The average cow could theoretically give birth around eight times in their lives, however farmed cows are usually sent for slaughter as soon as their fertility starts to drop after around four or five calves.
In this article, we’ll be looking at cow fertility in detail, and figuring out how many times cows usually give birth, and what factors influence their fertility both in farming and in nature.
How Many Times Can A Cow Give Birth In Her Lifetime?
On average, a cow could expect to give birth around eight to twelve times in their 20 year lifespan, however they are usually culled much sooner than that in farming situations.
According to Compassion in World Farming, the average dairy cow is culled after roughly four birth cycles. (When the cow is around 5 or 6 years old)
In beef herds, it’s more common for the farmer to buy replacement calves, or to keep a small herd aside specifically for breeding.
This is because for optimum beef quality, beef cattle are slaughtered at around 2-3 years old, and for a single beef cow to earn enough from calves to cover the cost of feeding her over her lifetime, she would have to produce six calves.
What Is The Most Times Any Cow Has Given Birth?
The oldest cow on record is Big Bertha, from Co. Kerry in Ireland, who delivered an unbelievable 39 calves in her lifetime.
Big Bertha died in 1993, aged 48 and was a celebrity in the farming world.
Average Number Of Calves Per Cow
Some cows aren’t used for birthing at all, however for the ones that are, the average number of calves is between four and five calves in total over the course of the cow’s lifetime.
In an Irish study on calving rates across different parts of the country, it was found that the average cow had between 4.1 and 4.6 calves during the course of their lives.
How Many Calves Can A Cow Have Per Year?
According to the University of Nebraska – Lincoln, the average gestation (pregnancy) period for a cow is 283 days, and after a cow has given birth there is a period of roughly two months before she can become pregnant again.
As a rough guide, cows can become pregnant roughly once per year.
Usually, a cow will only have one calf per pregnancy, but cows can occasionally have twins.
How Many Years Is A Cow Fertile For?
According to research from the University of Florida, a sharp decline in fertility in cattle is noted at around the 12 year mark, with a more gradual dropoff from around 8 years.
It was also noted that this varies greatly between different cows.
Although the exact age varies from cow to cow, as a rough estimate cows are fertile until between eight and twelve years of age. Cows usually give birth for the first time aged two or three.
What Happens Once A Cow Can’t Give Birth Any More?
Once a cow can no longer give birth due to fertility issues or injury, she is typically sent for slaughter since it’s not economically viable for the farmer to keep her alive.
For dairy cows, not being able to get pregnant means they are not able to produce milk, and for beef cows not being able to give birth means they have no value to the farmer except the value of their meat, which decreases each year.
How Many Calves Can A Cow Have At Once?
Most cows give birth to a single calf per pregnancy, although uncommonly a cow may give birth to twins.
More than two calves in one pregnancy is exceedingly rare, but there have been cases of three, four, and even five calves in a single pregnancy.
In 2020, one lucky cow from New Zealand gave birth to quadruplets in what was described as “More rare than winning lotto”, with odds of only 1 in 11 million.
The crown for multiple birth pregnancies in cows though has to go to farmer Ger Kirby and his seven year old Fresian cow from Limerick in Ireland, who has given birth to quintuplets not once, but twice!
According to the article, the Guinness world record for the largest single cow pregnancy is five live calves (quintuplets).
There is another record held by a cow who gave birth to six calves, however one of them didn’t make it.
How Long Are Cows Pregnant For?
Cows are pregnant for between nine and ten months, with an average gestation period of 283 days.
Can A Cow Give Birth On Their Own?
According to Penn State University, the majority of beef cattle can give birth on their own without any intervention from the farmer, although the farmer is likely to keep a close eye on them anyway to make sure there are no complications.
This is further evidenced by the existence of wild cattle in some parts of the world, who reproduce without human intervention.
If you live in the countryside you’ll probably have seen cows with newborn calves yourself. If you do see a cow giving birth or with a brand new calf, farmers appreciate you giving them a call to let them know.
Cows are fertile for around eight to twelve years, so theoretically a cow could expect to give birth up to around twelve times in their 20 year average lifespan, however in practice they are usually culled long before that and the average farm cow gives birth only four or five times.
Cows typically give birth around four or five times in their lives, before fertility issues or injury means it’s no longer economically viable to keep them alive and they get sent for slaughter.
The oldest cow in the world was called Big Bertha and lived from 1945 all the way until 1993 and produced an amazing 39 calves in her lifetime.
Cows are pregnant for between nine and ten months, and usually give birth to a single calf per pregnancy. Uncommonly, cows may give birth to two calves at once (twins) and very rarely more than that.
The most live calves ever delivered by a single cow pregnancy is five (quintuplets), and there is one particular cow from Limerick in Ireland who has given birth to quintuplets on two separate occasions.
Stuart is the editor of Fauna Facts. He edits our writers’ work as well as contributing his own content. Stuart is passionate about sustainable farming and animal welfare and has written extensively on cows and geese for the site.