« It just happened. They were shocked when they saw what the cow had given birth to. Nobody can find an explanation for it… »


Cattle breeders David and Julie Ingram were shocked after their purebred Hereford cow gave birth to quadruplets.The multiple birth occurred in May and marked the second time the cow became pregnant on their property in Bonang, East Gippsland.

Last year, she gave birth to twins. « I said to Julie the night before she calved, ‘Tonight there will be a set of twins,' » Mr. Ingram said. « But when we went down the next day, we counted one, and then two, and then three, and then oh… there are four. »

The couple is familiar with multiple births, having recorded 12 sets of twins on their property in 2018 and another eight sets of twins just this year alone.

However, they were surprised by quadruplets after preparing for the cow to give birth to twins as before.

« We had a small paddock near the house with good feed, and we left her there alone because we were pretty sure she would have more than one calf, » Mrs. Ingram said. « It’s very unusual; I’ve never heard of four. »

The May birth brought two heifers and two bull calves into the world about three to four weeks prematurely, which concerned the Ingrams.

« We were amazed that she actually fed two of them and cleaned them and mothered them, » Mr. Ingram said.

Mrs. Ingram said they knew the calves would die if left outside overnight. « So we brought them all into the house and put them in the shed and kept them close to her, » she said.

The Ingrams decided to leave the strongest calf with its mother and raise the remaining three as bottle-fed calves to give them the best chance.

About a week later, they allowed the other heifer calf to return to its mother. Three were monitored in a private paddock for six weeks before being reintegrated into the remaining herd.

Unfortunately, the two bull calves had birth complications that ultimately led to their euthanasia. The quadruplet birth piqued the interest of veterinarian Peter Alexander, who has practiced in the Bega Valley for over 40 years.

« I would have to look in the Guinness Book of Records or something like that, » Dr. Alexander said. « I’ve heard of triplets a few times, but four would be extremely rare. »

Although Dr. Alexander had heard of cows giving birth to quadruplets, he said it was much more common for a cow to give birth to only one calf.

« Usually, a cow ovulates only one egg, so there’s only one chance to get one calf, » he said. « That would mean she ovulated four eggs instead of one. »

He said multiple births were less favorable because they made for a more difficult pregnancy for the cow and significantly increased the risk of premature birth.

« Not all cows with twins will calve prematurely, but when three or four are on board, there is a much higher incidence of premature calves, » Dr. Alexander said. « They might look okay, but they often have immature lungs and they really can’t cope. »

Dr. Alexander also had concerns about whether the surviving offspring would be fertile. « I would suspect there is some chance they could be what’s called ‘freemartins,' » Dr. Alexander said.

« Some heifers born as twins with a bull calf have a very rudimentary reproductive tract and can’t have babies. It would be interesting to know if that applies to them as well. »

Maintaining the fertility of the cows remains a constant priority for the Ingrams, who are familiar with the death of calves shortly after birth due to various complications, including prematurity.

« It’s always nice to mark 100 percent of the calves… but that usually doesn’t happen, but a few sets of twins can get you there, » Mr. Ingram said.

Their cow seems to have overcome all odds, but both farmers hope to focus on her health to ensure she can continue to have offspring in the long term.

« She’s just over four years old and has had six calves, so I think she’s doing quite well, » Mr. Ingram said.

Good Info