SDSU Expert Discusses Management Tips for Nighttime Cattle Feeding

Mar 28, 2018

2017 data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Agricultural Statistics Service reveals South Dakota is seventh in the country for cattle population, with more than 3.89 million head of cattle raised in the state.
Credit Charles Michael Ray

An official with South Dakota State University says ranchers interested in switching to nighttime feeding will see more calves born during the day. 

Adele Harty is a cow and calf field specialist with SDSU Extension. She says the idea of later feeding times comes from Canadian farmer Gus Konefal. Harty says he fed his cattle between 11 a.m. and noon and again between 9:30 and 10 at night. She says he discovered this method by accident and it ended up leading to 80 percent of his calves being born during the day.

Harty says this was confirmed in research in Canada and the U.S. She says in the 1980s, researchers at Iowa State University and Kansas State University adjusted their methods to feed cattle just once a day between 4 and 6 p.m. Harty says they found similar results. 


"Iowa [State] did a five-year study with their resident herd, so 535 cows, and they had 82 percent of those cows that calved from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. If you just looked at 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., it was 69 percent. With Kansas State's, that actually had 85 percent that calved in that 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. window,” Harty says.  

She says the Kansas State study was also completed over a five-year period. Harty says having calves born in the day makes it easier to monitor the animals and contact a veterinarian if there are issues. She says sunlight also helps baby calves and the warmer temperatures will help the young animals begin to move and get their first milk. 

Harty says it's best to switch to nighttime feeding about a month before calving. She says producers can switch this spring if they want, but they may not get the same results. Harty says ranchers need to consider feeding routines and where they raise their cattle when thinking about making a change.


"Feed within 15 to 30 minutes the same time every day. That's important whether your calving or anything. That's just a normal practice for feeding cattle in general just because it helps with rumen function and keeping that rumen kind of constant. And, providing that feed at the same time each day will have longer term impact on what that calving time can change. There are different opportunities for how this can look. Most of the time, it's only going to work on a dry lot setting. So, if you have cattle that are out on pasture that you're calving, typically, this will not be the best system," Harty says. 

She says research from Oklahoma State University shows there was an increase in daytime calving on pastures when cows were given supplemental hay in the evening, but not as much as a dry lot situation. 

Harty says other studies show that a first calf heifer who calves during daylight hours will likely continue that pattern for the rest of their life. She says feeding first calf heifers at night is a good test for producers to see if they want to change feeding times for their entire cattle operation. ​