Forms & Feet of Fowl: Twisted Histories of Poultry & Prostheses

Melissa Yang

melissayang [at] pitt [dot] edu

University of Pittsburgh, Department of English

(Published April 17, 2017)


This anthrozoological essay features the tales of several footless fowl who rose to fame after being fitted with prosthetic devices. All of these disabled birds developed prosthetic relationships with their adopted human owners, to some extent, causing the birds and their owners to become unusual extensions of each other. By connecting a range of narratives and perspectives on poultry and prostheses in literal and figurative forms, I experiment with how juxtapositions of these stories and ideas might be productive in generating multidisciplinary conversations and critical-creative scholarship.

Famous Footwear

Cecily’s Tendon

Cecily the Leghorn hen of Clinton, Massachusetts, made national news at the age of three-months in August 2015 when Patrick Crozier and Andrea Martin announced their decision to replace the bird’s deformed right leg with a $2,500 laser-printed prosthetic. Cecily’s foot was rendered “useless” due to a fairly common poultry affliction—perosis, or slipped tendon—in which her “foot tendons contract in an abnormal place,” causing her leg to twist around limply, and putting her “at risk for sores and infections.”1 Martin, an animal behaviorist and freelance writer, dramatically proclaimed, “She can’t roost. She can’t really do anything a normal chicken can do,”2 and “I was thinking we were going to have her put down.”3

Martin made an appointment with Dr. Emi Knafo, a specialist in avian orthopedics at Tufts University’s Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, who noted that while slipped tendons are common in poultry—and usually developed while a bird is in its egg due to vitamin deficiency—options for treatment are limited, and the bird would likely live an uncomfortable life involving ongoing administration of pain medication. Although euthanasia was indeed presented as a possibility, Andrea Martin opted for a more innovative and expensive alternative: amputation, followed by a prosthetic leg fitting.

This may have been Tufts University’s first experience fitting a chicken with a prosthetic device, making Cecily’s a high-profile case, but numerous other poultry prostheses have been fashioned dating back decades, both professionally commissioned and personally crafted by passionate pet owners. My anthrozoological essay will examine several more tales of footless fowl who rose to fame after being fitted with prosthetic devices and other related stories. In juxtaposition and in conversation, these narratives and histories illuminate each other in provocative ways. Through them, it becomes evident that these disabled birds all develop somewhat prosthetic relationships with their adopted human owners; the birds and their owners function as attached extensions of each other.

From idiosyncratic tales of pampered birds to a constellation of more familiar ones featuring marginalized poultry with less promising prospects, the ways in which humans and poultry rely on each other as mutually dependent extensions are reinforced, yet complicated. My broader exploration is a peripatetic one, in which feet—anatomical extremities that hold weight and aid in travel—are important on literal figures, as well as in figures of speech. I tackle tangentially-linked topics and utilize multiple written modes (short of employing poetic feet—a tempting next step), but my efforts are grounded in a core impetus to think through complex, diverse aspects of human relationships with poultry in our history, as seen through our language and across multiple contexts. I mean this to be an eclectic, exploratory essay rather than a traditionally academic, argumentative one, and I invite readers to form unique attachments to this accumulation of unusual accounts and to engage with them (and with me) to further expand upon and interpret our twisted histories with poultry and prostheses.

Andy the Goose

When retired inventor, businessman, and self-proclaimed disability activist Gene Fleming discovered a footless gray goose stumbling around at his sister-in-law’s farm in Nebraska, he set out to improve the bird’s life. Two-year-old Andy had been born without feet and appeared to be getting by on the farm, but when Fleming brought the bird to his Hastings home in 1988, his first endeavor was to “adapt a skateboard…where [Andy] could anchor one stump while pushing himself along the ground with the other one.” Inventions for animal welfare were familiar to Fleming, who had once engineered a successful device for itchy cows to rub up against that doused them in an insect spray and disinfectant combination, since “livestock, lacking hands to swat with, have a terrible time in insect season.”4

After the skateboard adaptation was unsuccessful, Fleming realized the goose’s stubs would “just about fit into a baby’s shoes,” and purchased a size 0 pair of white leather baby shoes for thirteen dollars.5 He proudly recalled, “I held Andy upright for three hours before he figured out what to do with those shoes…but when he got the hang of them, he just took off.”6 Supposedly, the goose was so thrilled he wore out his new shoes in a month.7

When the Nike company caught wind of the tale, Fleming was offered a lifetime supply of baby sneakers for Andy the goose, who “turned out to have a winning personality as well,” making him popular with the neighbors and national media.8 Andy received frequent invitations to attend county fairs and major state events as a guest of honor. He marched in parades, went on school visits to the delight of local children, and traveled to appear on television. Following extended publicity, fellow owners of crippled birds nationwide sought Fleming’s feedback for their pets, and Fleming also received correspondence from handicapped children citing Andy as an inspiration. Andy the goose quickly became “the biggest celebrity in Adams County.”9

On October 19, 1991, the town was shocked by the news of a break-in at Fleming’s home—their beloved goose was missing. Andy was found dismembered in the town park—head and wings missing, neck broken.10 The kidnapped and slaughtered goose “died with his boots on.”11 Distraught fans sent Fleming thousands of condolence cards and calls and nearly $10,000 worth of donations for reward money. “Would-be vigilantes in Illinois and Arizona [who] volunteered to mete out swift and sure justice on Andy’s killer or killers” reached out to help. Jan and Ed Fowler from the nearby Palmer Brothers Granite Company “carved Andy’s likeness on a headstone and donated it to mark his grave,” a monument with a lengthy epitaph which tourists can still find in Hastings, Nebraska today. The number of promising leads on the case dwindled in subsequent years, and it was believed that police had mostly given up hope of solving the crime by the time Gene Fleming passed away in his sleep in January 2000.12

