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Multiple births in cattle are rare, and not always desirable.

Multiple births are a standard in most of the small livestock breeds. Wouldn't it be great to develop a cattle herd with a consistent live birth rate over 100 percent! Two for the price of one! Unfortunately, this concept runs into two problems: the low rate of multiple births and freemartins.

As with humans, the incidence of twinning in large livestock is relatively rare, even if one or more of the parents were twins themselves. In beef cattle, twins are born in about one out of 200 births while in dairy breeds twinning occurs in about one out of 50 births. Triplets or quads are very, very rare in beef breeds and rare in dairy breeds.

Statistically, one would expect twins to be 25 percent both females, 50 percent a male and female and 25 percent both males. About 94 percent of female calves born twin to male calves are sterile and are called "freemartins." Outwardly female in appearance, the reproductive system is severely underdeveloped. While still not fully understood, the most common explanation is the two embryos shared a common circulation system. Since the male testes develop earlier than female ovaries, male hormones suppress development of the female's reproductive system. The male calf does not seem to be affected.

Since a freemartin is outwardly female, about the only accurate way to determine this status when purchasing calves is an examination by a vet. In older female calves, the vulva will commonly be much smaller than a normal calf.

Due to freemartins, the practice of purchasing or retaining the female half of twins for breeding purposes should be avoided.
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Author:Scharabok, Ken
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:Mar 1, 1993
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