How Likely Is Your Cow To Have Multiple Births?

It seems if you want to increase your chances of having multiple births in Dairy catttle, then you should choose Brown Swiss! With beef cattle, it seems you are more likely to get twins from Angus than from Herefords.

Incidence of Multiple Births in Beef and Dairy Cattle

Producers and newspaper writers often call to find out the probability of triplets or quads happening in their herd or in herds near them. Very little research is conducted to specifically examine the incidence of multliple births. Most recently, Rutledge et al, (1975) reported on the the frequency of twins in beef and dairy cattle. This paper was in the Journal of Animal Science, Volume 40; page 803.
They found small differences in the likelihood of twins in two different breeds of beef cattle. Herefords were reported to have 0.4% or about 1 out of 250 births to be twins. Angus had a slightly higher incidence of twins at 1.1% or about 1 out of each 100 births. Dairy cattle have been notorious for more twinning. This study indicated that Holsteins and Brown Swiss have 3.4% and 8.9% twins, respectively.

To report the incidence of triplets and quadruplets, a very old paper published in the 1920 Journal of Dairy Science (Volume 3; page 260) by Jones and Rouse was found. They indicated that the incidence of triplets in beef cattle averaged 1 in 105,000 births, but was much more likely to occur in Brown Swiss (1 in 3500 births). Quadruplets are extremely rare in beef cattle, occurring naturally at the rate of 1 in 665,000 deliveries and 1 in 14,000 births in Brown Swiss.

While twins are absolutely adorable, in reality we always get a little nervous if we think our bovines might be having twins. Having twins certainly can complicate things. Not only can it make the birthing more difficult, but it can also present problems when the cow won't accept both calves. Dairy cows seem a little more accepting of feeding two babies. In beef herds, we often have to bottle feed one of the calves. Fortunately, when our Angus twins were born recently, the momma cow did eventually accept both of them and they are doing very well.