Mr. Chicken

Chris Gilzow spotted a rooster tripping around her yard in Jackson, Michigan, lost after a storm in December 1996.13 Local veterinarian Dr. Timothy England adopted the bird, named him Mr. Chicken, and tended to his frostbitten legs, “both [lost] at the first joint.”14 England commissioned new chicken feet from physical therapist Gordon Allen, who attempted four designs before landing on the winner— “Air Gordons” —crafted with “the same material used to make splints for humans.” England proudly announced the success once the rooster recovered, telling the press that Mr. Chicken “does what a normal chicken should do, and he can outrun any of us.” News traveled and the popularity of a fowl with artificial feet once again captured the hearts of animal lovers worldwide. England collected a file of fan “letters from London, Paris, the West Coast, East Coast, Texas, Florida, Washington…” and was delighted to find that a “woman from South Africa wrote a little poem about Mr. Chicken, and a man from California sent a check for $8 for his care.”15 This much-loved bird’s life also came to an abrupt and early end when he was mauled by wildlife, “probably by a raccoon.” Mr. Chicken’s obituary was published mere months after his first appearance in the press, on June 29, 1997— “Mr. Chicken died with his artificial legs on, defending his hens to the end, and that’s how he’ll be buried.” As a devoted caretaker and spokesperson, Timothy England announced intentions to “bury him in the flower garden with his legs on,” with a headstone, as “he was a famous little guy.”16

Buttercup the Duck

Buttercup the duck was hatched during a high school biology project on November 9, 2012 with a backwards left foot—a deformity likely caused by improper turning of his egg. When the Feathered Angels Waterfowl Sanctuary in Tennessee received Buttercup, he had been raised in a condominium with the high school student who took him home, with his deformed foot bleeding through the gauze it was wrapped in. New owner and software engineer Mike Garey had his veterinarian amputate Buttercup’s leg, and went one step further to ensure the best life possible for his new companion. He sought the help of laser printing company NovaCopy, which agreed to help Buttercup acquire a functional prosthetic foot.17

Garey engineered the design based on a mold from another duck’s functional left foot, and NovaCopy printed the copy, which was then used by Garey to create the final product. The foot is held up with a peg and in place with a silicone sock—the foot is crafted from industrial-grade urethane. It has flexibility, traction, and strength, so Buttercup “couldn’t bite it off…wouldn’t wear [it] out.”18 Buttercup’s story and Garey’s new mission—to ensure that all footless fowl can acquire artificial appendages—began making local and national headlines in the summer of 2013.

Garey embraces public attention but was initially frustrated by how the press focused primarily on “the buzz-word of 3-D printing,” as the technology was only one aspect of an extended innovative process.19 Joel Graves, the 3-D engineer who printed the prototype foot, believes this new media attention helps rectify previous negative “focus on the printing of weapons,” but claims, “the point is to help people—or even animals—improve their quality of life.” He continues, “It’s extraordinary to work on something that will actually benefit someone, even if that someone is a duck,” returning again to remind us that it “could be a person benefiting like this in the future.”20

When confronted with the question of sacrificing his time and energy for poultry, Garey doesn’t “really feel it was too much time and trouble and expense” because of the duck’s “unique personalities” — “Buttercup knows his name, he has a teddy bear he’s had since he was a day old, he’ll come when you call him…he’s no different than a member of my own family.”21

Many other people from around the globe have since sought Garey’s advice on their own footless fowl, and their official Facebook fan page, “Buttercup Gets a New High Tech Foot,” has over nineteen thousand supporters and features stories shared from crippled waterfowl across the world. In November 2013, Garey began soliciting donations to acquire a 3D printer so his sanctuary can “create new designs that can be quickly scaled and printed,” saying, “Buttercup is not the only duck in need of a prosthetic. There are so many more. Gone is the time where ducks and geese with one leg lose their ability to waddle. Help us change the world for injured waterfowl.”22 In a nested page dedicated to “Buttercup—The International Celebriduck with a 3D Printed Prosthetic Foot!” on the Feathered Angels Waterfowl Sanctuary, an enthusiastic update announced, “During 2014 my foot design advanced to become fully 3D printed and has a bendable ankle with springs for support!”23

Word Origins

In The Oxford English Dictionary, the second definitions of both “prosthesis” and “poultry” are the first to come to mind in current usage—and both terms have engaged in significant interplay within the literary sphere.24 “Prosthesis” was first introduced to the English language as a grammatical term. Author and schoolmaster Richard Sherry wrote in A Treatise of Schemes and Tropes (c. 1550), “Appositio, apposicion, the putting to, eyther of letter or sillable at the begynnyng of a worde. [margin] Prosthesis.” In addition to being defined as “the addition of a letter or syllable to the beginning of a word,” the word “prosthesis” itself was therefore first encountered as marginalia—as an addition to the main body of the text. In a way, this type of metaplasm—change to a word’s spelling—rather figuratively foreshadows the shift to its current semantic connotation.

The contemporary use of “prosthesis” conjures literal bodies—marginalized, disabled bodies—and specifically, devices created to mimic the forms and functions of parts these bodies lack. Prosthetics as the “replacement of defective or absent parts of the body by artificial substitutes” was introduced in the sixth edition of Edward Phillips’ New World of Words (1706), centuries after its initial use: In Surgery Prosthesis is taken for that which fills up what is wanting, as is to be seen in fistulous and hollow Ulcers, filled up with Flesh by that Art: Also the making of artificial Legs and Arms, when the natural ones are lost.” Prosthetics is the medical art that restores what is considered to be a physically incomplete body to whole through prostheses.

“Prosthesis” is also enjoying rejuvenation as a theoretical concept stemming from its newer medical definition—and much of this attention is figurative, such as in Jacques Derrida’s Of Grammatology, whose discussion of “supplements” might be viewed as an examination of “writing as a prosthetic device.”25 This explicit return of “prosthesis” to the rhetorical arts in new form is intriguing and creates an opening for further analysis beyond the scope of this piece.

