Beef cattle farmers David and Julie Ingram were left shocked after their purebred Hereford calved quadruplets.
The multiple birth took place in May and marked the second time the cow had become pregnant at their property in Bonang in east Gippsland.
Last year she gave birth to twins.
“I said to Julie the night before she calved ‘there’ll be a set of twins there tonight’,” 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 are familiar with multiple births, having recording 12 sets of twins on their property in 2018 and eight other sets this year alone.
However, they were taken aback by quadruplets, after preparing themselves for the cow to reproduce twins like she had before.
“We had a little paddock near the house with good feed and we just kept her there on her own because we were pretty sure she’d have more than one,” Ms Ingram said.
“It’s very unusual; I’ve never heard of four before.”
The birth, in May, produced two heifers and two bull calves around three to four weeks premature, causing concern for the Ingrams.
“We were amazed she actually fed two of them and she’d cleaned and mothered the four of them,” Mr Ingram said.
Ms Ingram said they knew the calves would die if they were left outside overnight.
“So we took them all up to the house and put them in the shed and left her close to them,” she said.
The Ingrams decided to leave the strongest calf with her mother and took in the remaining three as poddies, meaning they would be hand-reared to give them the best chance.
About a week later, they let the other heifer calf return to her mother.
Three were monitored in a private paddock for six weeks before being released to the remaining herd.
Unfortunately, the two bull calves had experienced birthing complications that meant they were ultimately euthanased.
The quadruple birth has sparked the curiosity of veterinarian Peter Alexander, who has been practising in the Bega Valley for more than 40 years.
“I’d have to look in the Guinness Book of Records or something,” Dr Alexander said.
“I would have seen triplets a few times but four would be exceedingly rare.”
Although Dr Alexander had heard of cows giving birth to quadruplets before, he said it was much more common to give birth to just one calf.
“Normally, a cow will ovulate one egg at a time so there’s only really one chance of getting one calf,” he said.
“So, this would mean she’s ovulated four eggs rather than one.”
He said multiple births were less favourable because it was a tougher pregnancy on the cow and could substantially increase the risk of premature birth.
“Not all cows with twins will calve prematurely but if there’s three or four aboard, there’s a much higher incidence of premature calves,” Dr Alexander said.
“They might look okay, but they quite often have immature lungs and they really can’t cope.”
Dr Alexander also had concerns as to whether the surviving offspring would be fertile.
“I would suspect there’s a bit of a chance hey could be what they called ‘freemartins’,” Dr Alexander said.
“Some heifers born as a twin with a bull calf have a very rudimentary reproductive tract and they’re not able to have babies.
“It would be interesting to know whether the same thing applies to them.”
Maintaining cow fertility remains a constant priority for the Ingrams who are familiar with the death of calves not long after birth due to various complications, including prematurity.
“It’s always nice to mark 100 per cent of calves…but it usually doesn’t happen but a few sets of twins can get you towards that,” Mr Ingram said.
Their cow seems have to defied all odds, but both farmers are hoping to focus on her health to ensure she can reproduce in the long term.
“She’s just over four years old and she’s had six calves, so I think she’s going pretty good,” Mr Ingram said.