Eye on Extension: Feeding time affects calving time


MONTE VISTA — Calving season is almost here. During calving season, cattle producers spend all day and much of the night going out to the corral or pasture to look at the cows and heifers, checking to see if everything is going well. 

By changing the time of day the animals are fed, we can also change the time of day many will give birth. With a common morning feeding, most cows and heifers will calve during the night. This is a time when they have digested most of their feed and are relaxing.

However, if the feeding time is changed to the evening, the cows and heifers are ruminating and digesting their feed overnight. When they are done processing their feed, about early morning, they will begin relaxing. This is the time they will often begin calving. Feeding in the evening may also aid in body heat preservation. The rumination process creates internal body heat to help keep the animals warm during the night.

If the cows and heifers are fed after 5 p.m., the majority will calve between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. An evening feeding can have, 70 to 85 percent calve during the day, rather than at night. With a morning feeding, only about 38 percent of calves may be born during the day.

Heifers have more trouble calving than mature cows, so they need more attention.  It is more important that the heifers be fed in the evening than the cows. On smaller operations, it is possible to feed all the animals in the evening. On larger operations, it may not work as well.

Dr. Glenn Selk, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension, Animal Scientist, said, “Whether cows were started on the night feeding the week before calving or two to three weeks earlier made no apparent difference in calving time.”

Another advantage of calving during the day is that the sunlight will help warm the calves up. This can reduce the number of calves who develop frost bite or other cold weather problems. It may also help reduce scours, pneumonia or other diseases.  Also, if calving assistance is needed, it is easier on the rancher, neighbor or veterinarian who are assisting. 

The drawback to this daylight calving program is that the rancher may be feeding after dark. But, isn’t that preferable to pulling calves at night?

For more information on animal care and feeding, contact the San Luis Valley Area Extension Office at 719-852-7381.

Extension programs are available to all without discrimination, Colorado State University Extension, U.S. Department of Agriculture and Colorado counties cooperating.

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