“Poultry,” on the other hand, was first used in the mid-fourteenth century to refer to a “place where fowls are sold; a market for the sale of (the meat of) domestic fowl, etc. In earliest recorded use…the name of a street at the east end of Cheapside in London, formerly the site of such a market.” Now, the definition stands:

Domestic fowl collectively; birds which are commonly reared for their flesh, eggs, or feathers, as chickens, ducks, geese, turkeys, etc. (usually excluding game birds); such birds prepared for sale or for food; the meat of such birds; (occas.) chickens, as opposed to other domestic fowl. Also as a count noun: a bird of this type.

The term “poultry” was popularized in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales (c.1387-95): “His lordes sheep...His swyn, his hors, his stoor, and his pultrye [v.rr. pulletrie, pultre].” Thus, in addition to serving as an important commercial venture and protein source for humans, as emphasized in the above definition, poultry have received great attention in literature, in physical and in symbolic forms. With the rise of keeping companion animals in European history, songbirds were often kept inside, but poultry was still relegated to the barnyard as second-class citizens, primarily kept for sustenance. As commercial poultry farming advanced through technological developments, however, chickens moved inside en masse as the “first farm animals to be permanently confined indoors and made to labor in automated systems.”26

As poultry born and bred into these automated systems are mechanically brutalized, their bodies are “literally bred and violently altered to physical extremes.”27 Annie Potts’ heartbreaking chapter on “Meat Chicks and Egg Machines” in Chicken details how, “Broiler chicks have been selectively bred to grow fatter faster, which places intense pressure on their bodies: muscles and fat outgrow skeletons. Like other birds, chickens have delicate bones…but the bones of broiler chicks are loaded with massively disproportionate breast weights. Consequently, their legs are often twisted and malformed.”28 Broiler chicks, only kept alive for six weeks when a chicken’s natural lifespan is around twelve, “find it hard to walk at all”; many “collapse for good,” or are ‘off their legs’ as the farmers say, stranded in soiled litter until their time of slaughter.29 Sunaura Taylor also reminds readers in “Cripping the Sexual Politics of Meat” of how the “vast majority of animals we eat are themselves manufactured to be disabled” (128). Twisted legs and thus useless feet may number the greatest among this set of disabled and injured birds. Hidden from sight in life, these victims are most commonly seen in grocery stores after death, as “birds prepared for sale or for food; the meat of such birds,” true to the OED definition of “poultry.” In preparation, at least in the United States, these chickens are sold with their feet removed30 or ground up entirely to disguise any disfigurements.

“Chick” Lit

The presence of a “why chickens?” disclaimer is present in almost every enthusiastic text I encounter on chickens; in addition, I see similar disclaimers on most books about any poultry. This sort of explanatory note may be unnecessary for this article’s audience, but the trend of its inclusion is noteworthy. In “Augury,” the first section of Poultry Science, Chicken Culture: A Partial Alphabet, Susan Merrill Squier conducts a close reading of a scene of her chickens’ interactions, detailing the shift of group dynamic when the birds see a deer, ending when the intruder recedes and the birds relax, noting that at “not even seven in the morning…already I’m learning about the world from my chickens.”31 In her acknowledgements, she thanks her mother for letting “a rooster with frostbitten feet live in our basement for one entire winter.”32

In Susan Orlean’s “The It Bird” for The New Yorker, she writes of the rise of popularity in urban chickening, tracing factors leading to the surge of appreciation bringing poultry back into our daily lives.33 Pam Percy prefaces her coffee table book, The Complete Chicken: An Entertaining History of Chickens, with a note that “I was indignant that the chicken had been so overlooked,” and was “constantly amazed that—other than for scientific data and chicken cuisine—very little has been written about these wonderful birds.” She left her job to research chickens full-time.34 Even E.B. White of Charlotte’s Web and Elements of Style fame once offered a tongue-in-cheek suggestion in an essay on poultry: “Don’t try to convey your enthusiasm for chickens to anyone else.”35 Taking up this decades-old challenge again, I aim to do exactly that.

Nugget the Silkie chicken toddled into my life when I found myself chaperoning a preschool petting zoo, and she was the first chicken to capture my heart. From the trademark puff of its crested head to spread of five toes on each feathered foot, the Silkie more closely resembled a pom-pom craft project than the average chicken. Nugget was a pullet—a young hen—and stood out amongst the pen of petting zoo wards whose welfare I was charged with. As we let the children in, two-by-two, the guinea pigs and ducklings huddled wide-eyed in groups, looking eager to escape, while the bunnies leaped, challenging the children to a chase. It was a dangerous game, yet Nugget the Silkie went neglected by the toddlers and bobbed about seemingly without care or aim.

Delighted by the odd ball of fluff, I scooped her up for myself, held her to eye level to find surprisingly big, inquisitive eyes underneath her crest. She stood in my palm and burbled—her toenails were likely clipped, and she had soft feet, completely covered with feathers. When she started to walk off my hand in what I interpreted to be impatience a few moments later, I caught her from falling several feet to the ground. She couldn’t see very well due to her overgrown crest—a problem common to Silkies that sometimes causes them to go blind because their feathers scratch their eyes.

