Bottle feeding calves: Selecting a calf supplement

Calf supplements for milk or milk replacer can optimize early calf health. To help reduce calf health issues, it is important to focus on calf health from day one.

Healthier calves in the first two weeks may become less exposed to growth setbacks and calf health issues later in life, which can result in optimal growth and lower management expenses. Supplementing a non-medicated calf milk replacer diet with a calf supplement can support performance.

Nutrition plays a significant role in early calf health. Whether you feed whole milk or milk replacer, consider a calf supplement that optimizes early calf health such as Sav-A-Caf® Calf Health Supplement.

Here are 3 tips to help you select a calf supplement:White and black faced calf stands in front of red barn.

1. Choosing the right additive:

A few ingredients your calf supplement should include are colostrum, probiotics and essential oils.

Here’s how these ingredients work:

Dried bovine colostrum

Including maternal colostrum beyond day one has been shown to help support digestive system development and immunity, resulting in optimal calf growth and overall health.

In addition to immunoglobulin G (IgG), colostrum provides many more substances that are of value to the calf such as other immunoglobulins and immunity-enhancing molecules, as well as vitamins, minerals, growth factors and hormones.

Essential oils

Essential oils can help support calf growth. Adding certain essential oils to milk or calf milk replacer has been shown to support calf health and performance by optimizing:

  • Calf starter grain intake
  • Average daily gain and body weight at weaning
  • Population of beneficial bacteria in the gut
  • Calf rumen development
  • Probiotics


Beneficial bacteria have been shown to help maintain normal intestinal microflora and optimize digestion. Bacillus strains, which are included in the Sav-A-Caf® Calf Health Supplement, optimize immune function and help fight clostridium, salmonella and E. coli through competitive exclusion and other modes of action. Additionally, they function to support digestive health by helping maintain a diverse gut microflora.

2. Mix properly:

Follow the mixing instructions listed on the package of the specific product you are feeding.

Measuring the powder by weight with a hanging scale is more accurate than measuring by volume with a scoop or cup. Always mix until the powder is dissolved. When mixing large batches for multiple calves, add the powder before you add of the warm water (115-120º F), then add enough water to bring to volume.

Feed milk replacer near the calf’s body temperature (100-105º F) to encourage optimal consumption. Always follow the mixing and water temperature instructions on the package for the colostrum or calf milk replacer product you are feeding. The recommended mixing temperature can vary by product formulation.

3. Calf feeding tips:

Proper sanitation and maintenance of calf feeding equipment is also important because bacteria can grow very quickly.

Use a separate bottle or pail for each calf. Wash things to clean in your house, bottles and nipples in soapy water and rinse well after every feeding. Never let mixed colostrum or calf milk replacer sit out for over an hour without refrigeration.

Moisture creates a good breeding ground for bacteria, so allow your equipment to dry thoroughly between feedings. Check the bottle nipples often for damage – cracked or worn nipple holes can lead to over consumption or faster feedings, which can cause digestive upset.

Additional areas to focus on to achieve optimal calf health include cleanliness, ventilation and overall environment.

Want to learn more about bottle feeding calves? Check out this article and explore the full line of Sav-A-Caf® products.