BEEF Daily

Rancher Reports Quadruplets; How Do You Manage Multiples?


How do you manage for multiples? One reader shares a story of quadruplets.

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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Discuss this Blog Entry 14

Janice S (not verified)
on Mar 27, 2014

We had a set of quadruplets two years ago. Three were born live and the last one was stillborn. It was a real shock! Never saw anything like it before.

on Mar 27, 2014

Recently had twins. Found calf wander around looking for mom. Checked everything and found cow that appeared to have just had but she would not go near. Seven hours later she had second calf and totally abandoned the other. Tried to reunite but no luck, so on the bottle. Second calf was male so from what I read first will be sterile so she will be sold in time. Gave her store bought colostrum and hope she might have got some from mom before she abandoned. Will really earn this version of two for one.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Mar 27, 2014

Having both sheep and beef, we have noticed that cows seem to have a harder time counting to two. I try to earnotch lambs at birth so I can quickly tell who is a twin when selecting replacements. Twinning seems partly condition related, but some ewes almost always have twins and others never do. With most expense in keeping mothers for the year, twins can really make you money. Putting twin families in a smaller area is a big help in not having one baby follow another mother of and get separated if there is a place you can do that.

Rachel (not verified)
on Mar 27, 2014

Five of our cows have calved and we have had two sets of twins so far. Wondering how many more to expect!

BG (not verified)
on Mar 27, 2014

We usually get 1-4 sets of twins a year. If they are both healthy and doing well we bring the whole family to a small pen by the barn where we can monitor them to make sure that both calves are getting enough to eat and we feed the cow a little extra to help her milk more for the 2 calves. If the cow totally refuses 1 calf we have a Jersey nurse cow that is hired on at our place to provide some calf raising assistance. She can provide enough milk for 2-3 extra calves. We will use the extra's for cows who have lost a calf for 1 reason or another. It works pretty well that way we don't have to get rid of a cow that had a freak accident or bad luck. Most of our cows will raise the 2 calves, yes at weaning they will weigh less than the average of all the other calves but in terms of total pounds of calf weaned we are well ahead. All of our twin bull calves in the past 4 years have been big enough to fit the big cut of steers that go direct to the feedlot. Seems that even if they are smaller at weaning (Sept) by Dec they have caught up.
A couple years ago we did have a cow have 2 live healthy twins that were born 12 days apart. It is a very rare occurance but it does happen with each calf being in each uterine horn with their own placenta. It made for some pretty puzzled looks and a whole lot of investigative work before we finally put all the pieces of the puzzle together and figured out what had happened. Worked out great since we lost a calf the day we found twin #2, cow wanted a calf really bad and baby wanted a mommy real bad so they got each other.

Kacee (not verified)
on Mar 27, 2014

We've always had great luck with grafting twin calves onto other mothers. We've had one set so far this year but no open mothers to graft onto (let's just quit now while we're at 100% lol). The mother was doing a great job of mothering them both, just not enough milk. So we brought her in the corrals, bumped up her feed including a healthy grain ration. This got both babies over the hump till our milk/nurse cow came fresh. We are still waiting for a permanent mom for the calf, but don't mind sharing our milk in the mean time. We still have replacer milk on hand, but only use it as a VERY last resort!

Mary (not verified)
on Mar 27, 2014

We have a herd of approx 100 cows. This year we have had 4 sets of twins. All are living except one which was stillborn. One cow has twins every year and is accustomed to two babies. We bring her to the barn to calve each year in case she has a problem. The other cows were unexpected but took both calves with no problem. We always say it can be a blessing if all goes well but a curse if it doesn't

Anonymous (not verified)
on Mar 27, 2014

I have had several cows that have had twins and have had good luck saving them. The only drawback to cows giving multiple births is that they don't have good longevity in the herd.

NE Sandhills (not verified)
on Apr 14, 2014

Why do they not stay in the herd?
We have many sets of twins every year and usually keep those cows around for a good long time.

BabyKitty (not verified)
on Mar 27, 2014

This year we have had one set of twins so far. We didn't see her when she calved and were puzzled that both belonged to her because the bull calf was so much bigger than the heifer calf. In the past twins have been basically the same size no matter what the sex. She has plenty of milk and was mothering both of them and no other cows had had calves so they were her babies. We have her where she can get plenty of feed so she will continue to make a lot of milk.

David Lee Schneider (not verified)
on Mar 30, 2014

In my 17+ years of beef cattle farming, I have never even once had a set of multiple births. Not even a twin. I wonder if I am the lucky one?

Anonymous (not verified)
on Mar 31, 2014

Twins, call me crazy, bring them on. We never frown on a live calf. Yes, more work and feed. Seems we always have a cow to graft and if she has enough milk we put her on our best pasture and let her raise them, if not we just add them to the "to do list" it does get old feeding three times a day. But a $2.00 plus 5 weight is a good pay day on today's market. I started keeping records on twins in 2009 to present. 1200 cows: 2009, 15 hd. 2010,11hd. 2011, 25 hd. 2012, 7hd. 2013, 16 hd. 2014 so far 9hd. That's 83 hd of which 68 hd lived and where sold with our other calves. Seven of those cows had twins before usually two years between.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Apr 11, 2014

I did an single embryo transfer about 3 years ago. I had it done by vet and he checked said you only have one embryo left do you want it implanted I said sure. So calving season roles around, I am on the road. the family that calves out my embryos said we have good news and we have bad news. I said give me the bad news. Well the recip calved a heifer and she died. I said, Oh, okay. What's good news. She had two more. A single embryo transfer split into triplet heifer calves that were mirrored in markings. when lined up side by side. They were all heifers and grew out great and did well. Never had anything like that before. The gentleman who was doing the calving said, I felt bad because we lost that one. He was getting ready to leave the barn and saw feet. He siad OH well Twins! great. The cow delivered second calf and he got ready to leave and saw ANOTHER pair of feet. He said wait triplets. So we called embryo center verified single embryo transfer. All heifers delivered unassisted and about 65#'s a piece.

NE Sandhills (not verified)
on Apr 14, 2014

We had a cow that we sold last year as a 11 yr old. She had 16 calves in her life. 5 sets of twins, 1 set of triplets and 3 single births. All lived and several entered our herd. None have had twins yet, and her mother never produced twins. She raised most of them herself, but we did use some of them as replacements for lost calves.

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BEEF Daily Blog is produced by rancher Amanda Radke, one of the U.S. beef industry’s top social media “agvocates.”


Amanda Radke

Amanda Radke is a fifth generation rancher from Mitchell, S.D., who has dedicated her career to serving as a voice for the nation’s beef producers. A 2009 graduate of South Dakota State...

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