Silkies are believed to have been domesticated thousands of years ago in China.36 The specifics surrounding their origin remain enigmatic. All rules of survival of the fittest likely would have worked against these birds had they been left to their own devices. The unique appearance of the Silkie’s feathers is caused by a lack of barbicels—Velcro-like hooks that link most birds’ feathers together to create a smooth coat. Since their feathers simply puff out because of this, Silkies have no natural shield from winter weather or water, and are rendered incapable of flight (when most chickens can, in fact, fly). In addition to the obscured eyesight, an extra toe on each feathered foot (most other chicken have four), and the missing barbicels, Silkies have pitch-black skin and bones underneath the frizz, and earlobes of turquoise blue.37

Marco Polo introduced Silkies to Western readers in the 13th century by documenting his encounters with hens that “have hair like a cat, are black, and lay the best of eggs.”38 Traders claimed they were a chimerical cross of rabbits and chickens—and they were popular “freak” animals in turn-of-the-century sideshows.39 Scientists—including Darwin—referred to them as “negro-fowl” well into the 20th century.40 Silkies are the natural Others of chicken culture—when, as Laura Brown remarks in Homeless Dogs & Melancholy Apes: Humans and Other Animals in the Modern Literary Imagination, “animal-as-other” is already a “common extrapolation” in itself.41

Usually low in a pecking order due to its small size and docile demeanor, the Silkie is often victim to chicken-bullying and has become popular as a household pet. Prized by farmers for their mothering abilities, breeders rave that Silkies will hatch any egg placed in their vicinity—duck, goose, or chicken. In a story that would have been used by earlier traders as evidence of their chimerical claims, there was recent news of a Silkie hen co-parenting newborn bunnies.42 In its native China, the bird was called wu gu ji for the nutrient value of its black bones, which have often been crushed into medicinal powder and prescribed to women after childbirth to boost their energy. The chicken is also used in restorative soups.43

In English, we named Silkies for their unusual softness.

Even with their limbs intact and an extra toe, Silkies seem nearly as ineffective in the wild as a footless fowl—making it particularly fitting to extrapolate upon the details of their breed here. More recently, Silkies have won popularity, albeit controversial, as an indoor pet. My neighborhood pet store, before its recent bankruptcy, boasted two live-in storefront Silkie siblings, Cinder and Ella, who were rescued from a farm where they were getting picked on and charmed the customers. This is unsurprising to some degree, as humans often invest care and affection for what appeals to us as cute and helpless (likely in the manner of infants, according to popular media)—a pattern that remains true in accounts from those of able-bodied Silkies to footless fowl. The attention received from humans because of their weaknesses is arguably essential to each of these birds’ survival tales.

On the other hand, human misunderstanding, intervention, and inattention are often why these birds end up the way they are in the first place, injured or deformed. From birth defects caused by hatching projects to fishing wires catching feet, and ornamental breeding decisions for stunningly impractical show birds, humans are to blame. This tension creates a unique and extended relationship between humans and poultry, both in daily existence and in sensationalistic stories, and those somewhere in between.

Sideshow Spectacles

The most infamous chicken story in human history caused by blatant human error likely occurred on September 10, 1945 in Fruita, Colorado, when Lloyd Olsen botched a routine chicken slaughter. By missing the jugular and leaving the brain stem and an ear intact, Mike the rooster—after initial staggering on impact of the axe’s blow—seemed not to realize that he had, in fact, lost his head. When Olsen found the bird alive and “sleeping with his ‘head’ under his wing” the morning after, he drove Mike over two hundred miles to the nearest university for scientific investigation.44

Mike purportedly continued to attempt to preen, peck, mingle with his flock, and even crow (instead, emitting unimpressive gurgles).45 Olsen appreciated his rooster’s will to live and reverted from butcher to caretaker, feeding his bird grains and water with an eyedropper. As the story spread, Olsen realized he could earn profit on the bird he failed to kill properly. After all, Mike was “a robust chicken—a fine specimen of a chicken except for not having a head” —and gained almost six pounds after the beheading. Olsen and Mike soon went on the road, and curious spectators across America lined up and paid a quarter to see the “Wonder Chicken,” “valued at $10,000 and insured for the same.”46 One fateful evening on a return trip from tour, Olsen could not find the eyedropper to clear Mike’s esophagus when he began choking; the chicken tragically asphyxiated in their motel room in the Arizona desert.47

While this amputee bird certainly never received a prosthetic head, he shares a role like that of the Silkies and the lower-extremity prostheses-clad fowl, as a subject that emerges from unusual human care. These birds, all species or specimens originally bred to be consumed by the mouth, have instead been consumed by the eyes—by the human gaze. As spectacles, each moved from being regarded as objects of human physical nourishment to multifaceted cultural subjects. Simultaneously beloved and othered, these birds were looked upon as freaks but were physically kept in the best form possible. What these animals might think of being regarded with such an attitude of alterity is something a lack of shared language might prevent humans from ever knowing. The poultry are, nevertheless, the way they are due to some fateful combination of nature and culture. As portrayed here, poultry, to humans, are tastiest as food or as freaks—and the freaks often live longer.

The freak of the human-fowl chimera is another spectacle worth extended future discussion—looking especially at Tod Browning’s 1932 cult film, Freaks, and its source material, “Spurs,” a short story by Tod Robbins. Both are heavy with poultry images, and in the final line of the story, the sideshow owner comments that freaks “are the kind that are always henpecked!”48 In the film, a glamorous able-bodied woman is transformed into a hideous duck-woman kept in a box, only able to quack, as punishment for spiting the sideshow performers.

Another human-fowl chimera emerges in Italian playwright Dario D’Ambrosi’s I Giorni di Antonio (1981), based on a true story Squier details in her book, in which a boy born with a deformed leg is raised in a chicken coop. Antonio’s mother makes money off her son’s bestial performance after he begins acting like a rooster. He is ultimately institutionalized, prompting the events of the play.49 In 2004, a true crime report echoing a similar tragedy surfaced from Suva, the capital of Fiji, when Sujit Kumar was discovered tied to a bed in a nursing home at the age of thirty-two. He had been raised locked in a chicken coop for several years by his grandfather from the age of six. When one of his current caretakers first met him, she observed that his “fingers turn inward from scratching around in the dirt, he communicates by making a rapid clicking noise with his tongue” —Kumar did not know how to talk, stand, or walk.50

