A 5-year-old Holstein cow in Clinton County performed a rare feat Thanksgiving Day: she gave birth to triplets, weighing a total of 177 pounds. Even rarer is that they are all heifers (that is, female). And all three survived.
The calves are thriving. Annie, weighed in at 55 pounds, Aggie at 58 pounds and Addie at 64. The usual weight is 80 to 100 pounds for newborn Holsteins, but the trio are doing well, said Tim Berry, one of the owners of Berlyn Acres in Fowler where the calves were born.
Because heifers are more important than bulls in dairy farming he called the births good luck.
Berry found several references on the internet to an astonishing 1 in 8 million births. He called the Lansing State Journal the day after Thanksgiving and the call landed on my desk. A one in 8 million occurrence in my back yard? Yeah, of course, that’s news. I don’t need a journalism degree to sniff that one out.
But a journalism degree came in handy in what came next. The 1 in 8 million were references in blogs, far-flung stories and photo captions on websites lacking exact citations of the source of the numbers.
I wanted some solid numbers. Naturally, I turned to Michigan State University. It isn’t called Moo U for nothing. With people traveling over the holiday, however, calls were slow to be returned.
In the meantime, Berry reached out to Corey Geiger, editor of the Wisconsin-based Hoard’s Dairyman magazine. Geiger initially said the 1 in 8 million sounded right to him but later scaled it back.
“Triplets are very rare, let’s just start with that,” he said.
One of the numbers commonly used in figuring the odds is triplets are born once in every 105,000 births. According to a 2006 news release from Haskell County Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service, the 1/105,000 odds are from a 1920 Journal of Dairy Science report. And it refers to beef cattle, not dairy cattle.
I was feeling a tad frustrated at the lack of clarity and wondering why the 1 in 8 million is so often cited for Holsteins, a dairy cow.
Finally, I got lucky. I called J. Richard Pursley at MSU. He’s a professor of reproductive management of dairy cattle.
He answered his phone and immediately agreed to do some digging. He agreed that 1 in 8 million is suspect insofar as a figure based on a 1920 report is too old and beef cattle are very different from dairy cattle when it comes to multiple births, with triplets a much rarer occurrence among beef cattle.
A few hours later, here’s what Pursley found:
- A Poland study published last year looked at 145,000 dairy cows and found the rate of triplets at 1 in 10,000.
- The odds of all heifers are 1 in 8 (eight possible combos including all female.)
- Survival for all triplets is 80%. That’s 4 in 5 or 1 in 1.25.
That puts it more in the range of 1 out of every 100,000.
Ted Ferris, another dairy professor at MSU, found a 2005 report from the University of Illinois that pegged all heifer triplets among dairy cows as rare as 1 in 40,000 to 400,000.
So 1 out of 40,000, 100,000 or 400,000, according to our local experts. It’s not 1 in 8 million but still pretty rare.
Debbie Feldpausch of Sonrise Farm in nearby Westphalia is raising the trio of calves for Berlyn Farms. Her daughters named the triplets, who usually are identified just by numbers tagged on their ears.
“They’re very healthy. I did not expect them to do this well,” she said.
Here’s what’s even more amazing. In his 39 years of dairy farming, Berry said he’s had triplets born twice before. And they were all male.
What are the odds of three sets in a farmer’s career? I’ll leave that to someone else to figure out.
Source: Lansing State Journal