You are so excited to have a newborn calf on your farm, but your cow is acting strangely.
A couple of days later, she acts like she is in labor and ready to have another calf.
Could there be a twin on its way?
Although uncommon, a cow can have twins days apart. It is also possible for a cow to have siblings weeks or months apart. If you suspect your cow has twin calves, closely monitor her to see if the second calf needs assistance.
Keep reading to learn what causes twins in cows, why they are sometimes born on different days, and the dangers of cows having twins.
Cows Having Twins Days Apart
Typically, a cow pregnant with twins will give birth to both within the same day.
However, this is not always the case, and the time gap can get quite long.
If one of the twins dies, the cow might not deliver the dead calf for a day or two after the first calf was born.
It is also possible the second twin will be born later without any complications.
Both scenarios have happened on my farm a few times, and it’s always a surprise.
One factor to consider is the gestation period for cows.
The average is 283 days, but it’s shortened to an average of 274 days for twins.
A calf born a day or two after its twin is still in the normal gestational range.
Cow Pregnant with Siblings
When a cow gives birth to two calves with time in between, the calves might not be twins.
It’s rare, but cows can get pregnant while already pregnant.
How does this happen?
- A cow goes into heat, is bred, and conceives.
- She cycles again while already pregnant.
Because she’s showing signs of not being pregnant, her owner breeds her again.
The second egg is fertilized, and she becomes pregnant with a second embryo.
When this happens, each calf is on its own gestational period.
This means the calves are born weeks or even months apart.
What Causes Twins In Cows?
Cattle usually have one calf at a time because they are a monotocous species.
However, it is still possible to give birth to twins or even triplets.
Dairy cattle have a 10% chance of giving birth to twins rather than a single calf, while beef cows only have a 1 to 2% chance.
Let’s explore the reasons why a cow can become pregnant with twins.
- Double Ovulation: Sometimes, a cow releases two separate eggs, fertilized separately. This results in two bovine embryos and fraternal twins.
- Embryo Splitting: One fertilized embryo can split into two early in the pregnancy, leading to identical twins.
- Nutrition: Better nutritional feed intake is correlated with multiple ovulation. Better feed leads to a lower amount of progesterone in the blood.
- Age: Older cows with multiple previous calves are more likely to have twins. The chance is also greater of having twins after calving previously.
- Milk Production: High milk production two weeks before ovulation increases the chance of double ovulation.
Signs Your Cow Will Have Twins
It’s hard to tell if a cow will have twins until she is calving.
The only sure way to check for twins before calving day is through an ultrasound between 45 and 90 days of gestation.
Otherwise, an expecting mother going into labor early by roughly 10 days is a sign it might be a twin calving.
What Are the Dangers of Having Twins?
Although getting an extra calf for the price of one might seem beneficial, farmers don’t usually want twins for the following reasons.
- Disease Risk: Cows who have given birth to twins have a higher risk of retained placenta, ketosis, and metritis.
- Dystocia: A twin mother is more likely to need assistance during birth, which contributes to the lower survival rate for twins.
- Low Birth Weight: Twins have a lower weight at birth, which can cause other health issues and lower their chances of survival.
- Miscarriage: A cow pregnant with multiple calves is more likely to miscarry.
- Freemartin: A pair of heifer and bull calves will lead to infertility in the twin heifer calf. This is not an issue for twin bull calves or twin heifer calves.
- Reduced Lifespan: Twins are more likely to have severe health issues with reproductive abnormalities, metabolic problems, and other diseases, leading to shorter lives.
Signs of Calving
When a cow is ready to begin the exciting time of parturition, she’ll exhibit some signs to watch out for.
First, ensure you know when she’s due to know if her labor signs will lead to birth or miscarriage.
One of the oldest forms of identifying a cow close to calving is watching her bag.
When she’s close to calving, milk will start filling the bag, making her udder look fuller.
Some cows will start bagging up a month before calving, while others will start filling their bag only a week before giving birth.
Either way, the presence of milk shows she is close to calving.
Up to a few weeks before the day of parturition, the cow or heifer’s vulva will swell.
This is the area under her tail.
She will also have some clear discharge coming from the area.
Within 24 hours of starting labor, an expecting cow will exhibit behavioral differences.
She’ll often move away from the group and stretch as if they’re preparing for the upcoming workout.
Her pelvic ligaments around where the tail attaches to the body will also loosen in preparation.
Sometimes when a cow gives birth, she’ll exhibit signs of labor a few days later.
This is sometimes because there is a second calf, but it may be a sign of an infected womb.
This is also possible if she acts like she is still in labor immediately following the birth of a calf.
In this case, the best course of action is to contact your veterinarian to verify if there is another calf or if she needs treatment.
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