Disability Awareness

In a more hopeful account of a disabled child, Jonee Matthews of Lysander, New York was born without a leg and made the news at the age of nine in May of 2012 with her “inspirational” pet chicken, Hope—a bird with crushed legs and no feet, who lives in a box inside the house. Those at the East Syracuse clinic who developed Jonee’s prostheses were apparently “so intrigued by her chicken that they’re experimenting with prosthetics for it, as well.” Sadly, the last the public heard from Jonee, “It’s not working how they expected it to.”51

This would come as no surprise to Amy Kaufman, co-owner of OrthoPets—the world’s first animal orthotics and prosthetics company. When I interviewed Kaufman in fall 2013, she spoke of repairing many “botched cases” from animals fixed by human practitioners who tried to solve animal cases without adequate knowledge of animal movement and function. Amy and her husband Martin had started their company after he successfully transferred his expertise in the human division to create a brace that saved a family dog from expensive operations. In the subsequent decade, the Kaufmans went from working out of their Colorado basement to multiple locations worldwide. They now track five major competitors in the field alongside other independent practitioners. Animal prosthetics is becoming a big business venture, and at the time I spoke with them, OrthoPets had worked on a single chicken out of over 10,000 cases in the past decade—a rooster with a “tarsal instability,” or a “blown-out ankle,” who “did pretty darn good.”

However, most cases of injured poultry will likely continue to remain unknown to the public. As fowls spend most of their lives on their feet, foot problems are common. As it has historically been more common for backyard poultry requiring repair to undergo treatment by axe than by vet, specialized veterinarians were never in high demand. Exceptions tend to reflect the recent elevation of chickens to privileged urban companion animals; Susan Orlean has naturally written about the bemused attention she received when bringing her chickens to the vet. A movement of do-it-yourself poultry care continues to thrive at present, courtesy of open access online forums where fowl farmers and hobbyists consult and correspond.

One example can be found in a “Poultry Podiatry” archive run by self-proclaimed “lay individuals” with enough farm experience to give advice on performing home surgeries for birds.52 Bumblefoot, an infection of lesions, is one common foot problem among poultry. Kathy Shea Mormino (self-dubbed “The Chicken Chick”) offers a graphic step-by-step guide based on her “experience as a backyard chicken-keeper,” and says the procedure is not terribly complicated. She quips, “chicken[s] tolerate this procedure well, the humans, less so.”53

Finally, in a lesser-known story reported by a prosthetist in January 2006, which did not receive much recognition beyond the realm of field professionals, Jim Young was contacted by an anonymous ornamental chicken breeder whose rooster’s leg became entangled in bailing wire, and required a home amputation. Young had never worked on a chicken before and conducted online research before crafting a functional foot from a pumpkin carving set. Using the “pumpkin saw…like a pipe…the orange handle fit perfectly into the inside of the standard galvanized pipe used in the industry. The scooper, even though it looked more like a duck’s foot, worked well as a chicken foot…” and a “gel liner…was placed on the chicken’s residual limb as an interface.” Given the audience for this publication, there are more details regarding the technical steps taken in creating the foot than in most of the other stories. While Jim Young entertained himself by filling his article (“Prosthetist Keeps Poultry in Motion”) with puns, there are no further updates on the chicken’s wellbeing. We never learn whether this particular fowl continues its career as a show bird.54


Again, it can be reiterated that each of the disabled birds featured in this paper has a prosthetic relationship with its owner—and the birds and their owners are portrayed in some sense as extensions of each other. For each of the humans involved, their pet poultry changed their lives and brought them previously unimagined fame. The footless birds would never be able to thrive on their own. Although the human-animal divide is clear in that a human would never be confused with poultry, these relationships bring their respective statuses nuance. There are perpetually many ironies that arise from these situations. Furthermore, returning to the original definition of grammatical prosthesis—adding letters in the beginning of the word—this paper adds, instead, to the feet.

This exploration has offered a small slice of an enormous topic with much more work to be done before possible completion. There are a few obvious paths for future consideration in the exploration of poultry parts. First, there is significantly more to tackle on the topic of commercial chicken production, from the actualities of battery farming to legends of genetic engineering. Most notorious here include the tall tales of Kentucky Fried Chicken raising monstrous fowl with no feet and more meat.55 More realistically, there is the practice of debeaking poultry on commercial farms—trimming beaks to make birds less dangerous to their battery-cage peers—which also makes the birds less bird-like, and more harmless and food-like. Annie Potts notes, the “typical farmed chick today will live for about six weeks,” and treated with absolute cruelty, “these birds have become de-natured, de-personalized and even de-animalized.”56

To point to another cultural phenomenon that has received more mainstream attention, there is the worldwide historical and controversial prevalence of cock-fighting, which has been popular since ancient times, when chickens were also used in alectryomancy—fortune-telling by reading the birds’ patterned pecking of grains. Plutarch supposedly “criticized the rich for indulging in cockfighting and derided Caesar’s cocks for losing.”57 One of renown anthropologist Clifford Geertz’s best known essays is, of course, “Deep Play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight” (1973). Furthermore, present iterations of the game have found criminals equipping roosters with razor blades as prostheses for fighting—on top of already-sharp spurs. These are one form of prostheses used to shorten the fowl’s lifespan for play and spectacle, rather than to extend its life for show. Furthermore, the practice has backfired to cause at least one human casualty.58

I end here simply to say: chickens have put up a good fight for and with humans for a long time now. By drawing attention to poultry in their many manifestations and extensions, it makes sense for us to put up a critical fight in defense of their relevance. Writing about poultry, after all, is often still considered an amusing secondary dalliance. In addition to the authors cited previously with “why chickens?” disclaimers, poultry—especially chickens—have long been the butt of jokes. As Wyatt Williams writes in his lyrical essay for The Paris Review, “I’ve been researching chicken for about two years now and the best punch line I’ve come up with is, ‘Because the U.S. raises and slaughters eight and a half billion chickens for meat every year.’ Not that funny.” The entry is titled, “The Joke About Chickens.” He offers later, “The best joke I’ve ever heard about a chicken starts with a classic conceit. A man walks into a restaurant and says, ‘How do you prepare the chicken?’ ‘We don’t,’ says the waiter. ‘We just tell it straight that it’s gonna die.’”59

What I believe makes fowl tales intrinsically captivating is the ideal and blend of comedy and tragedy that comes tracing each of their fates. To quote another writer’s facetious but bittersweet words on a bird, Flannery O’Connor once claimed, “When I was six I had a chicken that walked backward and was in the Pathe News. I was in it too with the chicken. I was just there to assist the chicken but it was the high point in my life. Everything since has been anticlimax.”

