Tried, tested, trusted… Acidify milk to prevent scour

Tried, tested, trusted… Acidify milk to prevent scour

Publicity from Public Health England, RUMA and advice from our own vets makes us question why we have to use antibiotics to reduce outbreaks of scour in baby calves. The main causes scour are, lack of good quality colostrum and poor hygiene. 90% of the pathogens go in at the mouth, down into the stomach where they multiply and disturb the natural gut microflora. Toxins produced by bacteria cause scour and dehydration in young calves. Some antibiotics will prevent some scours but whilst we are trying to prevent antibiotic resistance, a ‘blanket treatment’ is undesirable in the long term.

Traditional restricted feeding methods can exacerbate scour. If we compare the feeding of a ‘dairy bred’ calf with a naturally suckled calf on the cow, the dairy calf would be separated from the dam and often fed 2 large meals of milk per day (standard restricted feeding).The milk meal would raise the pH of the abomasum from 2 to 6 for a few hours during which pathogens could multiply. In contrast, with a suckled calf, or one fed on an ad lib Heatwave Milk Warmer, the pH of the abomasum would stay at a relatively low pH. After a small milk meal enters the stomach the pH would rise up to 6 for a short while, then return to 2. Small meals are digested faster and the pH remains closer to 2 for longer, and keeps the gut healthy. A low pH is the natural defence against pathogens such as E.Coli. In the older calf as it approaches weaning, the pH stays lower because a stream of nutrients enter the abomasum from the rumen, and the incidence of scour is reduced.

So why don’t we artificially lower the pH of milk and promote a healthy gut environment? This strategy is widely adopted in feed additives for chickens and pigs. It’s also often used for calves e.g. in an acidified milk powder. The addition of acid salts such as calcium formate will drop the pH of milk and keep it fresh for longer. It’s a win/win for the calf. He gets nice fresh milk, and the benefits of better digestion. The farmer avoids antibiotic and cost.

Salts such as calcium formate are approved in the EU as feed additives and are included in Pyon Preserver. The cost is 1.5p/litre treated, the milks stays fresh, and bacteria do not develop resistance to antibiotic. Simple but effective.


Pyon Preserver for whole, colostrum and powdered milk

N.B. Just a note of caution to those feeding whole milk ad lib milk. Always cool the milk after collection, and use ‘healthy’ milk, not ‘high somatic cell count milk’. If the milk is contaminated by Johnes positive cows, do not feed to baby calves. Acidification will not eradicate MAP.

Gill Dickson
Feed Adviser Register