The ‘T’ word… Marmite to Mother Nature. Either prompting catastrophe or elation, depending on the day.
With sheep, you usually want every ewe to have two lambs; it’s the holy grail. But when it comes to cows, with their four teats as opposed to sheep’s two, they are a lot less welcomed.
I’m not entirely sure why sheep cope so much better with a set of twins. Maybe it’s that lambs are a fraction of the size, with much shorter legs, so less chance of tangling together while in the womb… Whatever the reason, we’d much rather our cows have one calf each- but some don’t get that memo!
We don’t scan our cows early enough in the pregnancy to be able to distinguish how many calves each is carrying. Each calving is always a lucky dip with how many will appear.
We usually average one set a year, but we’re only two weeks in, with just 11 cows calved, and there’s already been 3 sets…
One of those is Gertrude’s, a fairly large, Lincoln Red cow, who never stops talking. With her third set in as many years, she’s making sure she’ll be ingrained in our memories for years to come.
We think these may have surprised her a bit with their speedy arrival- she didn’t bag up very much, but is coming into her milk now, and twins usually are a bit early.
On the morning they were born, we awoke to find one running around, causing havoc. Zig-zagging amongst all the other pregnant cows, who were trying to have their breakfast in peace.
Meanwhile, Gertrude was frantically trying to get said Duracell Bunny to return to its sister, who had obviously been a bit forgotten about amongst all the commotion, and was in need of a bit of help to get her fill of colostrum.
Once twin number 2 was fed, thanks to a bit of human encouragement (in the form of my dad), they both set off exploring in opposite directions, re-energised and raring to go… Poor Gertrude looked very relieved when he returned to take them to an individual pen.
She’s now been added to the group yard and is looking a little frazzled trying to keep track of them. The other cows look equally frazzled, as she’s a Foghorn mother, through and through…
There’s no peace when Gertrude’s in the vicinity!
Whereas Gertrude’s were suspected, due to her history, seeing Splodge’s (another large Lincoln, but a quiet, mild mannered one) curled up amongst the straw one morning, took us by surprise.
In fact, we at first thought they were two singles, as one was laid with a different cow. She was obviously the designated babysitter. While the other was bouncing around, trying to engage a 10-month-old calf (who is yet to be weaned) in a play fight, with Splodge hot on its tail.
The older calf, eventually, gave in, but was a bit too rough for the 20kg new-born, and ended up knocking it over, therefore, ending the game…
Wondering how long ago they had been born, we rewound the cameras. We watched in awe as, just a couple of hours earlier, Splodge, stood talking to the first who was taking its initial, Bambi-like steps, just dropped the second into the straw behind her, with seemingly no effort. Incredible!
Up and running from the word go, they will also be joining the group yard very soon- I wonder if they’ll join forces with Gertrude’s to cause quadruple mayhem.
A cow carrying twins is much more at risk of losing them before or during calving, having problems with malpresentations, needing assistance to calve, and retaining the placenta. None of which you want.
But, when it runs smoothly, and she’s got enough milk to feed them both, a pair of peas-in-a-pod is a truly wonderful sight to see. Plus, having a set each calving season, means there’s always one to use as a foster calf, if another cow loses hers.
Unfortunately, when Mother Nature strikes, a double loss is twice as hard to come to terms with, despite knowing the statistics.
That was how our 2020 calving season began- a set of surprise, stillborn, twins.
Spotting the first cow of the year going into labour is such an exciting occasion. But finding the first dead (after coming tail first, so survival would’ve been a miracle), realising there’s a second coming and grasping at the thread of hope of salvaging one life out of the two, only to find that stillborn too, is a bit of an emotional rollercoaster.
Thankfully, we were able to get the cow, Essie, to take a foster calf from a local dairy herd (who we’ve named Bluebell, due to her British Blue cross sire). Meaning there’s somewhere for her ample milk to go, and we’ll be able to keep her, to calve again next year.
The adoption process was a bit of a messy affair. It quickly became clear that Essie was going to take some convincing that her twins had turned black and white and aged 2 weeks… and so, Bluebell had to swap her quilted, calf coat for the skin of one of the stillborn calves.
Skinning a calf is a truly horrible job to do. But one which can mean the difference between keeping the cow and calf separate, distracting or tying the cow up for each feeding, so she can’t hurt the new calf, and the cow believing instantly the calf belongs to her, as the skin carries the smell her maternal hormones are tuned into.
All’s well that ends well
Project Fur Coat was a success, and within less than 48 hours, Essie was suitably convinced and Bluebell could have her cosy coat back, much to her delight. They are now inseparable (as you’ll have seen if you follow me on any social media), which is a welcomed reminder, joy can flourish from the darkest of places.
We are still keeping a close eye on Essie though. She retained the placenta, and although it looks (and smells) like she’s now passed it, she’s yet to show any signs of cycling.
We’re keeping our fingers crossed the ordeal of pushing the equivalent of a sideways rugby ball out, unaided, hasn’t left any lasting damage.
The losses stay with you, and the fear they might be repeated, but the two pairs of healthy, firecrackers give us hope for any others which may be on their way.
Not that we’re angling for any others!