At our ranch, I spend each morning driving through the pastures, hoping not to find a cow that has had trouble calving in the middle of the night. It is a situation that keeps many a livestock producer up late at night and restless when sleep does come. The last thing we want is one of those first calf heifers with a backwards calf in the middle of the night.
I have heard many a time about the timing of feeding cows correlated with timing of calving. This article from Glenn Selk, Oklahoma State Extension Animal Specialist, describes this correlation and how we can increase the number of cows giving birth during the day light hours and making it easier to keep a watchful eye on those first calf heifers.
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. 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.
The easiest and most practical method of inhibiting nighttime calving at present is by feeding cows at night; the physiological mechanism is unknown, but some hormonal effect may be involved. Rumen motility studies indicate the frequency of rumen contractions falls a few hours before parturition. Intraruminal pressure begins to fall in the last 2 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.
In a Canadian study of 104 Hereford cows 38.4% of a group fed at 8:00 am and again at 3:00 pm delivered calves during the day, 79.6% of a group fed at 11:00 am and 9:00 pm. A British study utilizing 162 cattle on 4 farms compared the percentages of calves born from 5:00 am to 10:00 pm to cows fed at different times. When cattle were fed at 9:00 am, 57% of the calves were born during the day, vs 79% with feeding at 10:00 pm. In field trials by cattlemen utilizing night feeding when 35 cows and heifers were fed once daily between 5:00 pm and 7:00 pm, 74.5% of the calves were born between 5:00 am and 5:00 pm. In the most convincing study to date, 1331 cows on 15 farms in Iowa were fed once daily at dusk, 85% of the calves were born between 6:00 am and 6:00 pm. Whether cows were started on the night feeding the week before calving started in the herd or 2 to 3 weeks earlier made no apparent difference in calving time.
Various means have been employed to effectively reduce animal loss at calving time. Skilled personnel should be available to render obstretric assistance and neonatal care to maximize percentage calf crop weaned in the cattle operation. Currently, evening feeding of cattle seems to be the most effective method of scheduling parturition so assistance can be available during daylight hours.
Source: Glenn Selk, Oklahoma State University Emeritus Extension Animal Scientist
Many wives tales and old timers have stood by this principle for a long time. What other old wives tales have you heard about cattle management that have been proven through academic research?