A New Type of Twins

We had quite a surprise today, so much that I will now do two posts in a day!  We have been expecting our cows to calve any day now and this will be our second season to have calves here on Mud Ranch so we are by no means “experienced.”


Here’s “Pigpen,” or so I’m calling him for now — who knows, maybe it’ll stick.  But you can see why I’ve called him that with the swarm of flies around him, poor little guy. 

Here’s my warning now — if you have a queesy stomach and/or can’t handle the good and bad of life this is probably not the post for you.

I noticed that right after Twinky had Pigpen, she wasn’t really cleaning him off and actually laid down pretty quickly after she gave birth to him.  That was quite unusual from last year’s calvings.  I also noticed that her eyes were quite dialated like she was a little fearful.  I had walked up on the two to check the calf and take care of him but hadn’t seen Twinky really react with her eyes the way she was.


Poor little Pigpen was left with goo on his body and a little blood on his face that was attracting all the flies.  Last year, they were crisp white and red not long after birth.


This year something was just off.  I went back inside to complete my post about Lewis’ mill, my window was open so I could hear if anything was amiss and my two nephews were out in the pasture whacking our bull thistle with hoes so I knew I had some extra sets of eyes out there should anything happen that was odd…. And odd it was.  My nephew, Jeremiah, came running to the house and told me that it looked like Twinky was having another calf.  I thought, and I’m sure said outloud, “no way – it’s extremely rare to have twins in cattle.”  So I followed him out, carrying my phone in case something should need a calling to Hubby.  I saw a bulging sack coming out of Twinky’s nether regions as she was lying down and the sack was not as clear as a lamb’s.  So I slowly approached and noticed a little white stripe down the withers of the second calf!  It really is another, a naturally occuring twin hereford.


Twinky then stood up and I could tell right away that the second calf was dead.  Once he dropped out, he didn’t move a muscle, cough or sputter.  I slowly and quietly approached and cleared his mouth and nose to see if I could get some sort of reaction and then pressed on his gums to check for a capillary refill but nothing — the gums were white with no color.  He was still born and actually larger than his brother who was born perfectly healthy about 30 minutes before hand. 


I went back toward the house, called Hubby and then looked up twin calves and found this tidbit of information:

Rutledge found that there was a difference in twinning rates between dairy cattle and beef cattle breeds with dairy cattle experiencing a higher frequency. Dairy cattle ranged from a 1.3% incidence in Jerseys, 3.4% in Holsteins and an 8.9% incidence in Brown Swiss. Small differences were reported in beef breeds with Hereford cattle having the lowest incidence (0.4% or one out of every 250 births) of twinning while Angus had 1.1% incidence. The Bos Indicus breeds experienced 0.2% and 0.4% twinning rates in Brahman and Santa Gertrudis, respectively.

So what just happened in my pasture is something that happens once out of 250 births — pretty rare! I really couldn’t find too much other information on naturally occuring twins in hereford cattle either. I’ll continue my search and though I’m sad the second didn’t make it, I’m just happy the first is a healthy happy “Pigpen.”

Crisp white and red photos are sure to come in the near future!


About mudranch

I live in the country, I love to take photos, I'm a shepherdess, I adore my husband and daughter, I walk in the will of Christ.

Posted on May 25, 2009, in Hereford Cattle and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. That is crazy!!! Poor little Pigpen, I’m getting annoyed with the flies just looking at the pictures. Is he the same size as your calves from last year or smaller? I had no idea twins in cattle were that rare.

    • Actually Shannon, Pigpen is smaller than his twin. The twin was quite large but I’d say that Pigpen is about the same size as our smallest last year, who was a heifer.

  2. How is Mama doing? Is Pigpen up and moving? That was sad but interesting. I was asking my large animal vet today when he stopped by if he had heard of twins in Hereford’s and he said very very rare. He’s been a vet for 45 years. Oh does he have stories;)

    • Thanks for the insight from your vet Marjorie! Mama is doing well today — yesterday she “gave-up” motherhood for a while and one of our other cows took care of Pigpen for her while she relaxed in the marshy spot of our pasture. Pigpen is doing great though and spunky so he must be getting what he needs as far as nutrition. I’ll be doing another post on him shortly… When I get a round tuit (ever found one of those?) 😉

      But about our other mama cows, they are like a large family in that they’ll even nurse eachother’s calves if it comes down to it. It’s quite amazing to see them work in their family unit.

  3. Sorry the twin didn’t survive, but still an exciting event.

    Those flies are driving me nuts, too, lol!

  4. This is really interesting. We have beef cattle. Red Angus bulls, cross cows, Charolais, black baldies,and black Angus. Fall cows are calving right now. We have 64 to calve and 26 have calved already. Here is the kicker we have had 5 sets of twins out of the 26. All are living and just fine. Had to pull the 2nd set. first one out of the shoot was breach so we called the vet. All was taken care of in ample time so they both are fine. Was looking to find the stats on this when I ran across your web page. We have one pasture now that is a nursery. We pulled one calf off and we are bottle feeding. She was a first calf heifer and the 1st set of twins. Thinking might need one to put on cow at sometime if we loose one. never hurts to be prepared, and she will raise one lots better than two being her first. Can’t really find any info on the oddity of this. If you have any more information would like to know.

    • Hi Patsy,

      I haven’t learned much more about the mysterious twinning in cattle but I have talked with a little old lady who is my neighbor who was the wife of a cattle rancher for years until widowed. She said that she remembers that happening to them at times and it had to do with their nutrients and feed over the gestation. I don’t know how much of that is science and how much is cowboy logic (I prefer the latter 😉 ). But thank you so much for responding! It is interesting to hear from someone else who has had this happen to them. There sure isn’t much to find on the internet about it.


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