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Two years, two sets of triplets for Palisade cow PDF Print E-mail
Written by Wauneta Breeze   
Thursday, 10 March 2011 19:42

By Tina Kitt

The Wauneta Breeze

Nobody can claim that Dean and Jo Howard’s “413 Black” doesn’t earn her keep.

In the past two years the 7-year-old Angus-cross cow has produced five live calves, bearing two sets of triplets in two consecutive years on the Howard ranch headquartered northwest of Palisade.

Last year only two of the three calves emerged into the world alive, with both of those calves thriving along with the rest of the Howards’ 250-head 2010 calf crop.

This year all three of 413’s calves were born live and are growing vigorously.

Dean and Jo Howard are bottle feeding two of triplets to ensure they get enough nourishment. The novelty of their status as triplets has the calves visited often by family, neighbors and kids from the community. (Tina Kitt | The Wauneta Breeze)


The calves — two bulls and one heifer — each weighed around 50 pounds when they were born March 1. They were sired by a Gelbvieh-Angus cross Balancer bull.

As the mother of live triplets, 413 joins an elite class, with beef cows producing triplets in only one of 107,000 pregnancies, according to information made available by the University of Nebraska.

For a cow to have triplets two years in a row is indeed “very unusual,” noted Dave Smith at Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture in Curtis.

But cows producing multiple births on multiple occasions is not without precedent. In 2006, for example, a Charolais-mix cow in Arkansas gave birth to her fourth set of triplets in nine years.

In a 500-cow herd, triplets are born on average every 214 years, according to published reports.

The Howards’ 413 Black, at left, gave birth to the triplets without any problem last week and nurtured all three. She is now just tending to just one calf after being turned out with the other cows, with the Howards bottle feeding the other two small calves. (Courtesy Photo | Tim Davis)


Last year was the first in a lifetime of ranching that Dean saw triplets. He didn’t have to wait 214 years to mark his second batch, with all three of this year’s triplets up and going strong from day one.

This is the first time the Howards’ veterinarian Steve Pollmann has had a client with triplet calves. He said he doesn’t anticipate any developmental problems with the calves, but noted that the heifer calf will likely be sterile due to developing in-utero alongside the bull calves.

Last week when the triplets arrived Dean was in McCook getting new glasses. His son-in-law, Tim Davis, and Tim’s daughter, Kayla, were at the ranch checking cattle for him. Hopping on the four-wheeler, Kayla took a ride across the corn field where the older cows were calving.

“Tim got a call from Kayla telling him there was a cow with three calves,” explained Dean. Doubting they all belonged to one cow, Tim went to check things out. He looked for a cow, or cows, that might have walked away from her newborns and observed how 413 Black interacted with the three wobbly, bow-legged calves.

As 413 nuzzled and mothered the small calves, Tim assessed their diminutive size, noted some unique traits shared by all three and realized the cow had indeed produced three live calves.

He knew she would have a hard time producing enough colostrum and milk to raise three calves, so he worked to get all four critters into the pens to allow the Howards to provide the calves with supplemental feedings.

But 413 did not want to cooperate.

Tim brought in two of the calves, then went back for 413 and the remaining calf. Once he had her penned up is when the rodeo began. First Dean, and then Tim, were forced to bail over the fence as 413 protectively battled to keep them away from her calf.

“She’s a real good mamma cow, but I’m getting too old to be scrambling over fences,” said Dean.

The family decided it would be best to turn the cow out with one calf to raise and bottle feed the others until they could be matched up with cows whose calves don’t survive.

“We have a lot of calving left ahead of us. We are going to lose some calves.” said Dean, explaining the need for replacement calves waiting on standby.

“Our daughter Mandy named them Wynken, Blynken and Nod. And Nod got the nod to stay with his momma,” said Jo, laughing good-naturedly.

But even bottle feeding brought new challenges for Dean who has been ranching full time since returning home to Palisade from military service in Vietnam.

The little heifer calf kept gagging on the rubber nipple sized for calves and the drenching rod was too big for the little bovine’s tiny throat. So Dean tried a nipple designed for a lamb and met with success.

The Howards keep a close eye on all their cattle during calving season. They have spent over 30 years designing the layout of their pens, wind breaks and buildings to provide optimal protection for the cattle on their place overlooking the Frenchman River Valley.

For the most part, the Howards are finished with their first-calf heifers and are a quarter of the way done overall — with a pretty good percentage to date. Thanks, no doubt, to 413 Black and the extra progeny she contributed to the ratio.