Yesterday I had a sad moment of depression. One of my girls had twins. A bull (male) and a heifer (female). This is no good.
For the past week my girl, Boom, has been looking completely miserable. She’s very pregnant and very uncomfortable. Boom is a red and white Holstein, they are the same as a black and white Holstein, except where the black would normally be they have red coloring. Red is a recessive trait, meaning either both parents have to be red OR carrying the red gene and you get lucky. This time Boom was bred to a black bull who does not carry the red gene so we know the calf will be black.
Boom’s a girl with a good pedigree, for those of you who follow my blog and know registered cows she is the 8th generation scored very good or excellent in her family. She herself went Very Good 85 with a Very Good mammary system 2 weeks after turning 3. She’s can be a pretty lady when all cleaned up! We had her bred to one of the top “type” bulls in the breed currently. Type in this case refers to conformation and appearance.
So as you can see I had fingers, toes and everything else crossed for a heifer. I got one. The problem is she had a brother joining her. This was completely not what I was anticipating. Normally cows carrying twins calve a week or so early. Boom calved a day early. The first calf was pretty good sized, then so was the second… Where’s the problem?
When a heifer calf is born twin to a bull calf she stands 90-95% chance of being infertile. Cows are the only specie that does this to my knowledge. I did find with a little research that very, very rarely a goat or sheep will be a freemartin, but the chances are slim to none.
We will do a blood test on the heifer to determine if she is one of the lucky few to be born fertile. Time to get all scientific now, brace yourself! When a cow has twins they generally share the placenta. When this happens the two calves exchange genetic material at a cellular level. Bad for the heifer. If the heifer is a freemartin, the test will actually show that she is in fact carrying a XX/XY chromosome. Thus she appears female, but is in fact hormonally more male making her infertile. Some freemartins actually have deformed genitals or are missing internal female reproductive organs. Our little girl looks ok on an external exam.
So next Monday when we have our monthly herd health check up we will draw blood on this little girl to have her checked. It is a simple and fairly cheap test ($30). If she is checked ok we will sing many thanks. It does happen. We are currently milking a 4-year-old who entered this world with a brother in tow. If her test results don’t come back good she will be sold as a future beef animal. Where she will be fed out just as if she had been a bull calf.
On a positive note, the bull calf has been privately sold to someone who raises breeding bulls to sell to other farmers.
Twins can also be hard on the cow herself. Twins can wear a cow down and make her more susceptible to “fresh cow” problems. These include: retained placenta, where the placenta remains attached to the uterine lining; uterus infection, generally coming from the retained placenta not coming out and extra fluid in the uterus; milk fever which is a calcium deficiency that makes it so the cow has a hard time standing or walking; ketosis can set in when the cow goes off feed and started metabolizing too much body weight to make milk instead of energy from food. This is no good for her liver; a displaced abomasum, where 2 chambers of the stomach twist around each other thus cutting off digestion. As you can see Boom can also have a potentially long road ahead of her.
Some days you win, some days you lose.