A calf feeding from a bottle.

Milk replacer research gets a new home

This state-of-the-art facility is designed to advance nutrition for calves

What does it take to make high quality LAND O LAKES® butter and cheese? For starters, it’s healthy and productive dairy cows. Have you ever thought about what calves need to eat to grow into such a big role? We sure have.

But first, let’s start with a little bit of history.

In 1949, Land O'Lakes Animal Milk Products Company began researching calf nutrition to develop the industry's first calf milk replacer, finding success just two years later. That was only the beginning—since then, Land O'Lakes Animal Milk has also developed the first milk replacers for lambs, kids and foals. For more than 67 years, researchers have conducted a wealth of management and nutrition studies to increase the quality and effectiveness of our brand’s milk replacers.

The best facility for the best research

Since developing the first calf milk replacer—and later the first instant calf milk replacer—researchers have conducted trials in three different Land O'Lakes research facilities. Our most recent facility in Fort Dodge, Iowa, was built in the 1970s. In the 40 years of the center's existence, a number of advancements were achieved including the issuance of 15 patents and numerous upgrades to products. These upgrades make a big difference in calves' growth and performance rates and reinforce Land O'Lakes as a trusted name in milk replacers. ​
But now, the time has come to upgrade to a new facility, one that meets the objective of Land O'Lakes Animal Milk even better: Do what's right for the calf.
The new calf research facility at the Purina Animal Nutrition Center in Missouri is our way of doing just that. We've built a state-of-the-art research facility designed to further advance the nutrition and management of young calves. Notable features include cross-ventilation, heated floors in the feed aisles and the addition of a separate auto-feeder unit. 

The trials

This past May, 204 calves became the first set to participate in a series of feeding trials in this new milk replacer facility. As of January, five such groups of Holstein bull calves have been employed in research trials.
When calves arrive from Wisconsin, they are weighed, measured, have their immunoglobulin levels tested and are given a feeding of electrolytes. The calves begin their six- or seven-week trial the following day. Throughout the trials, the calves are weighed and measured weekly until they leave the center. After a week of cleaning and sanitizing the facility, the next set of calves are scheduled to arrive. This cycle is repeated six times per year.
"We are having a wonderful first year in our new calf facility," says Bill Miller, Ph.D., senior director, Animal Milk Research. "We had a mostly new workforce, but everyone has learned the ins and outs of the facilitythey're doing a great job."​

The future of milk replacers

A big area of focus for researchers now is finding other options for the milk protein ingredients, which are largely used in animal milk replacers. In recent years, a number of milk proteins, including whey protein concentrate (WPC), have become a staple in athletic supplements, protein bars and infant formula. Those factors, along with exportation of WPC to other countries, have resulted in a fluctuating supply.
With milk proteins having the potential of becoming more expensive, Land O'Lakes Animal Milk has begun leveraging more fully an in-house alternative protein while also researching other protein options. Our recent calf research found success with milk replacer containing a blend of proteins that are combined in a manner to enhance the qualities of each other; a similar approach is used in baby formulas.
The newest calf research facility is just the place to make these and other advancements.
"This facility is well designed, carefully engineered and expertly constructed and will take us into the coming decades," says Bill.