Twin Cattle Births

Veterinarians are often called to pull a calf that’s having trouble being born. Most of the time there’s just one. But sometimes there’s two.

Grant Dewell is a beef extension veterinarian at Iowa State University. He says in beef cows, twins are born only one-percent of the time. An ultrasound between 45-and-90-days of gestation is the best time for indicating two embryos. Beyond that, he says the producer probably won't know if there is more than one calf until the cow gives birth.

Unfortunately, twins are risky. Dewell says quite often only one calf will be born alive, and sometimes both calves die.

"Usually it's just a mal-presentation, both of the calves being presented at the same time and they'll block each other from being able to be born," he says. "And if that's not noticed right away, they can lose their umbilical cord and die in utero from lack of oxygenation."

Twin calves born alive are usually less vigorous than singles so you will need to watch and make sure both are nursing. To help the bonding process, keep the mother and her babies confined in an area where she is forced to pay attention to both of them.

"Particularly if one calf was born fine but the other one may have had some issues, slow to stand up, and those types of things. The calf that was born fine takes off and goes, and the other calf is laying there and eventually the mom will just ignore it and assume it's not hers, and so it takes a little bit of an effort to make sure that the cow takes care of both of those calves. If they're both born normally with no problem, most cows won't have a problem taking on both," says Dewell. "But if one's slow, you've got to make sure that that cow doesn't leave the slow one behind."

Keep in mind that twins are heritable. Dewell says if the cow has one set, she will likely have multiple sets of twins in the future.

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