In a year that has produced several sets of twins on local beef farms, Delbert Ross near Haviland and Bill Jackson near Preston are the only ones who can boast of owning cows that had triplets this spring.
It was a morning like many others when Ross stepped outside his door Thursday to go check cattle.
Birds were singing, there was a bit of moisture in the grass from overnight precipitation, and the cows came running for their 20 percent protein cubes that Ross tossed into the long tube feeders in the gated corral. They all came running except No. 22. Ross could see her way out on the east end of the pasture, all by herself.
He knew something was up.
“I knew she was close to calving because she was really big and had been moving slow for a few weeks already,” Ross said. “But I didn’t know she was carrying three!“
That’s right. When Ross got out to the far end of the pasture, located on the line dividing Pratt and Kiowa counties, there was cow No. 22, licking and mothering not one, which would be typical; not two – not unusual, but not expected; but three healthy baby calves, which, he said, is highly unusual.
“I’ve been in this business all my life, but it’s been at least 25 years since I’ve seen triplets, and that set had one stillborn, so this is pretty special,” he said.
Ross and his brother, Gary Ross, took a truck and trailer out to the pasture and caught two of the three calves to take them to the protected corral near the farmyard.
No. 22 and the third of her babies ran all the way in, reuniting with the other two in the corral pen.
“She is doing a good job taking care of them so far,” Ross said. “Mothering instinct is good and they are all strong. Looks like they’ve all had some colostrum so far.“
Typical beef cows do not raise multiple calves successfully, so soon Ross will have to decide whether to pull one or two of the calves to raise by bottle.
“We will just have to see how it goes,” he said. “She’s an older cow, more settled, with a good milk supply. She might do all right.“
No. 22 is from Angus breeding, a large black, deep-bodied female, a productive member of the Ross herd through the years. The sire of the triplets was one of three registered Hereford bulls used to service the 70-head cowherd, producing some black-and-white- and some red-and-white-faced calves.
“We’ve always used this cross,” Ross said. “It’s what my dad always did, said it provided some hybrid vigor. I guess he was right.“
Ross said that several other cows in his herd this year had multiple births – twins, not triplets.
“I haven’t fed them anything different this year,” he said. “They’ve just been on grass and the protein cubes. I don’t know why this year has been so fertile.”
“It’s a neat deal to have triplets, but it will mean more work,” he said.
Interestingly enough, on the other end of Pratt County, near Preston, another farm family was becoming well-versed in the extra work of triplet calf care, with a set born in mid-March at the home of Mike and Sarah Jackson.
“It was a very big surprise here,” said Bill Jackson, father of Mike Jackson. “We only have eight to 10 cows here, and we AI’d (artificially inseminated) two cows that were half-sisters on the same night. They both had calves on the same day. One had twins, the other triplets.“
Bill Jackson said in all his 70-plus years of living and raising cattle he had never before seen a set of live triplets.
“I’ve seen pictures and heard stories,” he said. “But, boy, was this a surprise.”
Mike and Sarah Jackson raise purebred Simmental cattle that their three daughters – ages 7, 10 and 13 – show as 4-H projects. The girls were on hand for the special triplet delivery a few weeks ago.
“The cow had the first one on her own, but we could tell she was having trouble,” Bill Jackson said. “We had to pull the second one, and when we got that one out, my granddaughter said, ‘You better check; she might have another one,’ and sure enough, she did.”
All three Simmental calves were heifers, gray in color like their mother. All three are healthy and growing well, raised by the mother cow and supplemented with bottles by the three girls.
“You don’t have to ask them to do chores in the morning,” Jackson said. “They are up and ready to go at 6 a.m., bottles in hand. They go out to the pasture and call, and those calves come running.“
Jackson said he was glad calving season was over for the year.
“There has been so much excitement around here, I just can’t take any more,” he said.
The Jackson family is looking to enlarge their space and cattle herd, so there is a good chance the triplet heifers might stick around.
“If those girls feeding them have anything to say about it, they probably will stay,” Jackson said. “That decision is out of my hands.“
The three calves are identical in appearance, suggesting a genetic cause of the multiple births from the maternal side.
Lori Montgomery, Pratt Community College agriculture instructor, said multiple births in cattle are often the result of genetic influence.
“It comes and goes,” she said. “It’s hard to predict when it will happen, but it is pretty rare to have live, healthy triplets.”
Perhaps this is just a special spring calving season in Pratt County, with two known sets of triplet calves born alive and healthy.