September 10, 2008

While twins are pretty common in dairy herds, triplets are a bit harder to come by - 1 in 250,000 dairy cattle births according to a comprehensive study done in Ireland. The University of Kentucky College of Agriculture's dairy in north Lexington is basking in the glow of the birth of fraternal triplets recently born there.

UK herdsman Joey Clark examined the calves' mother about 60 days after breeding and determined via ultrasound that she was at least carrying twins. He knew then she may need some assistance delivering the calves and asked assistant herdsman Mark Gordon to closely monitor her and watch for any signs of distress.

Affectionately referred to as "127, 128 and unnamed bull calf," the trio surprised workers at the farm, who were impressed with their size and good health.

"Perhaps more unusual (than the fact we have triplets) is that all three are very healthy and expected to survive," said William Silvia, UK dairy professor. "Most twins and triplets are born a bit prematurely. Neonatal survival rate for twins is lower than in calves born as singles. We'd expect the survival rate to be even less for triplets, although data is lacking. It was unusual that the UK triplets were born a few days after their expected delivery date. All three weighed more than 50 pounds at birth, well within the normal range for cross-bred calves."

The proud dam, "X-23," is a cross between a Holstein and a Jersey. She was bred to a Brown Swiss bull via artificial insemination. Silvia said neither Holsteins nor Jersey breeds are predisposed to having multiples. Silvia said "X-23" was not receiving any experimental treatment at the time of conception.

"As near as we can tell, this is simply a very rare event that just happened to occur on the UK farm," he said. "We were fortunate Joey Clark diagnosed there were at least two calves when he confirmed pregnancy. Mark Gordon did an outstanding job of delivering the calves and caring for them."

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