Cow-Calf Commentary for Iowa Cattleman Magazine
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By Beth Reynolds, Extension Beef Specialist and Erika Lundy, Extension Beef Specialist
The Konefal Method of Daytime Calving - Keys to Success
Since the main source of income for a cow-calf operation depends on selling a live calf, economics dictate timely and consistent labor during the calving season.
The Konefal Method of daytime calving was originally introduced to Iowa cattlemen around 1980 at the Cornbelt Cow-Calf Conference by Gus Konefal, a Canadian beef producer. To help his bred cows combat the cold winter nights, Konefal fed at night so that the heat of digestion would keep cows warmer when daily low temperatures hit. In doing this, he observed that 80% of calves were born between 7 AM - 7 PM compared to the expected 50% that calved during the evening and night hours when he was feeding in the morning.
Intrigued by the concept, Iowa State University started a 5-year project testing the method. The study found that of the 599 spring and fall calving cows, 70% calved between the hours of 6 AM - 6 PM and 86% calved between 6 AM - 10 PM when fed at 4 PM (Brackelsberg and Ruble, 1985). Results of an Iowa State University producer survey (1980) and a Kansas State University study both demonstrated similar results to Konefal while a USDA study in Montana only experienced a 10% – 20% increase in the number of calves born during the daylight hours. Other studies have indicated minimal to no differences when implementing the Konefal Method. A confounding factor may be daytime management of the bred cows. Konefal’s management as well as Iowa State research brought cows into a smaller area for evening feeding and turned cows back out to a larger area during the daytime hours.
The method has been widely adopted by cattlemen to date, but after being utilized for decades, the idea still peaks interest every calving season. So, if you haven't tried evening feeding before, or have tried it and did not get the desired results, here are a few things to consider:
- The Konefal Method works best when 100% of the feed is delivered as opposed to a grazing situation because this controls the timing of feed intake. Research from Oklahoma State University indicated only about a 15% increase in calves born during daylight hours when cows had unlimited access to hay but were fed a daily supplement at dusk.
- Much of the research suggests starting timed feeding 2 weeks to 1 month before the start of calving season for best results, although there is still a benefit if starting later. Stay consistent on time of daily delivery. Otherwise, expect more variation in hours of births.
- Anticipate weather impacts. Winter storms often hit during the evening hours and the low barometric pressure results in more calves born at night. A cow’s natural response to storms is to increase intake. While it's okay to increase intake before and during a storm, strive to return to the original intake level quickly as access to excess feed throughout the day causes an uncontrolled feed intake pattern, resulting in more calves born at random hours.
- One theory on why the Konefal Method works is related to the hours pregnant females spend resting. When laying down, the calf moves into the birth canal, and this coupled with other factors, leads to a cascade of events and ultimately, calving. By feeding in the evening, full cows will rest during the dark, early morning hours rather than resting in the afternoon when fed during the morning. Therefore, the overnight resting period then leads to daytime calving.
- Bedding can also impact forage consumption, so consider bedding at night to avoid cows “grazing” on fresh bedding throughout the day if feeding only at night. Plus, assuming there is adequate bedding for all females to lay down, the fresh bedding encourages resting through the evening hours.
- The early data from universities and producers implementing the method determined similar success between 1st calf heifers and mature cows. In fact, the 1980 Iowa producer survey indicated 90% of heifers calved during daylight hours when fed in the late afternoon or evening compared to 45% when fed during the day.
While the Konefal Method of daytime calving is effective, it does not eliminate the need for night checks. However, it should reduce the amount of time spent assisting cows and starting newborn calves during the night. Though the exact science behind why nighttime feeding increases calves born during the day is unknown, most theories revolve around rumen motility, resting time, and hormonal influences. Observations in various data and surveys have theorized that diet and confinement may influence success as well. Whether you’ve been using the Konefal Method for years or are considering using it for the first time on your operation, remember these factors that affect success, and be consistent. Happy calving!