Can A Cow Have Twins: Why, When, How and Interesting Facts


A cow’s capacity to calve is a crucial thing for cow owners and breeders. Having a single calf is a usual thing we see, but what are the chances of a cow having twins?

That being said, a cow can have twins, although it is not the usual thing breeders or cow owners expect. However, as per the reports published by Kansas State University, around 1- 2% of beef cows’ pregnancies result in twins. Several reasons work behind causing a cow to have twins. 

Here, we should note that cows that have birthed twins once have a high probability of gestating twins again. 

Since calving twins is not a usual thing to witness among cows, especially among the beef breeds, it would be pretty exciting to analyze its underlying causes. Keeping this in mind, we have created this article where you would get answers to all your why’s, how’s, and when’s in the context of dams having twin calves.

Hence, without much ado, let’s begin our journey!

Image Credit: A cow with its calves by lizzie (CC BY-SA 2.0) from Wikimedia

Signs of a cow having twins

A cow’s gestation period is an exciting time for cow owners and experts. But it may also cause apprehensions to wonder how many new calves will join the herd.

So, if you are eager to know if your cow is going to have a single calf or twins, look for the following signs:

  • Early pregnancy: Your cow may get pregnant pretty early than is expected.
  • High milk production: At least 14 days before ovulation, the milk production would be higher than usual.
  • Shorter gestation period: Cows carrying twins may have a shorter gestation period of 274 days against the average period of 283 days.
  • Ultrasound: An ultrasound between 45-and-90-days of gestation can also indicate the presence of two embryos.

Despite analyzing all the possible signs, cow experts state that until a cow gives birth, the producer may not know if there are one or more calves. 

How often do cows have twins?

Multiple calving, although a rare scene but not impossible among bovines.

In fact, around 10% of all dairy calf conceptions result in twins. Nonetheless, this rate is much lesser among the beef cows, around 1- 2 %.

What causes twins in cattle?

Image Credit: Calves in the pasture from Pxhere

Cattle are a monotocous species, which implies that a successful and healthy pregnancy usually culminates in the birth of only one calf. But certain circumstances can lead to twin calving. 

Several factors ranging from genetics to environmental can play some significant roles in causing a twin pregnancy. Let us explore some of them.

Double ovulation:

Twins are the consequence of a cow’s multiple ovulations or an embryo splitting earlier in its gestation.

Better nutrition:

Better feed quality can be directly correlated with multiple ovulations in cows. Studies have found that a better nutritional feed intake increases the blood flow through the liver, which subsequently reduces the amount of progesterone in the blood. A reduced progesterone level is more likely to cause double ovulation resulting in the formation of zygotic twins.

Age:

Matured cows with several lactations tend to have a higher chance of calving twins than heifers. Also, if a cow had twins once, the chances are high that it will have again calve twins in subsequent pregnancies. 

Milk production:

A high level of milk production in the 14 days immediately before estrus can also increase the chance of double ovulation, resulting in twin calving. 

How can calving twins prove harmful?

Image Credit: A golden fur calf from Pxhere

Although twinning can seem to be beneficial from an economic perspective, it is often considered undesirable among dairy cattle. 

There is more than one reason behind considering twinning as bad. Let us explore some of these:

Clinical issues:

Cows that deliver twin calves have a high potentiality to suffer from diseases like retained placenta, ketosis, and metritis. A compromised immune system can lead to these clinical issues.

Dystocia:

Another issue that can be associated with twin calving is dystocia. It is a situation when the cow can’t deliver without assistance. Dystocia is often a common reason behind the low survival rate among twin calves. 

Low birth weight:

Twinning may result in a low birth rate among the calves, which may put a question mark on their survival. In addition, low birth weight may also cause other health issues among the calves. 

Miscarriage:

The rate of miscarriages in twin pregnancies is much higher than that of single pregnancies. Therefore, It is more often to find cows facing a miscarriage later in gestation. 

Freemartin:

When one twin is a bull calf, and the other is a heifer calf, in a twin birth, the heifer calf can witness the issue of Freemartin. Freemartin causes infertility among the twin heifer calf in mixed twin calving. 

