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Triplet calves come as a surprise on DL farm

A cow on a Detroit Lakes farm gave birth to triplet calves. Triplet calves are a 1 in 100,000 occurrence.

In a 100,000-to-1 occurrence, a cow on Gilbertson Farms about six miles north of Detroit Lakes has given birth to triplets.

Twins are relatively common in beef cattle, but triplets are quite rare: The Iowa Beef Center at Iowa State University in Ames put the odds at 1 in 105,000.

Greg Gilbertson and his son Brent keep more than 70 breeding cows and four bulls on their farm off Becker County Road 149 in northwest Minnesota.

Don't look for cutesy names at the Gilbertson farm: "We gave up on that a long time ago," Gilbertson said with a laugh. So the triplets aren't named Larry, Moe and Curley or Snap, Crackle, Pop. They are numbers Seven, Eight and Nine, in order of their birth.

The triplets weighed about 45 pounds each at birth.

Their mother, an eight-year-old red angus, is No. 35.

"Luckily, she's about the tamest cow we've got," Greg Gilbertson said. The mild-mannered mom is taking good care of her new calves — two heifers and one bull. All are in good health, he said.

Some cows have trouble bonding with the second twin, which gets neglected, but Number 35 is a good mom to all three calves.

"She recognizes them all, she knows they're all hers, and she takes care of them all," he said.

In a week or two, mom and the triplets will be turned out to pasture with the rest of the herd. "Maybe they'll steal some milk from the other ones," he said.

Until then, mom and her triplets are being pampered, staying in the barn while mom enjoys an unheard-of four servings a day of grain, along with the grasses she normally gets.

"She'll keep them alive, but they won't get real big," he said. They might weigh 400 pounds instead of 500 or 600 pounds when sold in early May, but "that's still $3,000 worth of cows there," he said of the triplets.

Gilbertson said he has been raising cows on the farm for 32 years. He got out of dairy and into beef cows (and got an off-farm construction job) in 1997.

"This is the first time we've ever had triplets," he said.

Born on Aug. 23, the threesome came as a surprise to everyone. The first one was born about 8 a.m., and that seemed to be it. The cow and her calf were doing fine.

Ten hours later, about 6 p.m. Gilbertson got a call from Brent, who had just come home and was at the farm. "He said, 'she's having another one,'" and 15 minutes later Brent called again. "You're not going to believe this," he told his father. "There's another one."

Cow No. 35 didn't need help with any of the deliveries. "They all popped right out," Gilbertson said. That's often the case with beef cows, he said.

Calves are able to get up and move within hours of birth, and the triplets on Tuesday easily stayed with their mother as she moved around the large pen, although they occasionally broke out in a joyfully awkward run in a half circle back to mom.

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