The Feeding and Calving Connection
When you are making your calving plan for your herd, chances are you want it to be as seamless and convenient as possible. While you can’t always plan for each and every little thing, recent research has indicated that you can affect the time of day that your cows calve by what time of day you feed.
It is easier for producers to monitor calving situations with the light of daytime, and assistance can be quicker to struggling cows during the day than late at night.
“There are lots of advantages to daytime births – not the least of getting more sleep, it’s easier to contact a vet if complications occur, and it’s better on the calf to be born in a warmer time of day,” Eldon Cole, livestock specialist with the University of Missouri Extension said.
“It is generally accepted that adequate supervision at calving has a significant impact on reducing calf mortality. Adequate supervision has been of increasing importance with the use of larger beef breeds and cattle with larger birth weights,” Glenn Selk with the Oklahoma State University Extension has said. “On most ranching operations, supervision of the first calf heifers will be best accomplished in daylight hours and the poorest observation takes place in the middle of the night.”
So how does a farmer achieve better sleep, happier vets and warmer calves? Do your feeding as late in the day as possible, experts advise.
“Research does show that feeding late in the day results in more calves being born in the daylight hours. This is especially helpful when you’re dealing with heifers as they tend to need more assisting,” suggested Cole. “When you feed late, more cows will calve from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. versus the reverse, 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.”
“The easiest and most practical method of inhibiting nighttime calving at present is by feeding cows at night,” advised Selk.
Why exactly does feeding in the evening encourage calving during the day? “
The physiological mechanism is unknown, but some hormonal effect may be involved,” suggested Selk. “Rumen motility studies indicate the frequency of rumen contractions falls a few hours before parturition. Intraruminal pressure begins to fall in the last two weeks of gestation, with a more rapid decline during calving. It has been suggested that night feeding causes intraruminal pressures to rise at night and decline in the daytime.”
For best results, Cole suggested “it’s wise to start this practice of feeding hay and/or concentrate feed around a month before the expected calving dates.”
In situations where cows and heifers are allowed access to hay 24/7, Oklahoma State University recommends timing the feeding of supplements to later in the day, or by restricting access to the hay and running the cows and heifers into a lot at night where the hay is kept, and returning the cows to the regular pasture during the day.
The benefits of daytime calving are numerous – if your operation allows, try scheduling your feeding time later in the day to take advantage of it.