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Good things come in threes for Bear Creek Dairy

Callie Curley Published on 24 September 2015
Dorine and Jan Boelen with triplet calves

One in 8 million. That’s the probability of triplet calves being born at all – let alone a set of three healthy, happy heifer calves to a cow with no known history of multiple births.

Despite the statistical anomaly, this is exactly what occurred on an Iowa dairy farm this summer.

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July proved to be an exciting month for Jan and Dorine Boelen of Bear Creek Dairy in Brooklyn, Iowa. From the welcoming of their firstborn grandson, James Boelen, to the celebration of Jan’s 50th birthday, to the discovery of live, healthy, triplet heifer calves in their pasture one afternoon, it was a time of many firsts and milestones for the family and their farm – and it was a sign of many prosperous years to come.

“When the herdsman first told me that there were three calves with one mother, I of course didn’t believe it,” Jan recalls. “I said, ‘No way!’ But, sure enough, there they were.”

Bear Creek Dairy, the five-year home of Jan, Dorine and their five children, was passed on to the family by another Dutch couple when the Boelens emigrated to the U.S. in July 2009 – leaving behind their community, their family and their farm in the Netherlands. On the farm, they raise a predominately Holstein herd of grade cattle.

The cow in question, a 4-year-old grade Holstein named Lisa, was purchased on a trip to Wisconsin in the fall of 2014.

“I wish I knew her whole story and if she has ever had multiple calves in this way before, but I don’t,” Jan says.

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The calves, all relatively equal in size, are not identical and were delivered full-term with no assistance.

The farm the Boelen family operates today is much different than the one they inherited at the time of their move. What was once a 238-cow herd with a 45-pound average milking per cow per day now thrives as a 1,325-cow dairy with an average of 95 pounds per cow per day and an rolling herd average of 32,000.

On Bear Creek Dairy, calf raising protocols are integral pieces of the successful herd puzzle. Soon after delivery, calves receive up to a gallon of colostrum. An incubator and pasteurizer on-site allows for the use of pasteurized milk in calf rations. Calves are weaned between 6 and 8 weeks old, and are soon thereafter sent to a “grower barn,” where they are penned with approximately 25 other calves until they transition to a separate heifer-raising facility.

Proper breeding procedures complete the puzzle. On Bear Creek Dairy, all breeding and genetic decisions are made independently of Jan and his family by their heifer raiser and Genex Cooperative Inc.

First-calf heifers are bred using sexed semen, and according to Jan, of those bred using sexed semen, approximately 60 percent give birth to heifer calves. After their first calving, all cows are serviced traditionally.

While production and animal health are of the utmost importance on Bear Creek Dairy, the true power of the family farm lies not only in the barn, but also in the household. Dorine works especially hard to instill in her family the importance of what they do as dairy farmers.

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“We are proud to dairy because of the beautiful blessings our farm life has given us, most recently in the form of triplet calves,” Dorine says. “Our biggest achievement will always be the next generation. If our children and grandchildren were to take over our farm one day, it would make us very proud.”

Facebook followers of Bear Creek Dairy receive regular updates on the goings-on of the farm – including the arrival of grandson James just days after the triplet calves were born on July 8.

“It’s so easy to get a bad reputation if you’re not willing to be open about what you do,” Dorine says. “We show how proud we are to dairy by sharing our story with whoever will listen. Facebook has helped us connect with others in many ways. I would suggest it as a tool to any farmer who wants to speak out about what they do every day and the amazing things that happen on their farms.”  PD

Callie Curley is a communications student at Penn State University – Berks campus.

PHOTO: Jan and Dorine Boelen of Bear Creek Dairy in Brooklyn, Iowa, welcomed triplet heifer calves on their dairy this summer. Photo provided by Bear Creek Dairy.

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