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. All six babies are strong, healthy and growing.
It was a more like many others when Delbert Ross, rural Haviland, 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 number 22, that is. Ross could see her way out on the east end of the pasture, all buy herself, and 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 number 22, licking and mothering not one (typical), not two (not unusual, but not expected), but three healthy baby calves (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 still-born, 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 farm-yard. Momma cow number 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 be face with the decision on whether or not 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."
Cow number 22 is from Angus breeding, a large black, deep-bodied female, a productive member of the Ross herd through the years. Sire of the triplets was one of three registered Hereford bulls used to service the 70-head cow herd, producing some black white-faced calves and some red 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."
Ross said he would likely keep a close eye on the triplets and begin bottle-feeding, and if needed pull one or two off to hand raise.
"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 mid-March at the home of Mike and Sarah Jackson.
"It was a very big surprise here," said Bill Jackson, father of Mike Jackson cow-herd owner. "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!"
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."
The Jacksons raise purebred Simmental cattle that their three daughters (ages 7, 10 and 13) show as 4-H projects. They were all 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," 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, grey in color like their mother. All three are healthy and growing well, raised by the momma cow and supplemented with bottles provided by the three girls of the family.
"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 Friday that 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.