Twinning offers a quantum leap in beef cow returns
Here at Cavendish we have been successfully operating a twinning herd of cows for 10 years since we started importing twinner genetics from the US Meat Animal Research Center in Nebraska. We have gradually upgraded our herd to these genetics. Over this period, cows with twinner blood have had an average twinning rate of 35%. Probably our best cow, one of the early embryos that we imported, has conceived 6 sets of multiples from 10 matings.
Twinning is relatively unusual in the usual beef breeds with 1 to 3% being the normal range people think about. Partly because of this, and because it is rare and people remember and perhaps exaggerate any problems, most breeders have not considered it to be a trait worth improving. This is perhaps reminiscent of a portion of the sheep industry many years ago . At the US Meat Animal Research Center, they put a lot of resources into selecting for twinning in a composite line of cattle and succeeded in increasing the twinning rate by about 3% per year. They also showed that this line of cattle had very satisfactory growth and carcass traits. Based on both the US experience and ours here at Cavendish twins are not runts, we expect a twin born calf to weigh about 80% of the weight of a single at weaning. These twins continue to grow and by 15 -18 months of age they are very similar to their single born mates.
In 2015 we did our normal early ultrasound pregnancy test to count the number of foetuses and from 77 older cows we had at least 47% successful twin pregnancies and from 21 heifers, we also had 47% twins. These cows are due to calve over the next few months.
We recently sold our weaner steers, some weaner freemartin heifers and some surplus weaner heifers for breeding in the local markets. The single steers made just over $1000, while the twin steers just over $800 and the females we sold made $680. This means that on a per cow basis, a cow with a single returned about $870 while a cow with twins returned $1450. This means a 66% increase in returns for a modest amount of extra effort, surely something worth thinking about!