Twinning in Cattle

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The late fall and early winter is the predominate calving season for many Franklin County beef producers. Those producers who have been in the cattle business for a long time have probably experienced a set of twin calves sooner or later. Many who have had twins born will tell you it means extra work and examining your herd regularly. A cow with twins many times will reject one of the calves and leave the other as an orphan, which will die if your herd is not closely monitored during the calving season. Also, cows that give birth to twins are pulled down in body weight and will rebreed later than the other cows in the herd.

Beef Cattle researchers have found several conclusions regarding twins: as long as there is good nutrition, there is only a 10% difference between the weights of twin calves and single calves when weaned; twins almost double the income from a single cow; and certain breeds are more likely to produce twins (Simmental, Charolais, Holstein, and large heifers). Negatively, cows that deliver twins have twice as many problems as cows who only deliver a single calf and they require a much larger feed requirement.

Cows with twins should be placed in stalls with the twins for the first 24 hours after birth to increase bonding. Another option is to switch that calf to a cow that has lost her calf. This can been made easier by “skinning” the hide of the dead calf and tying it on the back of one of the twins. You should also put the two in a pen and restrain the cow so the calf can nurse.

Producer observation is the key especially during calving season. If you encounter twins within your own herd, here are some tips: be there to help the cow deliver; keep the cow and twins in a small pen for at least 24 hours to encourage bonding; 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; and 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 (called a “freemartin”).