A few days ago I mentioned we could really use a set of twins. Twins help make up for losses and help to utilize a cow that would otherwise go dry. Yesterday we finally got a set of twins from a four year old cow.
Both twins were healthy. Twins are usually low birth weight, born slightly early, and the probability for complications in delivery are higher. Sometimes one will not survive. I read that about one 1 in 200 births in cattle are twins (but that statistic can vary amongst breeds). We usually have at least 1 set of twins a year, however, a few years back we had six. Our neighbors have already had 3 sets, and another neighbor has had 7 sets!
Twins can either share a uterine horn (unilateral) or each be in a separate one (bilateral). Most twins are fraternal. They estimate that around 10% of twins are identical. Can you tell with ours? They are both heifers.
Most of the time our cows will calve twins with no assistance. But when they do need assistance, the cause is usually due to the calves being mis-presented in the birth canal. Twin calves are normally born one forward and one backwards. Since they are small, delivering the backwards calf causes little problem. Where problems arise is when both calves come at the same time and get wedged with each other in the birth canal.
Twins in Uterine Horns
Both Calves at Once
When a cow is having problems calving and we bring her in the chute, it can be very confusing if we don’t know it is twins. One can feel a front foot, a hind foot, or two of each. It could be twins, or the calf could be presented in transverse position:
When assisting with twins, it is essential to know which feet belong to which calf and to know exactly what type of situation is being dealt with. We don’t start pulling a calf until we know it is in the right position. A person wouldn’t want to attach the calving chains to the leg of one calf, and then the leg of another calf (that would not end well). When we can’t figure out what is going on inside the cow with the positioning of the calf, we call out the vet.
Some articles on twins:
Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development, Calving
Colorado State University, Calving and Handling Calving Difficulties
University of Tennessee Extension, Naturally Occurring Multiple Births In Cattle
Our good cow had her twins with no assistance and claimed them both. When cows have twins, it can be difficult for them to keep track of them both. One twin may not get up to move when another will, causing her to have to travel back and forth between the two. To help her out, we brought her into the pens and put her on our scale. The pen on the scale is larger than the stalls in the calving barn (two calves and a cow would not fit in them) but smaller than our pens (too keep them close together).
Regardless of whether or not the cow claims both calves, we will take one off her. She will usually pick a favorite so we take the less favorite calf. The cow can support both calves for a few days, but does not produce enough milk while maintaining a healthy body condition if she’s raising both calves. At this point the calf would become my bottle calf, but today was a frustrating day despite the twins.
Last night one of our cows had a healthy calf, this morning we found the calf dead. It had been attacked by coyotes and there was hardly even enough hide left on it to graft a calf. My husband salvaged what he could of the hide and we brought in the cow and grafted one of the twins onto her. The cow isn’t handling being in a stall very well and gets upset when we go near the stall so observation from a distance is all we have to go on and it looks as though she is accepting the new calf.
One of the twins wearing the hide to be grafted
I’m getting pretty fed up with these coyotes. My father in law managed to shoot one today that had a lame paw and a limp. I think we need to manage to shoot some more.
Fun Fact: If the twins are one bull, and one heifer, 90% of the time the heifer will be a “freemartin”. Essentially, this means she will not be fertile. For the most part she will appear as a heifer on the outside, but due to the bull calf’s hormones in development, will have reproductive abnormalities. Freemartins appear in all species of cattle and has also been recorded in goats, sheep, and pigs.
I tried to convince my friend that we had octuplets…she didn’t buy it. This is common to see in cows, this cow is the “babysitter” while the other cows all are out eating.