Combining limited access to hay with nighttime feeding
Cow/calf producers have always wished for the calves to be born in daylight. If cows go into labor in daylight, it is easier to see the cows and it is easier to get help if extra assistance is required to help with the delivery.
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.
Although some cows will still give birth in the middle of the night, the percentage of cows calving in the daylight will increase if the feeding activity is done late in the day. Research has shown that cows fed at or after dusk will have a 2 or 3 to 1 ratio of calves born in daylight versus those born at night.
This year will provide an extra challenge for some producers. Those who need to stretch the hay supplies as much as possible may choose to limit access to the hay. Limiting the time to four to six hours per day that cows have access to the big round bales (in bale feeders) has been shown to im prove hay feeding efficiency.
However, limited access to the hay may be difficult to accomplish with “nighttime feeding.” If the cows are turned in with the hay at dusk, they must be removed from the hay at 10:00 pm to midnight—in the dark. This is neither easy nor convenient to accomplish.
Perhaps a better solution would be turn the cows into the area with the hay bale just before noon and use the protein supplement such as range cubes to coax them into the adjoining pasture at dusk. This would allow the cows access to the big round bales for about five hours, then they will eat the supplement over the next hour.
The shift to daylight calving may not be as dramatic as would be accomplished with total night time feeding, however, some compromise is necessary in times of limited forage. There will still be a need for those 2:00 am heifer checks! Be sure to have enough feeder space for all of the cows to have access to the hay bales at once. — Glenn Selk, Oklahoma State University Emeritus Extension Animal Scientist