We turn to 3D printing often in the medical field, many times to make custom prosthetics. But the veterinary field is also using the technology to create prosthetic limbs and devices for our feathered, furry, and barnyard friends. In 2015, a young chicken named Cecily was suffering from a damaged tendon that rendered one leg useless, which her owner hoped to fix with an amputation and a plastic 3D printed prosthetic leg.
A veterinarian from the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University explained that a chicken’s foot tendons contract in an abnormal place, leaving them at risk for sores and infections. Without 3D printing and a caring owner, it’s likely that three-month-old Cecily would have been euthanized.A month-old chicken named Bumble has a problem that’s similar to Cecily’s. Due to a slipped tendon, the chick has a deformity in its foot, causing it to hook upward.
Bumble, who acts completely normal except for difficulty walking due to the immobile foot, and several other chicks are cared for by fifth grade students in a talented and gifted (TAG) class at Central City Elementary in Huntington, West Virginia.
“We as humans want to help the things that are weakest, but Mother Nature isn’t always about that. But when this chicken continued to thrive, even at a slower pace than its other hatchlings, we wondered what could happen,” said Laura Blackman, who teaches the TAG class.
A custodian at the school first had the idea to 3D print a prosthetic leg for the chick, and the students and teachers quickly agreed.
Meghan Salter, who teaches Cabell County’s other TAG class at Martha Elementary School, said about Bumble, “He has been able to thrive thus far so we were wondering how we can help him like become to move around like a normal chicken would.”
Salter reached out to WV Makes! @ RCBI (Robert C. Byrd Institute) for help creating the prosthetic.
“This could actually save his life because we didn’t think that he would make it but he’s 4 weeks old now and he’s doing great,” said Kadance Davidson, a fifth grader at Central City Elementary.”
The manufacturing training center used designs that were created by the students for Bumble, and provided the tools to make the prosthetic.
Salter said, “They were working hard they came up with all these amazing sketches and we wanted to take what their passion was and make it a reality.”
The final prototype was based on the students’ best design principles, and fabricated by Deacon Stone, who coordinates RCBI’s makerspace – the Maker Vault – and its STEM education program.
Bumble flapped and stumbled around when the first prototype of the cane-like, 3D printed prosthetic limb was strapped on, and the students began to offer up new ideas so a better prototype design could be created. But after about 30 minutes, Bumble stopped flailing and was able to stand still and shift the weight to the other leg, and even watched as Namaste, another chick, demonstrated how chickens are supposed to strut.
Stone said, “I think the kids’ ideas are beyond what we can imagine. There’s so many of them, and they each have a unique perspective.”
Anastacia Cox, a fifth grader at Central City Elementary, said, “I try to encourage him, like sometimes instead of him perching there, he’ll kind of try to use it and kinda try to walk around a little bit, which it makes me proud because this is only his second day with it on.”
According to Stone, the 3D printing project was a lesson in STEM practices and manufacturing, and also “on the virtue of altruism” and humanity.
Stone said, “If we can love even the little creatures from another species and make sure that they thrive, then we’ll take good care of one another and we’ll learn to connect through those conduits.”
“It’s showing them kindness, it’s also showing them how they can make a difference in the world.”
It seems like Bumble will master the chicken strut in no time. If the chick turns out to be a hen, Blackman will keep it, and has lined up a new home at a nearby farm if Bumble ends up being a rooster instead.
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