Rehabilitating farm animals; Student explains 3D printing prosthetics


Katherine Vanarsdale

Wrecking Ball the hen is currently being made prosthetic legs to be able to walk again. The first three designs failed, but this isn’t the end of Wrecking Ball’s story.

KIMBERLY EDGAR, Entertainment Editor

    Freshman Katherine Vanarsdale and her family started a 501c3 farm animal rescue about a year ago. They specialize in helping the “perfectly imperfect” animals, which are animals that have been neglected, abused, have disabilities or have deformities. 

     Chickens and ducks are their most common animal that is surrendered to them for having disabilities or deformities. A certain hen in particular has gathered some attention due to the way Vanarsdale and her family is treating the hen. 

     Wrecking Ball is the name for this hen who was surrendered to them with another hen because the breeder didn’t like their bloodline. “When we got that brutal cold snap a few months ago, she got severe frostbite on both her feet,” says Vanarsdale. “Due to the severity of it she lost both her feet.” 

     Unsure of what to do, Vanarsdale’s mom researched ways to help Wrecking Ball and found out about 3D printing prosthetics for the hen. This was the more appealing option, since the most common way was to kill them and “[we] didn’t want to do that due to our mission being giving every animal a fighting chance, no matter what disabilities they have,” says Vanarsdale. 

     It was Vanarsdale’s idea to recruit technology teacher Mr. Andrew Thompson to the cause for creating 3D printed prosthetics for Wrecking Ball. Unfortunately so far, none of the prototypes have worked correctly. “Our first design was too big, our second design was smaller but too heavy. Our third design was the smallest one so far but still didn’t work. Each design gets closer and closer to being the design that works.” 

     Vanarsdale explains that the process has been difficult because both Thompson and herself believe they have made a good design. They are planning “on removing parts that Wrecking Ball isn’t using the way it’s intended and try to remove as much weight as possible off of the prosthetic,” adds Vanarsdale. According to Vanarsdale, there have been a couple difficulties with the newest design staying upright in the printer since it doesn’t have a large base like the rest of them. 

     She explains that she expected the first prototype not to work but when the second one failed, that she was disappointed and that she believed the third one would be right. Unfortunately, the third one failed as well so “Mr. Thompson and I are doing the most drastic changes to the design since we started this project,” says Vanarsdale. 

     The purpose of these prosthetic legs is to “help Wrecking Ball be able to stand up and walk forwards instead of frantically flapping her wings and going backwards,” says Vanarsdale. “In a perfect world, the first design would have worked, and Wrecking Ball would be able to use her legs properly with the help of her prosthetic legs.” 

     “Before this process, I wish I had known how difficult it would be to find the right design to make a prosthetic that Wrecking Ball would be able to use properly,” says Vanarsdale. She adds that no matter how difficult it gets, she will never stop trying to help Wrecking Ball so she can walk again as quickly as possible. 

     There is a story behind Wrecking Ball’s name: when she first got frostbite she had to be picked up and put into the coop every night by Vanarsdale and her family. But every morning the hen would go to the top of the ramp and “she would try to walk down the ramp but would lose her balance part of the way down and end up rolling down the ramp,” says Vanarsdale. “If any other chickens were on the ramp, she would knock them off the ramp as she tumbled down. Hence the name ‘Wrecking Ball’.”