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Change feeding time to change calving time

Feeding cows later in day increases number of calves born during daylight hours.

SDSU Extension Cow/Calf Field Specialists Adele Harty and Taylor Grussing evaluated research data to determine if feeding time influences the time of calving. What did they find?

"Yes, feeding affects time of calving," Harty said. "Feeding cows later in the day and evening will increase the number of calves born during daylight hours, when it is easier for livestock producers to watch them more closely." 

Gus Konefal, a rancher from Manitoba, Canada first developed this feeding method after he discovered 80% of his cows calved between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. when they were fed later in the day. 

Konefal's method included a twice a day feeding, with first feeding between 11 a.m. and noon and second feeding between 9:30 p.m. to 10 p.m.

Supporting Research

Similar research was conducted at Iowa State University. 

"This research used the Konefal feeding system, but only feeding one time per day at 4 p.m., starting two weeks prior to the expected start of calving," Grussing said.

The result? Eighty-two percent of cows calved between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. with 91% of the calves born before 11 p.m.

"Only 9% of calves were born outside the window when traditional calf checks are performed," Harty said.

When heifers were separated from the data set and analyzed, 90% calved in this same time frame. 

A survey collected from 15 beef producers in Iowa and Missouri also reported that when they fed once daily between, 5 p.m. and 10 p.m., the result was 85% of cows calving between 5 a.m. and midnight.

Compare this data to cows from herds not on the Konefel feeding system. That data showed an equal distribution of cows calving during the night as during the day, a 50/50 split. 

Researchers at USDA-ARS at Miles City, Montana completed at three-year study evaluating differences in feeding time on calving time.

"The numbers were not as dramatic as Konefel and Iowa State data," Grussing said. "However, there was a consistent 10% to 20% decrease in the number of cows calving between 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. in the late fed cows compared to the early fed cows."

Management Considerations

If you're a cattle producer who would like to see more calves born during daylight hours, below are some points to consider when implementing the Konefal calving method.

  • Research indicated for this method to be most effective, evening feedings should be implemented one month prior to the scheduled start of calving. If feeding times are changed closer to calving, this will result in a more calves born during the day than morning feeding.
  • Iowa State University data advises staying as close to the same feeding schedule and feed amount as possible each day. Deviating more than 15 minutes, or providing too much feed, will yield less desirable results.
  • Maintain regular night checks. Konefal calving may simply mean that there will be less work to be done between checks due to fewer calves born during the night.
  • The Konefal calving method works best in a drylot situation where all feed is provided. Desired effect in a grazing situation may not be seen unless supplemental hay or timing of grazing can be regulated.
  • Weather can play a role in effectiveness. Before or during storms, cattle may not come to the bunk to eat and may be more likely to calve at night.
  • Additional research indicates that a first calf heifer who calves during the day will tend to calve during the day the remainder of her productive years.

Source: SDSU Extension

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