Beef calf twins need special care

The birth of twins in beef cattle herds is seldom cause for celebration. Though it does mean an extra calf to sell in the future, the extra labour involved in birthing and likely fostering the extra calf onto another cow can overshadow potential benefit.

Karin Lindquist, forage and beef specialist with Alberta Agriculture, said she’s heard that many producers suppress a groan when a cow presents them with twins.

“A lot of the attitude is more negative than positive,” she said.

For starters, cows delivering twins can have calving problems that require intervention. Often one is backward and one forward, and the possibility of breech birth increases the likelihood of losing one calf or even both.

Feet sticking out at the start of birth might belong to both calves, so producers must feel around before attempting a pull and call a veterinarian if the matter proves difficult to handle, said Lindquist.

Twins are usually smaller than single calves and tend to be born early rather than late. That seems to increase the chances of the cow retaining placenta because the tissues aren’t as well developed and don’t slough off as quickly as in cows who deliver single calves.

That might be one reason cows that deliver twins often don’t rebreed as quickly. They can be stressed from the delivery and have low energy from trying to feed two calves.

Lindquist said rebreeding is a particular problem in thin cows that deliver twins.

As for the calves, it’s vital that they receive enough colostrum in the first hours after birth, and if the cow doesn’t have enough, supplemental colostrum must be found and provided.

Even after that, the cow might not have enough milk for both calves, or it may favour one over the other. In that case, the calf has to be adopted onto a surrogate, which can present its own problems with acceptance.

“Some cows, no matter what you try, they’re going to be kicking off that calf no matter what,” Lindquist said.

“It really depends on her. You can’t tell her what to do.”

Twins will occur once in every approximately 1,000 births, and heritability of twinning is fairly low, she added. Twins are slightly more common than they were in the past because of the introduction of continental breeds into the mix.

According to U.S. data, Simmentals and Charolais tend to have higher incidences of twins than other breeds.

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