Genome Alberta

Livestock Blog

A companion site to Genome Alberta's
Bovine Genome Sequencing Project
February 28, 2013 1:45 PM

Calf Twinning from Double Trouble to Doubled Profits

Filed Under: Pam Baker

Beef producers have historically not been fond of twin births. This seems counterintuitive to some who would think the bonus calf a good thing. But there are reasons twin births give pause to a farmer ranging from high failed pregnancy rates to heifers born infertile. Despite these problems, Brian Kirkpatrick, UW-Madison professor of animal science, says his genetic research into the management of twinning will turn the tide from double trouble to doubled profits.

For a complete view of the problems twin calves present, take a look at the video below produced by Oklahoma State University.

Kirkpatrick has been dreaming of all the cows in any herd giving birth to twins for some 20 years – ever since he was a kid growing up on a farm in eastern Iowa. He went into research with that goal in mind and a clear, farm-bred understanding of the problems associated with twins.

He is working on not only identifying the gene that has the biggest effect on ovulation rate, but also on how to genetically capture efficiencies in multiple birthing. He is patiently sorting out the genes associated with positive economic outcomes for twinning such as identifying cows that can maintain twins throughout a normal pregnancy and labor, and calves with high survivability and positive market traits.

His work has thus far taken over two decades and will require still more time before it reaches fruition.  

“My hope is that in another ten years we’ll have some basic information about genetics that relate to success in carrying twins to term so that, for the beef cattle industry, the twinning would not be viewed as a negative but as something that would be a positive and that, perhaps we would have more uptake of twinning,” Kirkpatrick said in an interview with The College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, University of Wisconsin-Madison News.

And, he admits he’ll have to overcome current attitudes to see the results of his work adopted once he has finished. Most beef farmers today are skeptical that twinning will ever be truly profitable.

“There are some people right now in the beef cattle industry who are trying to use twinning in beef cattle production but they’re a definite minority,” he added in that interview. You can hear the entire interview on a university podcast here.

But for some, Kirkpatrick’s promising work is yet another advance towards feeding a burgeoning human population in an efficient way and quickly increase profits for beef producers too. What farmer wouldn’t want to double his birthing rate every season especially if you can do it without doubling your troubles?  

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