The world’s increasing demand for livestock products creates pressure on the agricultural community. For this reason, farmers are actively seeking for ways to increase production in a bid to meet this rapidly increasing demand. That being said, a common consideration is whether cows can give birth to twins thus doubling production and profitability. Results from a number of research studies reveal some pleasing outcome. It is said that cows can give birth to twins, and in the rarest of cases, some animals have been recorded to produce up to 3 calves at a time. Note that this is extremely rare; it does not occur under normal circumstances. Nonetheless, production of 2 calves is possible and considered to be somewhat safe for cows.

Twinning in Cattle

Twinning is a highly desirable trait in livestock, it indicates an increased reproductive capacity hence improved profitability and a successful agricultural venture. Twinning however rarely occurs; studies indicate that its frequency does not exceed 1% in beef herds and about 3 to 5% in dairy herds. That being said, despite the low odds, cows can have twins and this often depends on a number of factors that include seasonal effects. It has been proven that the most increase in twinning rate is around spring and autumn with most cases being between first and second calving. An additional upside to twinning is that dairy cows tend to produce more milk yield, fat and protein in comparison to cows with single calves. According to research studies, the increased incidence of twinning in turn improves the potential for accomplishing more progeny from a genetically superior female. Resultantly, those females tend to play a significant part in the selection program. Research also reveals that twinning often results in an easier calving process. This being due to the fact that twin calves often weigh approximately 80% lighter than single birth calves. Despite the great news that cows can give birth to twins, it is a risky venture.

The benefits of twin birth cannot be disputed, nonetheless the procedure is very risky. In most twin births, cows struggle to give birth unaided and so require assistance. Generally cows can give birth to twins but there is an increased opportunity for abnormal birth that can be costly thus less rewarding. A popular concern is that if both calves do not develop a good relationship with the mother, she can potentially orphan the weaker one. To add on, twinning leads to increased costs of production from birth until reaching maturity. In some cases, a milk replacer is necessary, particularly when the cow does not produce enough milk to sustain both calves. Twinning is also associated with increased incidence of retained placenta, higher mortality rates, frequent occurrence of freemartins and longer interval from parturition to first oestrous as well as lower potential of calf survival. Additionally, cows can give birth to twin but risk increased culling rate and poor reproductive performance.

Freemartins

As stated times over, cows can give birth to twins. However, one of the major concerns is the risk of freemartins. Freemartin is a term used to describe an infertile twin. Studies indicate that when a set of twins is born comprising of a heifer and bull calf, there is approximately a 90% chance that the female twin is a freemartin. This usually occurs at the early stages of embryonic development as it is common for the separate embryos to fuse and share the same blood supply. Freemartins tend to be around the upper 25% growth in heifer breeds. As such, they are basically raised as beef cattle. The problems associated with twinning can be avoided through pre-calving diagnosis of twin pregnancies, appropriate nutrition, suitable calving facilities and early weaning of twin calves.

Types of Twins

Similar to humans and other animal species, cows can give birth to twins that are either identical or fraternal. Identical twins are known as monozygotic twins. These are genetically and physically identical because they are produced from a single egg that splits during early embryonic developmental stages. Note that the calves produced though this method are of the same sex. The opposite applies to fraternal twins which are formally referred to as dizygotic. They are genetically and phenotypically different as they are developed from two separate sperm which fertilise with two completely different ova. Basically cows can give birth to twins just as humans meaning that fraternal twins can be similar or different in terms of both appearance and sex as any two siblings born from the same parent would be.

How Many Times Can a Cow Give Birth?

Although cows can give birth to twins, it is not a common practise. Normally, a cow gives birth to single calves from as early as two years old. Similar to humans and other mammal species, cows produce milk after birth and are pregnant for about 9.5 months. A cow is bred for milk for roughly 300 days after giving birth then dried off for about 45 to 60 days. In most cases, cows give birth every 12 to 14 months. The number of times a cow gives birth depends on the average life expectancy in a given area. In a place with life expectancy averaging 4 to 6 years, a cow is most likely to have about 2 to 4 calves in her life time. Note that twinning may reduce the life expectancy of a cow or cause some health related issues therefore limiting the number of times a cow can give birth.

What Are The Odds of A Cow Having Twins?

Cows can give birth to twins in extremely rare cases. As a matter of fact, some farmers achieve this through artificial methods as it does not normally happen through natural means. The exact figure is difficult to determine but it has been established that the odds of a cow giving birth to twins are low. A number of studies concur on the fact that the chances of twinning are approximately 0.5% or one in every 200 births. For dairy herds, these numbers are slightly higher. The odds of a dairy cow giving birth to twins range between 3 and 5%. About one-half of the twins are said to consist of both a bull and a heifer thereby increasing the chances of freemartin births.