A story that beat the odds

As a farm kid, I was around a few twin calves. Some years ago, as a journalist, I wrote about an area cattleman with a cow that gave birth to triplets. But the possibility of ever writing about quadruplet calves was so remote that I never even considered it.

That’s where Keith Sistad comes in. The Fosston, Minn., cattle producer emailed me recently to say that one of his Red Angus cows gave birth to four calves — and that all four were healthy. No, I thought, I must be misreading it; he can’t mean what I think he means. But I read the email three times and decided that, yeah, he really does mean four healthy calves from the same cow. What’s more, all four calves were female

I called Sistad immediately for details. You can read the story on the Agweek website.

Keith was pretty excited, and rightly so. To be a cattle producer and  have healthy quad calves — well, to quote an old commercial, life just don’t get no better than  this.

I checked with some experts to try to figure out the odds of getting healthy quad calves from a beef cow. I couldn’t come up with a hard number, but the odds, at best, were said to be 1 in 665,000.

After the story was published, I came across a published report of a dairy cow in California that gave birth to four healthy heifers calves.  That report, without citing a source, said the odds of a dairy cow giving birth to four healthy female calves were 1 in 180 million. I don’t know if that’s true; but I do know that experts say beef cows generally have fewer multiple births than dairy cows.

The day after my story was published on Agweek’s website, Sistad emailed to say that one of the calves died during the night. He wasn’t sure what happened; the calf seemed to be doing fine.

I was saddened to hear the calf had died. I once owned a few beef cows, and I know what it’s like to lose a calf. More than that, I’d been a very, very small part of a story that beat the odds.

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