There are many calf feeding teats on the market, and they vary in size, material, quality and, of course, price.
Red Dane Farming started using Milk Bar with our M.A.R.S pen system about 3 years ago. Our previous system was single pens with bucket or hand-bottle feeding. We decided on Milk Bar for our system because of the superior quality of the teats and feeders, and the science behind how the teats work.
Before using the Milk Bar and M.A.R.S, the calf mortalities in our different herds were up to 15% – within one year they had dropped to below 5% in all of our TMR and bush dairy herds.
So, what sets Milk Bar teats above the rest?
1. REGULATED FLOW
The below 2 images show the inside of a Milk Bar teat, and of a Peach Teat – one of Milk Bar’s competitors.
When calves suckle from a cow they both suck and squeeze. Squeezing stimulates the cow teat, resulting in the release of oxytocin the cow’s blood stream which contracts cells in the udder so that milk is ejected into the cisterns above the teats. Suckling is what allows the calf to remove the milk from the teat, by overcoming the sphincter barrier. This process means that the calf drinks slowly taking up to 4 to 5 minutes per litre of milk, resulting in the production of a lot of saliva. As well as this, lactose will be quickly absorbed into the blood stream, increasing weight gain and reducing its presence in the intestines – too much lactose in the intestines results in nutritional scours as it will feed pathogens in the intestines that will multiply rapidly.
An ideal artificial teat will encourage cows to drink in the same way as they would with a real cow’s teat, i.e. sucking and squeezing, drinking slowly, and generating a lot of saliva. Looking at the two teats above, one can clearly see the difference between their insides. The Peach Teat contains an internal collapsing flap-valve. These valves are included because they require the use of an inferior rubber to that used in a Milk Bar teat. Teats containing these valves work in a way that is unnatural for the calf – when the calf squeezes, milk squirts into its mouth, meaning that no sucking is required. The calf simply squeezes and swallows, drinking as fast as a minute per litre, resulting in the production of very little saliva and thus problems with digestion leading to scours and other problems such as poor weight gain, cross-suckling, flooding of milk into the rumen, and flooding of milk into the lungs leading to pneumonia.
A Milk Bar teat does not contain an internal valve, but a simple rubber flap as shown in the second image. This design means that the calf needs to both squeeze and suck to get milk out of the teat as there is no assistance from an internal valve. As a result, the calf drinks slowly, about 3 to 4 minutes per litre, and generates sufficient saliva to prevent scours, cross-suckling and flooding of milk into the rumen or lungs.
Milk Bar teats are made of tough rubber, whilst most other teats on the market are made of silicon or thin soft plastic or rubber. The high quality of the Milk Bar teat material means that they need to be replaced far less often than other teats – one teat can last one calf an average of 8 weeks if used correctly. Cheap, plastic or silicon teats may only last one feeding before they start to leak. Leaking teats are detrimental to the health of your calf as milk will flow too quickly, as well as being wasted. Calves will easily destroy teats with their teeth. Impatient calf-feeders will easily be able to cut the tip off a soft rubber/silicon or plastic teat. Some poor quality teats are not even less expensive than Milk Bar teats. The toughness of the Milk Bar teats (along with the regulated flow) also assists in calves’ saliva generation.
To ensure that your Milk Bar teat lasts as long as possible, clean teats and feeders with an alkali detergent – this strips milk fat and protein from the rubber and prolongs the teat’s life.
3. LIP DESIGN AND TEAT SIZE
The images below show some varieties of teats, all with different lip designs and variations in size.
The Milk Bar teat, shown in the first image, is significantly different from all the other teats shown above. Whilst most of these have round or protruding lips, the Milk Bar lip is inverted. This design prevents irritations in the calf’s mouth, as well as increasing the lifetime of the teat as calves cannot bite the tip of the teat off as they can do for those with protruding tips. The milk bar teat only has one slit that opens perpendicular to the rubber flap inside the teat, whilst the others all have a cross-shaped opening or 2 holes. This design of the Milk Bar teat is part of achieving the regulated flow of milk.
The size of the teat is also important. Most of the teats shown above are too long or have the wrong diameter – the red teats in the second image, for example, are much too big for a calf’s mouth. Milk Bar teats are designed to be as close in length and diameter to a regular cow teat as possible, making it easy for the calf to fit it in their mouth and thus encouraging them to drink properly, improving growth rates.
Referring to the images under regulated flow, one can see the difference in how Peach Teats and Milk Bar teats are inserted into their respective feeders. The peach teats are screwed in with a thread, whilst Milk Bar teats are simply pulled through the hole in the feeder. The absence of any grooves or threads in the Milk Bar teats means that there are few to no places for residue milk to become stuck and for bacteria to sit and multiply, thus Milk Bar teats do not need to be removed for cleaning, and are only pulled out when they are to be replaced. Peach Teats and other teats with grooves and threads, however, have plenty of places for bacteria to fester, and have to be removed and cleaned meticulously between each feeding, which is time consuming and thus unlikely to always be done properly. If teats have internal valves or threads this makes it even more likely that some milk will be left behind after feeding, causing bacteria to multiply and potentially making your calves sick the next time they are fed.
5. RESEARCH In 2014 a research project was undertaken to examine the way that teat design affected calf health. 30 calves were fed with Milk Bar teats and 30 fed with a faster-feeding teat i.e. one of those made with soft rubber and containing an internal valve. Samples were taken from the abomasum, ileum, intestines and colon of 14 day old calves 2 hours after feeding.
Results from Milk Bar teats showed thick, even curding, only 3mg/gm of lactose remaining in the abomasum and minimal lactose present in the intestine. On the other hand, results from the other teat yielded a watery fluid containing hard lumps of coagulated milk, 12mg/gm of lactose in the abomasum and high levels of lactose in the intestines.
Calves in the group with the ‘faster-feeding teats’ were also found to be hyperactive straight after feeding and were much more likely to engage in cross-suckling than those fed with Milk Bar teats.
This study was peer-reviewed and published in the Journal of Applied Animal Nutrition. Full results can be obtained from Milk Bar by calling +64 800 104 119.
Disclaimer: The opinions and views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent those of Milk Bar, Peach Teat or any other teat-manufacturing company. They are the result of observing the design, use and results of various calf-feeding teats over a period of several years in the calves of dairy herds in Zimbabwe.