Lactobalance, hydration and osmoregulation

It is crucial for a calf to maintain its water balance

A dehydrated calf will not have the desired average daily growth required for LifeStart performance.


whole milk has an osmolality of about 330 mOsm/L. Many calf milk replacers have an osmolality that is much higher. As a result of feeding such a calf milk replacer, water may move into the GI tract, leading to a reduction of faeces consistency and an increased risk to develop diarrhoea.

Dehydration caused by diarrhoea

Dehydration in calves often results from diarrhoea, which is usually accompanied by sodium depletion. This requires a different approach compared to dehydration due to transport. LifeStart trials have provided the information to correctly formulate hydration products for calves suffering from diarrhoea in order to meet the following three criteria:

  • Low osmolality
  • Correct amount and ratio between sodium and sugars to ensure efficient water transport
  • Correct Strong Ion Difference (SID)
Dehydration as a result of transport

If transport, heat stress or water deprivation cause dehydration, potassium is mostly depleted. Products formulated for dealing with these problems should have the correct balance between potassium and sodium.

Articles about lactobalance, osmoregulation and hydration

The ability of two different oral electrolyte solutions to correct dehydration and acidosis

A hypotonic OES resulted in a better correction of base excess and lower faecal water and sodium losses compared to a hypertonic OES.

Post transport supplementation of calves increases water intake and rumination activity

An OES with potassium and glycerol increases the water intake and rumination activity of cattle, resulting in rapid recovery after transport.

A faecal scoring system can be used to assess the dry matter percentage of faecal samples

Faecal scores of 640 faecal samples from dairy calves correlated well with faecal dry matter

An electrolyte solution with potassium and glycerol increases water intake of feed deprived calves

Feed deprivation decreases water intake. Treatment with an electrolyte solution with potassium and glycerol increases water intake, reducing the risk of calf dehydration.

Post transport supplementation with potassium and glycerol reduces mortality

Transport stress results in dehydration. Treatment with an OES containing potassium and glycerol increases water intake, improves growth and reduces mortality after transport.

Pre transport supplement containing potassium and glycerol improves the growth of beef calves

Replenishing potassium and glycerol levels of beef calves with transport stress improves growth.

An electrolyte solution with glycerol prevents dehydration of calves after a period of feed deprivation

Treatment of bull calves with a hypotonic electrolyte solution containing potassium and glycerol reduces dehydration and weight loss and increases carcass weight.

Hypernatraemia in calves fed hypertonic oral electrolyte solutions (OES)

Calves with diarrhoea that are fed OES with high osmolality should have access to water otherwise they develop hypernatraemia and do not recover from diarrhoea.

Effect of osmolality on the ability of oral electrolyte solutions to correct dehydration

OES commonly used for treatment often has a high osmolality, leading to poor treatment results.

LifeStart Pillars

Colostrum Management
Weaning Strategies
Calf to heifer

LifeStart Themes

Metabolic Programming
Glucose metabolism
Role of fat in calf nutrition
Lactobalance, hydration, and osmoregulation
Most LifeStart science articles on this site relate to a particular stage of the life of a calf or dairy cow. However, some general themes are not related to a particular stage of life. For a full understanding of LifeStart science, please review the information related to the 4 themes above: