AMBOY, Ill. — Todd and Cynthia Carlson are no strangers to their cows having more than one calf. But when friends who were over visiting in mid-May suggested that the Carlsons’ Red Angus cow Minnie looked like she might be expecting more than one, they said no.
“We were in denial because the last set of twins we had, one got rejected. That is my bottle calf, Tess. So, we were like, ‘No, stop it, she’s not,’” said Cynthia Carlson, a teacher at Amboy High School.
Later that night, Minnie gave birth to one calf, in the corner of their pasture. Todd took a photo of the calf and they decided to let Minnie and her calf bond and recover for the evening.
The next morning, Todd went to check on Minnie and her calf and got a surprise. The cow had given birth to two more calves.
“The first one she had was still down in the corner of the pasture. Then I came up the hillside a ways and there was one and then at the top of the hill was a third one, all along the fence,” Todd said.
“She was just walking along the fence, having babies,” Cynthia said.
The first calf, a bull calf, was strong enough and able to nurse. The second and third calves didn’t look like they would survive. While the first calf was larger, the second two were much smaller than usual.
“When I brought them from the pasture, it was like carrying a little dog,” Todd said.
“We have a 35-pound beagle and it was like carrying her,” Cynthia said.
The Carlsons knew that saving the smaller calves was a long shot.
“We put Minnie in the headgate chute and tried to get them to suck, but they couldn’t even suck. We tried to bottle feed them and, nope, they were just too weak. We really thought we were going to lose them,” Cynthia said.
One of Cynthia’s fellow teachers, Mary Jo Zinke, brought over a product that helps get weak calves able to suck on a bottle.
“They had no energy to stand. Ross was just laying on his side. Being around cattle my whole life, I knew we had to get colostrum into him, but we weren’t being successful doing that,” Todd said.
He found a drench gun and was able to get the two weaker calves to take colostrum.
“We worked on that all day with those two, by Sunday night, they were perking up,” Todd said.
Friends Like These
And as for the name? That’s thanks to the Carlsons’ love of the TV series “Friends.”
“We’ve always loved ‘Friends.’ If it’s on TV in reruns, we’re watching it. I grew up with ‘Friends.’ When they turned 30, I turned 30. A friend at work said you have to name them after characters on ‘Friends.’ So, I kept turning it around in my mind and I came up with the names,” Cynthia said.
Those names are Ross Gelded, Phoebeef Buffay and Joey Tribeefani.
The three are now healthy and thriving and gaining weight. They and Minnie were turned out to pasture with the rest of the Carlsons’ 42 head of cattle that includes cows, calves, heifers, feeder calves and a bull. Minnie stands out as the only Red Angus in the herd of Black Angus.
Todd and Cynthia continue to keep an eye on them to make sure the three are getting enough to eat.
“Joey is the aggressive one. He’s getting his share and theirs. She just doesn’t have a very big bag to feed three calves. Ross, as soon as I walk into the barn, he was coming for his bottle. Phoebeef, sometimes she wants a bottle, sometimes she’d rather eat sweet feed and hay,” Cynthia said.
Once the calves and Minnie go out to pasture, they will have other sources of food.
“A lot of our calves have been eating at their friends’ house. They steal from the other cows a lot. They will just go around back and nurse from the other cows. We figure these three will learn to do that, too, but we can still bottle feed them if we need to,” Cynthia said.
The calves will be weaned later in the fall, and the Carlsons said they probably won’t keep the calves, but feed them out. Every year they feed around half a dozen calves for freezer beef for themselves and friends.
“I’m trying to not get too attached to them,” Cynthia said.
Minnie herself is a recent addition to the herd, purchased just last year from the farmer from whom the Carlsons buy hay.
“I have all Black Angus, but she was so tame, so easy to handle and such an easy keeper that we bought her and her calf,” Todd said.
With Minnie’s surprise trifecta, it’s been a good investment.
“She has kind of paid for herself with these three,” Todd said.