Effective calf rearing and the benefits of teat feeding systems

Updated: Jun 5, 2020

When rearing healthier calves on milk replacer, good hygiene and nutrition is essential. But the first step is ensuring sufficient high-quality colostrum within 12 hours of birth. A newly born calf’s ability to absorb immunoglobulins in colostrum reduces significantly from about six hours and has gone completely by 24 hours.

(Source; AHDB Better Returns).


If a calf is being supplementary fed colostrum using a teat even at this early stage offers huge benefits over a bag or bucket. You can ensure the teat and bottle are completely clean, so infection is not introduced. The milk that young calves receive is channelled from the oesophagus via the oesophageal groove into the abomasum. It needs to bypass the rumen, reticulum and omasum and enter the abomasum as this is the only properly functioning stomach in a young calf.


The muscular folds forming the oesophageal groove are stimulated by warmth and suckling. Feeding milk replacer at the correct temperature (made up with warm water at 45°C and fed at 37–39°C) and using teats stimulate the oesophageal groove to open best.


The muscular folds forming the oesophageal groove are stimulated by warmth and suckling. Feeding milk replacer at the correct temperature (made up with warm water at 45°C and fed at 37–39°C) and using teats stimulate the oesophageal groove to open best.

As milk enters the abomasum it forms a firm clot within a few minutes under the influence of the enzyme’s rennin and pepsin. This clotting process slows down the rate at which milk flows out of the abomasum, allowing nutrients to be released and digested better. It can take as long as 12–18hrs. for this milk curd to be fully digested.


The milk fat that is embedded in the milk curd is broken down by another enzyme which is called lipase which is secreted from saliva in the mouth. Teat feeding slows milk intake compared to that of bucket feeding. A suckling calf therefore produces far more saliva which is incorporated as milk is swallowed.

(Source: Digestion of feeds in the milk-fed calf. CSIRO.AU).


Teat feeding from singular or group pen feeders offers significant benefits therefore for healthy and efficiently digesting calves. Choosing the correct teat is also an opportunity too. Those with a Slower flow rate have been seen to provide better formation of curds in the abomasum over those feeding from teats that allow a freer flow of milk. Calves reared on the slower flow teats were observed to eat more starter mix and then as a result, had faster digestive process development including the all-important rumen, putting them in a better position to consume and digest sufficient forage after weaning with no growth check. Daily liveweight Gain (DLWG) of calves on the slower flow teats was observed to be higher. Cross suckling (between feeds) was also seen to be less which can lower cross contamination of infection between animals. It was also suggested that nutritional scours could be reduced especially at peak milk consumption when calves are voracious feeders with better curd formation preventing nutrients flowing through undigested.

(Source: Influence of teat flow rate in commercial milk feeding, Cambridge University 2015).


Figure 1: Cross section of a Slow flow teat


Slower flowing teats if possible manufactured from a natural rubber mimic the udder and no more fluid passes through it than naturally would, allowing the calf to suckle more intensely. Internal collapsing flap-valves holds the milk in the teat making it much more responsive to the calf’s needs. It is designed to function like a real cows’ teat, moving all the time while the calf is suckling, never closing in its relaxed state. This means that the teat is self-cleaning and resists blocking. Openings on each side of the nipple, situated so that the crown of the nipple remains intact and the teat is more leak resistant.