AMBOY, Ill. – Todd and Cynthia Carlson are no strangers to the fact that their cows have more than one calf. But when friends who were visiting in mid-May suggested that Minnie, the Carlsons’ Red Angus cow, looked like she was expecting more than one, they said no.
“We were in denial because the last pair of twins we had was rejected. It’s my bottle calf, Tess. So we were like, ‘No, stop, she isn’t,’ said Cynthia Carlson, a teacher at Amboy High School.
Later that night, Minnie gave birth to a 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 see Minnie and her calf and got a surprise. The cow had given birth to two other calves.
“The first one she had was still in the pasture corner. Then I went up the hill a certain way and there was one, and then at the top of the hill there was a third, all the way up the fence, ”Todd said.
“She was just walking along the fence, having babies,” Cynthia said.
The first calf, a bull calf, was quite strong and able to suckle. The second and third calves did not seem to survive. While the first calf was larger, the second two were much smaller than usual.
“When I brought them back from the pasture, it was like carrying a little dog,” Todd said.
“We have a 35-pound beagle and it was like carrying it,” Cynthia said.
The Carlsons knew that saving calves was a long plan.
“We put Minnie in the tailgate chute and tried to get them to suck, but they couldn’t even suck. We tried bottle-feeding them and, no, they were just too weak. We really thought we were going to lose them, ”Cynthia said.
One of Cynthia’s teaching colleagues, Mary Jo Zinke, brought in a product that helps weak calves bottle suck.
“They had no energy to stand up. Ross was just lying on his side. Having been around cattle all my life, I knew we had to inject him with colostrum, but we just couldn’t, ”Todd said.
He found a water gun and managed to get the two weaker calves to take colostrum.
“We worked on this all day with these two, Sunday night they were waking up,” Todd said.
Friends like these
What about the name? This is because of the Carlsons’ love for the “Friends” television series.
“We have always liked ‘friends’. If it’s replayed on TV, we watch it. I grew up with “friends”. When they were 30, I was 30. A friend at work told me to name them after the characters in “Friends”. So I kept spinning it in my head and found the names, ”Cynthia said.
These names are Ross Gelded, Phoebeef Buffay and Joey Tribeefani.
All three are now healthy, prosperous and gaining weight. They and Minnie were pastured along with the rest of the Carlsons’ 42 head of cattle, which includes cows, calves, heifers, feeder calves and a bull. Minnie is the only Red Angus in the Black Angus herd.
Todd and Cynthia continue to watch them to make sure they have enough to eat.
“Joey is aggressive. He has his share and theirs. She just doesn’t have a very big bag to feed three calves. Ross, as soon as I walked into the barn he was coming to get his bottle. Phoebeef, sometimes she wants a bottle, sometimes she prefers to eat sugary foods and hay, ”Cynthia said.
Once the calves and Minnie are on the pasture, they will have other food sources.
“Many of our calves have eaten with their friends. They steal a lot from other cows. They’ll just go around and suckle other cows. We think these three will learn to do it too, but we can always bottle feed them if we need to, ”said Cynthia.
The calves will be weaned later in the fall, and the Carlsons have said they probably won’t keep the calves, but will feed them. Each year, they feed about half a dozen calves for frozen beef for themselves and their friends.
“I try not to get too attached to them,” Cynthia said.
Minnie herself is a recent addition to the herd, bought last year from the farmer the Carlsons buy hay from.
“I all have Black Angus, but she was so tame, so easy to handle and so easy to keep that we bought her with her calf,” Todd said.
With Minnie’s surprise trifecta, it’s a good investment.
“She kind of paid herself off with those three,” Todd said.