On March 29, Clay County rancher Richard Lloyd and his partner Clayton Ohlde got a big surprise. Triplet calves were born to one of the ranch’s crossbred Red Angus heifers and all are alive and healthy. Lloyd has been in the cattle business for over 25 years and has never seen this happen before. The ranch typically calves out 150 cows and 150 heifers a year, marketing the heifers as pairs later on in the spring. Lloyd has seen twins normally once a year out of those 300 cows/heifers, but never triplets.
The calves weighed an average of 45 pounds at 6 days of age, but Lloyd figures they were closer to 35 pounds when they were born. Ohlde had to assist the heifer with the third calf, which was born backward, and gave all the calves extra colostrum to make sure they had a good start. The calves are all heifers and look very similar, but are not identical. Lloyd plans to let the heifer raise the calves for now and keep a close eye on them. So far she has shown great mothering ability in accepting all three calves, whereas many times a cow will reject a calf when there are multiple births.
Twinning in beef cows is estimated to happen between 0.5 percent and 4 percent of the time, depending on the breed. No estimates for instances of triplets have been researched and published. Producers typically think of multiple births in beef cattle to be a bad thing because of the increased risk of abortions, complications at birth, lighter birth weights, calf abandonment, retained placenta, and other problems. However, some herds are breeding for the characteristic. The Meat Animal Research Center in Clay Center, Neb., has been operating a “twinning” herd since 1981. A Journal of Animal Science publication in 2002 showed the herd had increased the twinning rate from 3.1 percent to 50 to 55 percent per year by selective breeding for the characteristic. Total weaning weight per cow increased 48.1 percent for twins and 66.8 percent for triplets. Even with increased complications, twinning increased cow productivity by 28.3 percent per cow exposed at breeding. Other commercial producers have become successful at operating twinning herds, but in general twinning is still considered by most beef producers as an undesirable occurrence because of the increased risk of complications.
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