In addition to this predominant pattern of showing animals off, Laura Brown cites Claude Levi-Strauss for producing “a now widely cited aphorism: that animals are selected for human cultural activities not because they are ‘good to eat’ but because they are ‘good to think.’” (17). Susan Merrill Squier offers a similar sentiment in stating, “chickens are good to think with” (4). Prostheses—as an artificial addition—adds a new artificial complication to think through. Poultry, in their many manifestations, are wonderfully provocative and well-grounded as subjects to pair in numerous iterations of extended scholastic pursuit.


1. Kerstein, Arin. "Cummings School creates $2,500 prosthetic leg for local chicken." Tufts Daily. 22 Sep 2015. http://tuftsdaily.com/news/2015/09/22/cummings-school-creates-2500-prosthetic-leg-for-local-chicken/.

2. CBS Boston. "Chicken to get 3D Printed Prosthetic Leg at Tufts." 3 Aug 2015. http://boston.cbslocal.com/2015/08/03/chicken-to-get-3d-printed-prosthetic-leg-at-tufts/.

3. Kerstein.

4. "Fancy Feet." People Magazine, 30 Jan. 1989, http://www.people.com/people/article/0,,20119455,00.html.

5. Grossman, Ron. "A Footnote On Andy The Goose," Chicago Tribune, 27 June 1993, http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1993-06-27/features/9306270182_1_gene-fleming-andy-role-model/.

6. ibid.

7. Yockel, Michael. "W.E. 'Gene' Fleming, Friend to Lame Geese," New York Press, 25 Jan. 2000, http://nypress.com/we-gene-fleming-friend-to-lame-geese/.

8. Grossman.

9. ibid.

10. Cooke, Linda. "Nebraska Town Mourns Feathered Friend," Chicago Tribune, 25 Oct. 1991.

11. Fleming qtd. in Grossman.

12. Yockel. In an update, however, it was revealed in an October 2016 Atlas Obscura article by Cara Giaimo that Andy’s killer had, in fact, been identified—about two years after the murder. The reward money was donated to a community organization, but no press releases were issued as the sheriff’s department claimed the killer was “‘somebody that was not responsible’—suggesting that they were perhaps mentally disabled, or otherwise not in control of their actions” (Giaimo). Gene Fleming’s granddaughter, Jessica Korgie, is working on a documentary project about Andy. See more: http://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/the-goose-who-wore-nikes-and-the-mystery-of-who-murdered-him.

13. Kirby, Doug; Smith, Ken; Wilkins, Mike. "Grave of Mr. Chicken the Plastic-Legged Rooster," Roadside America, http://www.roadsideamerica.com/story/11274 (also image source).

14. "Legless Mr. Chicken Walks Again—Thanks To Science," 9 Feb. 1997, Orlando Sentinel, http://articles.orlandosentinel.com/keyword/artificial-limbs/featured/4.

15. "Legless chicken struts again," CNN, 29 March 1997. http://www.cnn.com/US/9703/29/fringe.am/legless.chicken/.

16. Associated Press—same article found across multiple sources. "Prosthetic-legged Rooster Mauled To Death," 29 June 1997, Chicago Tribune, http://articles.chicagotribune.com/keyword/prosthetics/recent/5.

17. Starr, Michelle. "Disabled duck gets new 3D-printed foot,"26 June 2013, CNET News, http://news.cnet.com/8301-17938_105-57591226-1/disabled-duck-gets-new-3d-printed-foot/ (also image source).

18. Gross, Lexy. "Buttercup steps into limelight on new foot: NovaCopy does 3-D printing of foot for pet duck." 2 July 2013, The Tennessean, http://www.tennessean.com/article/20130702/NEWS01/307030088/.

19. Cobb, Douglas. "Buttercup the Duck 3-D Printed Foot: The Truth Revealed (Interview with Mike Garey)." 7 July 2013, Las Vegas Guardian Express, http://guardianlv.com/2013/07/buttercup-the-duck-3-d-printed-foot-the-truth-revealed-interview-with-mike-garey/.

20. Gross.

21. Phillips, Bianca. "Q & A with Mike Garey, Inventor of Buttercup the Duck's Prosthetic Foot." 25 July 2013, Memphis Flyer, http://www.memphisflyer.com/memphis/q-and-a-with-mike-garey/Content?oid=3464377.

22. "Buttercup the Duck," Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/ButtercupTheDuck/.

23. Feathered Angels Waterfowl Sanctuary. 2015. http://featheredangels.org/index.php/buttercup/.

24. All definitions from The Oxford English Dictionary.

25. "Prosthetics," Theories of Media Keywords Glossary, The University of Chicago, http://csmt.uchicago.edu/glossary2004/prosthetics.htm.

26. Haraway, Donna Jeanne. When Species Meet. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota, 2008, p. 276.

27. Taylor, Sunaura. “Cripping the Sexual Politics of Meat.” in Eddy, Kathryn, et al. The Art of the Animal: Fourteen Women Artists Explore the Sexual Politics of Meat. Lantern Books: Brooklyn, NY, 2015, p 128.

