Over this past weekend we “sprang forward” for daylight saving time. Daylight savings time was adopted in the United States March 19, 1918 as an act to preserve daylight and provide a standard time for the United States. The official reason was for fuel savings. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce supported the policy because Americans getting off work while there was still daylight meant that people could go shopping or enjoy sports and recreational activities. There is a thought that Daylight Savings was created to benefit farmers and ranchers, but the time differences do not work in favor of the farm. Farmers actually lobbied against the establishment of Daylight Savings. Most agricultural related activities are based on hours of daylight instead of clock hours. Does time change help to get more done or are the effects felt in other ways?
When the time does change I enjoy the extra sunlight in the evening, but I also feel a bit of “jet lag” because I lose an hour of sleep. My body responds by being a bit weary and sluggish until my internal clock gets adjusted. I was curious how this change affects the animals on the farm. Does it make a difference? Are there any notable stressors to livestock?
Just like I maintain a schedule, livestock have routines, too. Granted, the routine is shaped around human factors and activities – but when the routine is disrupted it can confuse the animal. The body has a circadian rhythm, that is a “body clock” that tells our bodies when to rest, sleep, eat. The circadian rhythm responds to light and darkness in our environment. Circadian rhythms are found in most living things, including plants and animals. On a farm, dairy cows will have a regular schedule for being milked, if the farmer alters the timing to an hour later, the cows will feel the discomfort because their internal clock tells the cows that it is past time to be milked. The cows’ udders continue to produce milk and pressure builds up in a regular amount of time. The cow does not know that clocks have been adjusted and it is not time for milking. The cow needs to get used to the new schedule. It is suggested to avoid livestock issues surrounding daylight savings time to gradually adjust schedules in the days before so that animals do not have to experience an observable difference to the normal daily events.
Change in the amount of light is a signal to plants, animals and people – that days are getting longer and warmer weather is on the way. Plants need the sunlight to grow and warmer weather brings new life on the farm. Our previous post on baby animals and Spring time sheds some light on warmer temperatures and birth on the farm. Some animals like chickens are greatly affected by the number of daylight hours. That is why most chicken barns are lit artificially to maintain regularity in their schedules. Farmers need to be out in the field and they will be in the field until the work is done. People and animals on the farm are not guided by the clock on the wall. If it is light outside, then workers will be in the fields and cattle roaming. What matters is not the time on the clock, but the work that needs to be done in daylight hours. We may enjoy a little more sunlight on the quiet evening – but the farmers are taking advantage of a little more daylight to get the work done – so that we all can enjoy food on our tables.