Why Triplet Calves are so Special

Multiple births in cows can have some disadvantages: they can lead to complications, it can be harder for the dam to go back in calf again and if the calves are of mixed gender, it is highly likely that the female is a freemartin which means she is infertile. This happens because the testosterone from the male calf in the womb renders the female infertile. It’s not always the case and we have had a mixed sex female twin heifer go onto ovulate, get pregnant and have many calves but that is rare enough.

A dairy heifer calf is worth more money than mixed twins but there’s something very special about twin calves, no matter what the sex. Twin heifers are a bonus and we had two sets last year and one set this year. We usually get about five sets of twins from 140 births so they aren’t that common. Triplets are rare in bovines. We had one set before, back in 2012, and they were the first ever set on this farm.

We haven’t scanned the cows the last couple of years, just about ten or so that we aren’t 100% if pregnant or not. This means that we’re on the lookout for any cows that might be showing signs of losing condition in the latter stages of pregnancy and could need better care, or for cows looking extra heavy.

Triplets

Garrendenny HZS Lilac was showing signs that she could be carrying twins so she was let into the maternity shed earlier than normal to give her the comfort of a straw bed and less company. This was her sixth pregnancy and she had twins as a heifer at two years of age. She delivered the first calf herself and it was a bull calf. We knew then that the next calf, if female, was likely to be infertile. If the first one is female, we’re crossing our fingers the second will be female too, atlhough of course, as long as it is alive and healthy is the main thing but two heifers are a huge bonus. She needed a little assistance to deliver the second, a heifer. A couple of minutes later, Brian noticed her give another contraction and wondered. He checked her again and there was a third calf in there, very low down in her belly and definitely needed a helping hand to come into the world: another heifer.

The first born was bawling for milk already. It frequently happens that calves of multiple births are quite hungry when born. As luck had it, we had colostrum left over from a couple of newly calved cows that morning so I ran to warm it up. There were ten litres and they drank it all between them, feeding them with a bottle. We then left Lilac with them, busy licking them, moving from one to the other.

Triplet Calves

When we went back to them six hours later, to remove the calves to the calf shed and to bring Lilac to the milking parlour to rejoin her comrades, each of the calves was lying in a different corner of the shed and Lilac was lying down in the middle of them, as proud as punch. As I removed each one, she didn’t turn a hair but stayed lying down, looking at me as if to say ‘thanks, love, they’re lovely but a  lot of hard work, good luck to you’.

Lilac gave 1690 gallons last year at 3.99% fat and 3.86% protein over 296 days. Her EBI score is 182. The triplet’s sire is FR2460.

Triplet calves

What will happen to the triplets? We’ll know May/June 2019 if the heifers are ovulating or not. If they do ovulate, they will be examined by the AI technican to see if it’s possible for them to be impregnated. If they are infertile, they will be finished as beef heifers. An AI company has requested a hair sample of the bull calf, this will provide an genomic proof and if good enough, and if lucky, he will be purchased by an AI company so we’ll have to wait a while until we get the results.

All  three are doing well. They were left in a small pen on their own for a while and then moved to a larger pen of ten calves but all the other calves are of similar (small) size, there’s a set of twins in there too.

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