Getting 2 calves instead of one seems twice as good on the face of it, but as with most things, there’s a catch.
Each benefit of a cow calving twins seems to have a drawback, and so it’s hard to tell if it is good news or bad news after you get the scan results.
Breeding for twins isn’t for everyone, but it can suit some operations. If you have a small enough herd you can watch them closely enough without having to provide more assistance.
Conversely, if your herd is large enough you’ll be able to suck up the initial costs of raising them.
Here are the pros weighed up against the cons.
Pros of twins
- More animals to bring to market – the obvious benefit here.
- Lighter birth weight – each of the twins is 80% the weight of a normal calf which makes for an easier calving. Having two full sized calves coming out at once would complicate an already difficult task!
- If you can afford the initial costs, you can reap benefits afterwards. As the old adage goes, you’ve got to spend money to make money.
Cons of twins
Reduced calf survival
- More opportunity for abnormal birth – and almost ALWAYS needs help calving. With two heads and four limbs coming at once there is bound to be trouble. You can learn more about this below.
- If both calves do not develop a good relationship with their mother she could orphan the weaker one
- Calves are born early and can often be weak and not fully developed.
Increased labour costs
- Have to be watched
- Weaned earlier (6 months) to get a head start on BCS
- May have to be fed milk replacer (Especially in Beef cattle)
- Lower BCS in the dam because of the nutrients it has passed to the calves.
- Difficulty regaining body condition during late lactation and maintaining body condition during the dry period.
- Having twins leads to a bigger risk of placenta retention and uterine infections in the dam.
- Giving birth to twins can damage the reproductive performance of the cow – delaying their return to cycle.
- Statistics show a cow carrying twins is more likely to abort.
- There is always a risk of a Freemartin being born. A Freemartin is a hermaphrodite or imperfect sterile female calf which is the twin of a male calf whose hormones affected its development.
Around 90% of heifer calves with a bull calf twin are freemartins. However, if you do have a Freemartin calf it isn’t the end of the world – these can be raised for beef.
Other factors to consider
- Twins tend to calve 1-2 weeks earlier than expected.
- Unlike horses, you cannot just abort one calf – it’s double or nothing.
- Each twin calf is 20% lighter than a single calf on average at birth.
Tips for twins:
- Be there to help the cow deliver.
- Keep the cow and twins in a small pen for at least 24 hours to encourage bonding. If the cow was left amongst the herd with her twin calves, most likely she would take the stronger, more aggressive twin and orphan the other.
- Give the twins extra colostrum to be sure that both of them get off to a good start
- Wean the twins around 6 months of age or sooner depending on available nutrition.
- Feed the cow well in her last trimester of pregnancy and while she is nursing the twins.
- Do not save a twin heifer as a replacement if she is born with a bull brother. She will probably be sterile (a freemartin).
- Twin calves need extra milk to help them grow and round out. If you’re a beef producer, your cattle may not be high milk producers. If this is the case, it will be worth your while to supplement the calves with milk replacer.
- Some farmers graft one of the twin calves. Grafting is a process that entails helping a cow who lost her own calf through birthing difficulties or other causes to accept another calf as her own. Generally speaking, taking the more aggressive calf to graft is best, leaving the weaker calf on his real mother.
Twin calves entering the birth canal
5-6% of pregnancies are twins in some herds. Occasionally calving them can be trouble.
After all, there are many more limbs and extremities – 8 legs and 2 heads – to cause a malpresentation.
The most common combination of parts is one backward (usually the first one) and one forward with both often trying to come together. This makes a breech more likely than with a single calving.
In this situation, the first thing to remember is that the top calf must be the one to come out first.
Problems can arise if they adapt to the limited space available in the uterus by adopting abnormal positions. Follow the leg back to the body and make sure you are pulling on 2 legs from the same calf.