When managed correctly, pasteurized milk is an economical and highly nutritious liquid feed for calves. Not all dairy farms are capable or equipped to manage and feed pasteurized milk to calves, so counsel your clients who are considering pasteurization to help them weigh the advantages and disadvantages unique to their situations. The advantages and disadvantages of pasturization are summarized next.


  • Reduced disease transmission. In on-farm studies, pasteurization reduced or eliminated bacteria counts in non-saleable milk by 98-99%.
  • Improved rate of weight gain. On a dry matter basis, whole milk has higher concentrations of protein and fat (25.4 and 30.8%, respectively) compared to traditional milk protein-based milk replacers in which protein concentrations range from 18 to 20% and fat concentrations range from 15% to 20% (NRC, 2001).
  • Improved calf health. Minnesota dairy calves fed pasteurized non-saleable milk had improved health, primarily attributed to higher levels of nutrient intake, over calves fed a commercial 20:20 milk replacer. Immunoglobulins and non-specific immune factors found in milk (e.g. interferons, cytokines, growth factors, hormones, lactoferrin and lysozyme) also promote calf health. 
  • Improved economic efficiency. When considering fixed and variable feeding costs, improved rates of gain, reduced treatment costs, and reduced preweaning death loss, a partial budget model estimated a $34 per calf advantage at weaning for calves fed pasteurized non-saleable milk as compared to calves fed a 20:20 milk replacer.
  • Utilization of non-saleable milk. Between 5 and 22 pounds of non-saleable milk per calf per day is produced on dairy operations. Using this milk as feed for calves allows producers to avoid potential economic loss, disposal challenges and environmental concerns.


  • Intensive management required. Producers must research the type of pasteurization system most suited to their farm prior to purchase, and must create the infrastructure needed to correctly harvest, store and transport both pre- and post-pasteurized milk to avoid contamination and bacterial growth. Requirements for daily use include adhering to protocols of pasteurization, sanitizing equipment, routine equipment maintenance and monitoring.
  • Failure of pasteurization. Pasteurization failure can be caused by human error, unclean or malfunctioning equipment, inadequate hot water supply,  excessively high bacteria counts in pre-pasteurized milk and recontamination of pasteurized milk.
  • Variable non-saleable milk supply. The supply of non-saleable milk on a farm may not always be adequate to feed all calves. The volume needed will depend on the number of calves raised, volume of milk fed, weaning age, and number of fresh and treated cows in the herd. Large fluctuations occur in the supply of non-saleable milk on some dairies.
  • Inconsistent nutrient composition. Because non-saleable milk consists of milk pooled from both fresh and treated cows, some variability in nutrient composition is inevitable.
  • Potential antibiotic residue concerns. Pasteurization does not alter the activity of many antibiotics, causing concern that exposing calves to low concentrations of antibiotic residues in non-saleable milk may result in violative meat residues or increased shedding of antimicrobial-resistant bacteria.

This information is from the Bovine Alliance on Management and Nutrition (BAMN), comprised of representatives from the American Association of Bovine Practitioners, American Dairy Science Association,  American Feed Industry Association, and the USDA.

Download the full “Feeding pasteurized milk to dairy calves” and other BAMN publications.