Not your regular load of bull: Rare triplets born to cow on Brantford farm

·4 min read
Hans, Carson and Louie, a rare set of triplets, were born in late March at Bow Park Farm near Brantford, Ont.  (Supplied by Bow Park Farm - image credit)
Hans, Carson and Louie, a rare set of triplets, were born in late March at Bow Park Farm near Brantford, Ont. (Supplied by Bow Park Farm - image credit)

The ear tags on three lanky calves loping around the pasture at Bow Park Farm near Brantford, Ont., read 1, 2 and 3.

The numbers offer a hint at what makes the trio special, but don't begin to add up to the odds they faced coming into the world.

A bovine reproduction expert estimates triplets happen in roughly one in 100,000 births. It's so uncommon, there's not a lot of research to quantify it.

Calculate the chances that all three would survive and multiply it by the fact all three are male, and you've got a situation that's hard to believe. But it's no bull. It's three of them.

Gerry Klunder and his wife Elke Hilgendag had no idea what was coming.

They knew Emma, the cow that hit the triple jackpot, was pregnant, but didn't expect her to give birth for another month. There weren't any signs from the outside that she was carrying a statistical anomaly.

The way Klunder tells it, they were both at work back in late March when he got a call from his sons. They had gone down to feed the cows and stumbled across "three little ones that were born and ... laying in the straw."

Hilgendag's family has run Bow Park Farm since 1978. Her father had cows in Germany, and when they moved to the Brantford-area, he started up with Limousin, a French breed of beef cattle.

When he passed away, the couple, who both also work other jobs, decided to take over raising cattle and selling them as breeding stock.

"The cows were his babies, so we just decided we'll try to figure that part out too," said Klunder. "Definitely it's been a hard learning curve for us, but I think we've kind of got it figured out now."

At least until the triplets came along.

WATCH | Here's what it's like to care for a trio of bulls

Klunder said as long as the farm has been in the family, they've never had twins, let alone three calves from one mother.

Limousin cows are known as good mothers and can typically give birth unassisted. It's not unusual for the family to come down to the barn and find a baby, but three hanging around the same cow was odd.

The family figured multiple cows may have been involved and just wandered off while waiting for their "motherly instinct to kick in."

They plucked hair from the tail of each calf, and Emma then sent it off to the Canadian Limousin Association for DNA testing.

"It took about a month and a half, and then they came back with out DNA that they were a set of triplets," said Klunder. "It's crazy."

A nice 'bovine-interest story'

Dr. Stephen Leblanc characterized triplets as "very, very uncommon," but not totally unheard of.

Leblanc is a professor at the Ontario Veterinary College at the University of Guelph and something of a bovine reproduction expert.

"Almost certainly they're not what we would call in people identical twins," he explained. "In other words, there would have been three eggs from the cow fertilized by three different sperm."

Just about every aspect of the bulls' birth is unusual in some way, from them all being the same sex, to surviving, to arriving in a set of three.

"It would probably be somewhere in that range of one in 100,000 births," Leblanc said of the fact they're triplets.

Size of a large dog

"For all those reasons, it's quite exceptional that all of them would be alive and survive."

That Emma was able to deliver all three on her own despite the risk of a "traffic jam in the birth canal" is also "very exceptional," said Leblanc, who described what happened as a "nice human interest, or bovine interest, story."

Each calf currently weighs about 31 kilograms and is roughly the size of a large dog, said Klunder.

Supplied by Bow Park Farm
Supplied by Bow Park Farm

When they were born, one was larger than the other two. The smallest was "the size of a baby deer."

The two smaller bulls had to be bottle fed, adding to the workload on the farm and creating a bit of a problem.

What to do with pet-like bulls

"Now I can't stop them from following me around the field hoping I give them more," said Klunder.

While the family started off just calling the animals by their tags, 1, 2 and 3, they've since named them Hans, Carson and Louie for the bulls on the farm since the couple took it over.

Klunder said at some point they'll have to figure out what to do with triplets. Whatever they decide is going to be difficult.

"They do become almost like pets to a degree, especially these three, because we kind of hand-reared them," he said.

"But we can't keep three bulls as pets because they'll become 2,000-pound animals and their version of play is not the same as what I like."

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