Short life-span among the cows:

It has been found that cows that calves twins often suffer from issues like infertility, reproductive abnormalities, udder diseases, metabolic problems, etc., which often cause their culling earlier.

Is it Common for Cow Twins to Survive?

Image Credit: Two calves from Pxhere

By now, we have explored calving twins and why it may not be as rosy as it sounds. Twins tend to suffer from a lot of health issues, which may even affect their survival abilities.

That being said, the producers often would witness a lower survival rate among the calves born as twins. In addition, several health issues like a low weight at birth, dystocia, etc., can lead to high perinatal mortality rates among twin calves. 

Here, it should be noted that the perinatal mortality rate is likely to be highest at 3.19% in the case of twin bull calves. 

Why do cow twins have different markings?

It is very uncommon among cows to clave identical twins. In fact, less than 10% of twin claves are expected to be monozygotic or identical twins.

In the case of bovines, most twins are dizygous, occurring from the fertilization of two oocytes after ovulation. In other words, they are more like (half) siblings born at different stages of pregnancy by the same parents.

How long apart can a cow have twins?

Generally, we have the perception that twins are supposed to be born at the same time, one after another. But does this perception go well with cows?

Although uncommon, but one can find cows calving twins at different times. What we mean is that cows can have twin days or weeks apart. And the longest time gap between twinning can stretch as long as a month.

However, in such cases, calves are considered as half-siblings and not proper twins. 

Can a cow have twins days apart?

It is interesting to note if cows can have twins days apart.

Cows can have twins days apart. By rule, a cow should calve twins on the day of parturition. However, if one of the twins is dead, the delivery of the dead calf can take 1 or 2 days. In such a situation, you may witness dead calf delivery days apart. 

Can a cow have twins weeks apart?

Image Credit: A calf with its mother from Max Pixel

Cows can calve twins, and they can give birth weeks apart. But would that be called twin calving?

As we have stated, it is an uncommon phenomenon that a cow can calve weeks apart, but it is not impossible. In such a situation, a cow tends to have two cycles, some weeks apart, and conceives during each cycle. As a result, it may birth each calf at its term, which may be weeks apart.

But such calves are not identified as twins but siblings. 

Can twinning be avoided?

Twin calving is associated with severe health issues among the cows as well as the newborn twins. As a result, methods to avoid twinning have occupied the attention of vets and bovine experts.

One of the most common methods to manage the chances of twin calving among cows is manipulating the ovaries’ functions. It will lead to an increased rate of progesterone in the blood. Vets have therefore utilized hormonal synchronization protocols to reduce the chances of double ovulation. 

Can a cow have triplets?

Although it is desirable that cows should have a single calf during each pregnancy, what are the chances for them to have triplets?

It is not at all impossible for cows to have triplets. That being said, it is infrequent for bovines to calve triplets, and once in 105,000 chances, you can find something like this. 

We must also keep in mind that cows calving triplets are likely to have babies end up dying. 

How often does a cow have triplets?

Calving triplets is not desirable among bovines, and also it is a rare case to be found.

As we have stated earlier, cows have once in 105,000 chance to calve triplets.

Summary

Twin calving is a natural phenomenon among cows. A cow can have twin calves and nurse them. But this phenomenon is considered detrimental in the case of dairy cows for reasons like premature calf deaths, clinical issues, etc. As a result, the focus has mainly been on managing the conditions that lead to twin calving.

That being said, if your cow is expecting twins, it is advisable to consult a vet at the earliest to manage the birthing condition, the health condition of the dam, and the twins after calving, and reduce the potentialities of perinatal mortality. 

Atrayee

I am Atrayee, I have extreme passion for the Animal Kingdom and I have written a large number of articles for animal behaviors. I am an Animal Lover by nature and own two Cats.
Exploring new things through learning and unlearning is something that intrigues me a lot. I spend my free time with my husband and two cats. I must say I get to learn a lot of wise things from them! You can catch me on LinkedIn - https://www.linkedin.com/in/atrayee-samaddar-06886567/

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