For many of you, calving is in full swing. No matter how well-prepared you are or how hard you work, there is no such thing as a perfect calving season. The weather, freak calving incidents, and plain dumb luck can mess with your best-laid plans and to the detriment of your calving percentage. Multiple births, however, can certainly provide a boost to that figure, but they also bring their own set of management challenges.
Healthy thriving calves in a multiple birth scenario are one thing but, according to the Cornell University Animal Science Department, twinning can result in increased calf mortality, increased malpresentation dystocia, stillbirths, abortion, calf abandonment, retained placenta, lengthened interval from parturition to conception, freemartin heifers, and retained placenta due to shorter gestation length.
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In fact, Tim Dittmar, an Illinois rancher, called us this week to report an Angus cow that calved not twins or triplets, but quadruplets -- a feat he said occurs in one of every 700,000 births. He told me the three heifer calves and one bull calf weighed between 25-30 lbs. at birth, but were unfortunately all stillborn.
“I wouldn’t believe it if I hadn’t seen it for myself,” he says. “We’ve had twins in the past, but never anything like this. This is our third set of twins this spring, as well, so we are wondering what’s going on with all of these multiples!”
While multiples can really stretch your management, there are definite advantages if things work out. In fact, we just had a set of twins last week, and we were able to graft one of the twins (quickly forgotten by mom) to another cow that had just lost a calf due to an early birth. We’ve had great luck in the past in grafting calves by simply milking out the cow and tubing the calf, so the baby smells like mom’s milk. It seems to do the trick, and hopefully both cows and calves will thrive by pairing them up. By the way, South Dakota State University provides some tips on fostering calves, which you can read here.
How do you best manage for multiples? What steps do you take if a cow abandons one twin? Have you had many twins this year or in years past? What about three or four at a time? Share your stories in the comments section below.
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