Aug. 14, 2013 at 5:43 PM ET
Farmer Jon Appleby got the surprise of his career one week ago, when triplet calves were born on his farm in Wirral, England.
"I couldn't believe it," the 44-year-old veteran farmer told TODAY.com of the rare phenomenon. "It was quite a shock."
In the weeks leading up to the birth, he noticed the mother cow was larger than most pregnant cattle, but he figured she might be having twins. When the cow went into labor, Appleby stayed close by for the first two births, then left, assuming the excitement was over. He returned an hour later, only to find one more baby by her side.
"We've never had triplets before," Appleby, who runs Greenhouse Farms with his wife, Joy, said. "I asked around other farms in the area, and nobody has had triplets."
While twins are somewhat common among bovine births, triplets and quadruplets are quite rare.
"It is estimated that approximately 1 in 100,000 calvings will result in triplet calves," Dr. Bret McNabb, a doctor of veterinary medicine at the University of California Davis, told TODAY.com via email.
Healthy triplets are even rarer: A recent study found that only 60 percent of triplets conceived in cattle populations actually survive until term to be delivered as normal, healthy calves, according to Dr. McNabb.
Appleby and his family gave the calves fitting names for their unique circumstances: George, Louis and Alexander, the three monikers of the royal baby. And, like Duchess Kate and Prince William's baby boy, these triplets have gathered quite a following.
"Ever since they've been born they've been the center of attention," Appleby said, calling the experience "quite fun actually."