Winters in the northern U.S. can be harsh—just ask any Wisconsinite still trying to thaw out after a long cold season. For farm poultry, which have exposed beaks, combs and legs, the threat of frostbite is a very real risk, and that’s how Wisconsin’s Phillip the duck lost his feet.
When Phillip the duck arrived into Vicki Rabe-Harrison’s care, the duck’s feet had withered and turned black due to frostbite. She took the duck in from a person who had to give up her house and had a number of farm animals in her care. Rabe-Harrison knew she had to do something to help the little guy out, so she reached out to an engineering teacher at a local middle school to make prosthetic feet using 3-D printing technology, WBAY reported.
Jason Jischke of South Park Middle School told WBAY that he thought the call was a joke at first, but in reality, the duck was just hours away from being put down. Using the schools 3-D printer and a material called “ninja flex,” Jischke fashioned prosthetic feet for Phillip the duck. It wasn’t an easy project—getting the perfect fit took six weeks of trial and error, but at last, Phillip the duck was able to try on his new feet and walk again in front of an audience of eager onlookers. Balancing was tough at first, but he picked it up really quickly, Rabe-Harrison told WBAY, but now he’s able to waddle and swim again.
Along with his new feet, Phillip the duck will live out the rest of his days at Autumn Farm Sanctuary in Cedarburg, Wis. According to WISN, owners Brandon and Alyssa Herbst started Autumn Farm Sanctuary a couple years ago, selling off their old house and diving head-first into this passion project. The sanctuary houses many farm animals, including goats, chickens and donkeys, and is run thanks to the help of 15 to 20 volunteers who assist with the day-to-day operations.
However, Phillip the duck’s new feet only offer a temporary fix. The Herbsts are looking into getting a more professional pair of prosthetics fitted to him in the near future.
Proper winter poultry care is a serious matter for farmers in areas that experience prolonged winter temperatures. Although Phillip the duck’s story had a happily ever after, that’s not the case for all ducks, chickens and geese. If you take these animals into your care, make sure you know how to properly house them to avoid frostbite and keep them healthy all winter long.