equipped to deal with milk and the milk ferments causing gut ache and acidosis.

Absolutely no saliva is produced.

Calves are extremely unsettled and will hyperactively cross suckle after feeding.

Calf management is high.

Although cheap and common, bucket feeding should be avoided as the most unnatural system for a calf.

The Milk Bar Teat


The Milk Bar Teat combines design with top quality rubber so we do not need to use a valve. The calf squeezes the teat to open it and suckles to release the milk using positive and negative pressure.

She drinks slowly at about 3 to 4 minutes per litre and produces a lot of saliva.

Her digestive system works in harmony and her health is great.


Some people think that because she is drinking at a slow controlled rate that the calf rearing takes longer. The reality is that because calves are so much healthier the overall time is significantly reduced! Calves are much heavier and can be weaned earlier to further reduce costs.

Keep the rumen protected from milk!

Feeding calves with a fast, valve teat or from a bucket can allow milk to overflow the oesophageal groove and enter the rumen.


There are normally live bacteria in the rumen within the first few days. These bacteria cause the milk to ferment. The fermenting milk produces lactic acid. The lactic acid enters the blood stream and causes depression, anorexia and eventually the death of an otherwise healthy calf.


It is vital to the health of the calf that all the milk goes into the abomasum. If milk enters the rumen through fast feeding, tube feeding or bucket feeding, it can cause gut ache, as the enzymes in the rumen cannot digest milk. Milk in the rumen is a key contributor to rumen acidosis and ill thrift.


Source - Dr. Jim Quigley

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