28. Potts, Annie. Chicken. London: Reaktion, 2012, p. 155.

29. ibid.

30. Of course, another tangential discussion worth footnoting here is the business of chicken feet as Asian culinary delicacy.

31. Squier, Susan Merrill. Poultry Science, Chicken Culture: A Partial Alphabet. 2011, Rutgers University Press, Piscataway, NJ., p. 19

32. ibid, p. xi.

33. Orlean, Susan. "The It Bird," The New Yorker, 28 September 2009, http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2009/09/28/090928fa_fact_orlean.

34. Percy, Pam. The Complete Chicken, Voyageur Press, Vancouver, BC, 2002.

35. E.B. White 1994, vi, qtd in Squier 4.

36. "Silkie Bantam Chicken," City of Manhattan, Kansas website, http://www.ci.manhattan.ks.us/DocumentCenter/Home/View/1415.

37. "The Beautiful Silkie Bantams," American Silkie Bantam Club website, 2012, http://www.americansilkiebantamclub.org/about.asp.

38. Marco Polo quoted in "History of the Silkie," The Silkie Club Of Great Britain website, http://www.thesilkieclub.co.uk/silkieclub-history/.

39. "Breeds: Silkie Chickens." Omlet website, https://www.omlet.us/breeds/chickens/silkie/.

40. "History of the Silkie" (ibid).

41. Brown, Laura. Homeless Dogs & Melancholy Apes: Humans and Other Animals in the Modern Literary Imagination. Cornell University Press: Ithaca, New York, 2010.

42. Triska, Zoe. "Chicken Adopts Baby Rabbits," 22 Jan. 2011, The Huffington Post, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/01/22/chicken-adopts-rabbits_n_812210.html.

43. Louie, Elaine. "Now, a Chicken in Black," 17 Jan. 2007, New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2007/01/17/dining/17blac.html?_r=0.

44. "History," Mike the Headless Chicken Website, http://www.miketheheadlesschicken.org/history.

45. "Mike The Headless Chicken," The Natural Poultry Farming Guide, http://thenaturalpoultryfarmingguide.org/2013/04/11/mike-the-headless-chicken/.

46. "History."

47. Landry, Bob. "Life With Mike the Headless Chicken: Photos of a Famously Tough Fowl," Life Magazine http://life.time.com/curiosities/mike-the-headless-chicken-photos-of-a-famously-tough-fowl/.

48. Full text of "Spurs" (1928) by Tod Browning can be found here: http://www.olgabaclanova.com/spurs.htm.

49. Squier 75-76

50. Forsyth, Jenny. "Four years locked in a poultry coop, the next 20 tied to a bed," 10 July 2004, The Guardian, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2004/jul/11/fiji.jennyforsyth. A recent artistic depiction of the case can be found here: http://www.featureshoot.com/2015/10/dark-and-disturbing-stories-of-feral-children-are-brought-to-life-by-photographer-julia-fullerton-batten/.

51. Maassen, Katie."Jonee Matthews finds friendship in footless chicken," 21 May 2012, KSDK St. Louis Local News, http://www.ksdk.com/news/article/320701/0/Jonee-Matthews-finds-friendship-in-footless-chicken.

52. "PoultryPedia.Com: Online Poultry Health & Care 'Encyclopedia'" https://sites.google.com/a/poultrypedia.com/poultrypedia/.

53. Mormino, Kathy Shea. "Bumblefoot Causes and Treatment," The Chicken Chick website, http://www.the-chicken-chick.com/2011/07/bumblefoot-causes-treatment-warning.html#sthash.78UrppPm.dpuf.

54. Young, Jim. "Prosthetist Keeps Poultry in Motion." January 2006, The O & P Edge, http://www.oandp.com/articles/2006-01_09.asp.

55. See details and the debunking of the KFC urban legend here: http://www.snopes.com/food/tainted/kfc.asp.

56. Potts 138.

57. Percy 23.

58. Bierley, Bobby. "Man accidentally killed by cockfighting rooster armed with razor blade," 41 Action News, 8 Feb 2011, http://www.kshb.com/dpp/news/national/cockfighter-accidentally-killed-by-rooster-with-a-razor-blade.

59. Williams, Wyatt. "The Joke About Chickens," 8 Aug 2013, The Paris Review, https://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2013/08/08/the-joke-about-chickens/.

Works Cited

Bierley, Bobby. “Man accidentally killed by cockfighting rooster armed with razor blade,” 41
Action News
, 8 Feb 2011, www.kshb.com/dpp/news/national/cockfighter-accidentally-killed-by-rooster-with-a-razor-blade.

“Breeds: Silkie Chickens.” Omlet website, https://www.omlet.us/breeds/chickens/silkie/.

Brown, Laura. Homeless Dogs & Melancholy Apes: Humans and Other Animals in the Modern Literary Imagination. Cornell UP, 2010.

“Buttercup the Duck,” Facebook, www.facebook.com/ButtercupTheDuck/.

Browning, Tod. “Spurs,” 1928, www.olgabaclanova.com/spurs.htm.

CBS Boston. “Chicken to get 3D Printed Prosthetic Leg at Tufts.” 3 Aug 2015.

Cobb, Douglas. “Buttercup the Duck 3-D Printed Foot: The Truth Revealed (Interview with Mike Garey).” 7 July 2013, Las Vegas Guardian Express, guardianlv.com/2013/07/buttercup-the-duck-3-d-printed-foot-the-truth-revealed-interview-with-mike-garey/.

Cooke, Linda. “Nebraska Town Mourns Feathered Friend,” Chicago Tribune, 25 Oct. 1991.

Feathered Angels Waterfowl Sanctuary. 2015. featheredangels.org/index.php/buttercup/.

“Fancy Feet.” People Magazine, 30 Jan. 1989, www.people.com/people/article/0,,20119455,00.html.

