3D Printer Gives A Chicken A New Leg, Better Life

3D Printer Gives A Chicken A New Leg, Better Life

By Kenny Coogan, Florida

A team at Tufts University and a Massachusetts farm have combined efforts to create a prosthetic leg using a 3D printer for a hen named Sweet Cicely. It is very likely the first use of a 3D printer to help a chicken walk, and so far, it’s working.

“Her tenacity, spirit and courage are an inspiration to people,” Andrea Martin, Black Thistle Farm’s poultry expert, says. The farm located in Worcester County, Massachusetts, rescues and rehabilitates chickens in need, both physically and behaviorally. Sweet Cicely is a White Leghorn pullet that was surrendered to the Black Thistle Farm in Massachusetts due to a deformed leg.

“Cicely suffered from a slipped tendon that had been neglected,” Martin says. Veterinarian Dr. Knafo evaluated the severity of the Cicely’s injury at Tufts University Veterinary School (Grafton), and the only humane option was to have the leg amputated. Since her original leg was useless, the amputation allowed her to move more freely.

To aid in balance, Tufts University (Medford) created a prosthetic leg out of a 3D printer in September. The artificial leg enhanced Cicely’s comfort, but twisted and broke shortly after being applied. With farm ingenuity Martin created a sturdy leg out of a water bottle handle.

“She has never walked normally so she will need daily training and therapy sessions at our farm,” Martin says. “I specialize in chicken behavior and rehabilitation for physical and behavioral cases, training the chickens to trust, learn confidence and thrive. I am so happy to give Cicely the life she has earned and deserved.”

Tufts University is printing another leg and creating several prototypes. In the meantime, Cicely is learning how to walk on Martin’s water bottle leg. This is helping her learn to bear weight on that side and retrain her muscle memory so she can walk and strut like typical chickens. She is currently testing the leg with her weight, Martin told me enthusiastically.

To apply the prosthetic to Cicely, Martin has used extra cushioned vet wrap and good old duck tape.

Cicely And Her Prosthetic Leg
Sweet Cicely works with her prosthetic leg. Photos courtesy Tufts University

“Eventually, we expect to try Velcro fasteners — but twisting of the prosthetic is an issue,” Martin says. “All of this is groundbreaking. But we know other birds and animals will benefit from our trials. It is very exciting.”

“She has started laying and is a regular member of her flock,” Martin adds. She says Cicely is doing great and that she keeps up with the flock with no problem. To watch out Cicely in action check out the farm’s YouTube channel.

Cicely has even been able to negotiated her way up pecking order.

“The only thing she can’t do is scratch in the dirt,” Martin says. She adds, “Cicely embodies the beauty of someone who has overcome struggle and blossomed because of it! Many people can relate to Cicely.”

Cicely serves as Black Thistle Farm’s ambassador promoting their mission “Changing the world — one chicken at a time.”

To learn more about the rescue, send Cicely positive thoughts or ask a question check out their website. You can follow Black Thistle Farm on Twitter @chicktalk7.

“Cicely reminds us to never give up,” Martin affirms. “Empathy has a way of spreading, especially when it has an amazing representative like Cicely.”

Kenny Coogan, CPBT-KA, has a B.S. in animal behavior and is a certified bird trainer through the International Avian Trainers Certification Board. He is a weekly pet columnist and has authored a children’s book titled, A Tenrec Named Trey (And Other Odd Lettered Animals That Like To Play). Please search “Critter Companions by Kenny Coogan” on Facebook and email questions to kenny.coogan@yahoo.com

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