Several weeks ago one of our mama cow gave birth to a set of twins. I performed the classic double-take, thinking I must be seeing double. The two newborn calves were distinct from one another with a bull calf having a white face and otherwise light brown color and the other being a gray heifer.
Somewhere I’d read beef cattle reject one twin more often than do milk cows because beef cows produce less milk than do milk cows. In any event, rejection was the case with us. It didn’t take long to determine mama paid little attention to her bull calf and was downright mean to him when he tried to suckle.
On viewing this, I immediately took off to the feed store to purchase colostrom and a large bag of powered cow’s milk. The next challenge was to separate the bull calf from his mother in order to feed him. While the cow in question was not a good mother, she still had protective instincts for her bull calf as well as for her heifer calf. She tried to run me down several times when I approached, brandishing a bottle of milk. Having twice before during an earlier calving having been run down and rolled by this unpleasant mama, I was surely on my guard.
The frequency of twinning in beef cattle is about half a percent, that is one in every 200 births. We have never before encountered this on our ranch. The twin calves are usually smaller than single births and have a higher rate of birthing complications. Just imagine eight legs and two heads trying to exist the uterus. This gives rise to all sorts of possible complications and explains the increased rate of dystocias.
While unfamiliar with twins, Trudy and I have previously had to bottle feed several other calves. This proves time consuming (feeding twice a day) but gratifying. It is fun to see the bottle calf emerge running from the herd in the direction of a bottle toting person.
Follow on articles will touch on the naming of the calf and the phenomenon of freemartinism that frequently occurs with one bull calf and one heifer calf. More to come.