County farm family’s beef herd expands quickly with rare triplets

The Little family — (from left) Cory, Cole, Jennifer and Todd — show off their 7-year-old heifer, “Tessie,” and her triplet calves. A triplet birth is extremely rare.
The Little family — (from left) Cory, Cole, Jennifer and Todd — show off their 7-year-old heifer, “Tessie,” and her triplet calves. A triplet birth is extremely rare. Photo by Cindy Klepper.

Originally published March 27, 2017.

When Cole Little noticed that the family’s pregnant cow “Tessie” had wandered off into the trees, he went to check on her.

That’s a sign that the cow’s about ready to give birth, explains Todd Little, Cole’s dad.

And “Tessie,” as expected, had given birth — to not one, not two, but three calves. Cole immediately called his mom, Jennifer Little.

“I called her and said, ‘She had three,’” Cole says. “And she said, ‘No, she didn’t.’ But I told her she did and one was just laying out there and I think she needs help.”

That was on March 11. Today, all three babies are healthy, walking around and nursing inside the barn on the Little family’s farm just outside of Huntington.

Nothing remarkable there.

Except the number.

The chances of a cow giving birth to triplets, all born alive, and all female is about one in eight million, Jennifer says. It’s never happened to anyone she knows, and she’s been around cows all her life.

“I’ve heard of it, but I don’t know anybody who’s had them,” she says.

The odds of a cow giving birth to triplets is one in 105,000, according to a bulletin published by Oklahoma State University’s ag sciences department. Often, though, one or more of those calves does not survive. The odds go up when you figure in the chances of all three calves being female.

“We’ve had several twins, but triplets are very rare,” Todd says. “I’ve never heard of them. To have three of them, to be healthy and alive …”

Triplets are less common in beef cattle than in dairy cattle, says Glenn Selk, an Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension cattle specialist. The Littles’ cattle are Simmentals, a beef breed.

The three heifers are all black, just like their mother, but each has a white patch on its belly in a different pattern. That’s the only way to tell them apart, Jennifer says. They were fathered by the lone bull the Littles own.

Jennifer showed cattle in 4-H; so did her dad, her sisters and her husband. Now, Cole and his brother Cory are showing cattle in 4-H.

“Cattle’s just kind of a family tradition,” she says.

The small herd on the Littles’ farm can be traced back to Jennifer’s 4-H days.

“My dad let me keep some of the heifers and I would breed them at home,” she says. “When we got married, I brought them with me.”

Some of her cows have had twins, she says; in fact, “Tessie” was a twin.

But the triplets are something new.

“She did it all by herself,” says Todd, standing next to a contented “Tessie” in the barn. “We didn’t even help her.”