Doubling up on triplets — of the same gender

With calving about half done, the Dycks have had six sets of twins plus a set of triplets so far this year

Triplet calves are relatively uncommon but triplets that are all the same gender are even rarer. Corney and Linda Dyck had their first set of same-gender triplets — all heifers — in 2000 and snapped a picture with their then four-year-old daughter Janelle. On March 5 the Dycks have another set of triplets — all of them bulls.

Corney and Linda Dyck had their first triplet calves in 2000.

That’s uncommon enough, but the triplets were all heifers, making the event even rarer.

On March 5, 15 years later, the Dycks had another set of triplets — this time all bulls.

The mother of this year’s triplets is 13 years old and has delivered 15 calves, Corney said March 18 as he and his daughter Janelle rounded up the calves for a photo shoot. The first time this cow calved she had twins, followed by single calves, culminating with triplets this year.

The Dycks have 80 to 90 cows. With about half the herd calved so far they’ve had six sets of twins, the triplets, plus singles.

Corney (l) and Janelle help the mother cow out with some supplemental bottle feeding.
Corney (l) and Janelle help the mother cow out with some supplemental bottle feeding. photo: Allan Dawson

So, how rare are triplet calves? Google it and you’ll get anywhere from one in 400,000 to one in 700,000 births — which is not far off the one in a million chance of being struck by lightning. But Dr. Wayne Tomlinson, an extension veterinarian with Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives, says Google is off. While rare, triplet calves are not “super rare,” he said.

It varies a lot between breeds. The odds of multiple births are higher in Simmentals and Charolais than in Hereford and Angus in the beef breeds and more common in Brown Swiss than Holstein among dairy breeds, Dr. Tomlinson said.

A 1970s study found Brown Swiss cows twin 10 per cent of the time compared to Holsteins at four or five per cent, he added.

“I know there’s an old study from 1920 and the incidence (of triplets) in beef cattle was one in 100,000,” Dr. Tomlinson said. “I would suspect we’ve made some advances in genetics over the years. We’re selecting constantly for fertility. I would suspect it would be down to one out of 50,000 or one out 40,000.”

Most twin and triplet calves are due to the fertilization of two or three eggs as opposed to splitting embryos, Dr. Tomlinson said. That’s why same-gender triplets are rare — there’s a 50-50 chance each calf will be either male or female.

When the Dycks’ first triplets arrived in 2000 they snapped a picture of them with Janelle, who was just four years old. Now 18, it only seemed appropriate she pose with the latest triplets.

Janelle, who is a health-care aide in nearby MacGregor, plans to become a licensed practical nurse, but she’s interested in farming too.

About the author

Reporter

Allan Dawson

Allan Dawson is a reporter with the Manitoba Co-operator based near Miami, Man. Covering agriculture since 1980, Dawson has spent most of his career with the Co-operator except for several years with Farmers’ Independent Weekly and before that a Morden-Winkler area radio station.

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