Have your heard the one about the one-legged duck? No, this is not a joke. Rather, it’s a story of how a duck survived a fox attack — but lost a leg as a result — may soon find herself with a brand new limb, thanks to an outpouring of support from people around the state.
It all began last week when Loni Hamner, who runs Hamner Homestead in Gardner with her husband Bryan, got word of a Buff Orpington hen and a female Mallard duck who needed immediate rehoming.
A lover of feathered critters, Hamner decided two more birds would not make a huge difference in her homestead’s established small mixed flock of hens and ducks. So off she went to take a look at them.
The two fowl in question, it turned out, were the sole survivors of a fox attack last year, which had decimated the owner’s larger flock. That same attack had severely injured the female Mallard, leaving her with only one leg and a stump where the other had been chewed off. The two birds, Hamner said, were well taken care of, but the owner’s living situation was changing, and they needed a new home.
“I did not think twice when I saw her,” Hamner said. “Right away I knew she was coming home with me [and] I would figure out later how to deal with a one-legged duck.”
Given that the duck and Buff Orpington — which Hamner named Faith and Hope, respectively — were a bonded pair, there was also no question about not taking the hen, as well, Hamner said.
In fact, Hope has become somewhat of a protector of Faith — never straying far from her side and actually sitting on or cuddling up next to her when the two are not roaming around the homestead.
According to Hamner, Faith is a duck with a great deal of grit and determination.
“She has taught herself how to stand and balance on that one leg, [and] she can sort of hop and hobble around,” Hamner said. “You can tell she is a bit timid, but she never quits.”
There is no question that Faith and Hope were well taken care of in their previous home, Hamner said. Nor is there a question that the previous owners took great pains to assure the two birds went to the right home.
“They did not want to give them to just anyone,” Hamner said. “I don’t know a lot of the backstory about Hope and Faith, but they certainly did not come from a place of neglect and had a great living situation where they were.”
Now that they are living on her homestead, Hamner said, she wants to increase that quality of life for Faith.
Enter the magic of social media. Hamner posted a query on the Maine Poultry Connection Facebook page and the replies offering support, suggestions and names of people to contact started coming almost at once. More than 40 in 24 hours, in fact.
“I want her to have a good, duck quality of life and do all the things ducks like to do,” Hamner said. “So I started doing some research and found an online post about someone getting a prosthetic leg and foot for a chicken [and that foot] was made in a 3D printer.”
By the end of the week Hamner had made contact with Paul Bussiere, a self-described animal loving, nerdy do-gooder who is also the 3D lab manager at the University of Maine Advanced Structure and Composites Center. That’s the same lab that earlier this month unveiled a full size boat created by its 3D printer.
After the printing of the boat, Bussiere was more than up for the challenge of creating a prosthetic leg for Faith in his spare time.
“I have eight 3D printers at my house,” Bussiere said. “I’m also a pet lover and can see that [Hamner] really loves this duck and that she wants it to have a great quality of life.”
Bussiere has already done some online research looking at models of duck feet and on Thursday night printed his first prototype.
“That first one I know is too big, so I will need to get the exact measurements,” he said. “But I am happy to put in the effort and do it for free.”
Bussiere is also researching what kinds of composite materials will work best for the prosthetic leg. Whatever material is used, he said, must be the perfect combination of strength and flexibility.
It’s also going to need to fit properly, according to Michael Anfang, a sort of poultry engineer whom several of the Facebook posts suggested as a potential prosthetic contact. Based in Washington State, Anfang founded Hatchtrack in 2015. Among other things, the company designs and builds splints and foot prosthetics for ducks and chickens. For Anfang, who spent time at as an undergraduate student at UMaine in 2006, the creation of a prosthetic leg is a logical next step.
“There are some considerations beyond just making the prosthetic,” Anfang, said. “I would think that anyone who is willing to get a prosthetic for a duck is going to be willing to put in the time to make sure it works properly.”
Among the considerations, according to Arfang, is making sure the duck’s stump is always clean and free of sores. This may require removing the prosthetic on a daily basis to inspect the stump. And depending on the length of the prosthetic, it may need to be removed at night to allow the bird to comfortably roost and sleep.
“I’ve been playing with a variety of soft materials to hold the [prosthetics] on a stump,” Anfang said, “You really need to make sure there are no pressure points that will rub and irritate the stump.”
For her part, Hamner said she is more than ready to put in the time and effort for Faith. She has even spoken to a human occupational therapist who has agreed to research duck anatomy to develop a physical therapy regime for the duck.
“I’m a little bit frazzled by the outpouring of support,” she said with a laugh. “People really seem to care and want to help this duck.”
The next step for Faith creating a plaster mold of her legless stump for Bussiere to use as a template in the 3D printer. Hamner is hopeful that mold will be the first in a series of engineering steps that lead to a full prosthetic limb for Faith.
“This whole process is just insane,” she said. “But I really just want Faith to be able to stand on her own two feet.”