Forsyth, Jenny. “Four years locked in a poultry coop, the next 20 tied to a bed,” 10 July 2004, The Guardian, www.theguardian.com/world/2004/jul/11/fiji.jennyforsyth.

Gross, Lexy. “Buttercup steps into limelight on new foot: NovaCopy does 3-D printing of foot for pet duck.” 2 July 2013, The Tennessean, www.tennessean.com/article/20130702/NEWS01/307030088/.

Grossman, Ron. “A Footnote On Andy The Goose,” Chicago Tribune, 27 June 1993, articles.chicagotribune.com/1993-06-27/features/9306270182_1_gene-fleming-andy-role-model/.

Haraway, Donna Jeanne. When Species Meet. U of Minnesota, 2008.

“History,” Mike the Headless Chicken Website, www.miketheheadlesschicken.org/history.

“History of the Silkie,” The Silkie Club Of Great Britain website, www.thesilkieclub.co.uk/silkieclub-history/.

Kerstein, Arin. “Cummings School creates $2,500 prosthetic leg for local chicken.” Tufts Daily. 22 Sep 2015. tuftsdaily.com/news/2015/09/22/cummings-school-creates-2500-prosthetic-leg-for-local-chicken/.

Kirby, Doug; Smith, Ken; Wilkins, Mike. “Grave of Mr. Chicken the Plastic-Legged Rooster,” Roadside America, www.roadsideamerica.com/story/11274.

Landry, Bob. “Life With Mike the Headless Chicken: Photos of a Famously Tough Fowl,” Life Magazine, life.time.com/curiosities/mike-the-headless-chicken-photos-of-a-famously-tough-fowl/.

“Legless Mr. Chicken Walks Again—Thanks To Science,” 9 Feb. 1997, Orlando Sentinel, articles.orlandosentinel.com/keyword/artificial-limbs/featured/4.

“Legless chicken struts again,” CNN, 29 March 1997, www.cnn.com/US/9703/29/fringe.am/legless.chicken/.

Louie, Elaine. “Now, a Chicken in Black,” 17 Jan. 2007, New York Times, www.nytimes.com/2007/01/17/dining/17blac.html.

Maassen, Katie.”Jonee Matthews finds friendship in footless chicken,” 21 May 2012, KSDK St. Louis Local News, www.ksdk.com/news/article/320701/0/Jonee-Matthews-finds-friendship-in-footless-chicken.

“Mike The Headless Chicken,” The Natural Poultry Farming Guide, thenaturalpoultryfarmingguide.org/2013/04/11/mike-the-headless-chicken/.

Mormino, Kathy Shea. “Bumblefoot Causes and Treatment,” The Chicken Chick website, www.the-chicken-chick.com/2011/07/bumblefoot-causes-treatment-warning.html#sthash.78UrppPm.dpuf.

Orlean, Susan. “The It Bird,” The New Yorker, 28 September 2009, www.newyorker.com/reporting/2009/09/28/090928fa_fact_orlean.

Percy, Pam. The Complete Chicken: An Entertaining History of Chickens, Voyageur Press, 2002.

Phillips, Bianca. “Q & A with Mike Garey, Inventor of Buttercup the Duck’s Prosthetic Foot.” 25 July 2013, Memphis Flyer, www.memphisflyer.com/memphis/q-and-a-with-mike-garey/Content?oid=3464377.

Potts, Annie. Chicken. Reaktion, 2012.

“poultry, n.” OED Online. Oxford UP, September 2016, www.oed.com.lp.hscl.ufl.edu/view/Entry/149003?redirectedFrom=poultry#eid. Accessed 27 October 2016.

"prosthesis, n." OED Online. Oxford UP, September 2016, www.oed.com.lp.hscl.ufl.edu/view/Entry/153069?redirectedFrom=prosthesis#eid. Accessed 27 October 2016.

“PoultryPedia.Com: Online Poultry Health & Care ‘Encyclopedia’” sites.google.com/a/poultrypedia.com/poultrypedia/

“Prosthetics,” Theories of Media Keywords Glossary, The University of Chicago, csmt.uchicago.edu/glossary2004/prosthetics.htm.

“Prosthetic-legged Rooster Mauled To Death,” 29 June 1997, Chicago Tribune, articles.chicagotribune.com/keyword/prosthetics/recent/5.

“Silkie Bantam Chicken,” City of Manhattan, Kansas website, www.ci.manhattan.ks.us/DocumentCenter/Home/View/1415.

Starr, Michelle. “Disabled duck gets new 3D-printed foot,”26 June 2013, CNET News, news.cnet.com/8301-17938_105-57591226-1/disabled-duck-gets-new-3d-printed-foot/.

Squier, Susan Merrill. Poultry Science, Chicken Culture: A Partial Alphabet. Rutgers UP, 2011.

Taylor, Sunaura. “Cripping the Sexual Politics of Meat.” The Art of the Animal: Fourteen Women Artists Explore the Sexual Politics of Meat, edited by Kathryn Eddy, L.A. Watson, and Janell O’Rourke. Lantern Books, 2015.

“The Beautiful Silkie Bantams,” American Silkie Bantam Club website, 2012, www.americansilkiebantamclub.org/about.asp.

Triska, Zoe. “Chicken Adopts Baby Rabbits,” 22 Jan. 2011, The Huffington Post, www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/01/22/chicken-adopts-rabbits_n_812210.html.

Williams, Wyatt. “The Joke About Chickens,” 8 Aug 2013, The Paris Review, www.theparisreview.org/blog/2013/08/08/the-joke-about-chickens/.

Yockel, Michael. “W.E. ‘Gene’ Fleming, Friend to Lame Geese,” New York Press, 25 Jan. 2000, nypress.com/we-gene-fleming-friend-to-lame-geese/.

Young, Jim. “Prosthetist Keeps Poultry in Motion.” January 2006, The O & P Edge, www.oandp.com/articles/2006-01_09.asp.

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