Sanctuary Resident Is The First Cow To Wear A New Kind Of Brace

Jul 30, 2018

A cow at the Woodstock Farm Sanctuary is reportedly the first in the United States outfitted with a new type of brace. The hope is to help straighten one of her legs and improve her mobility. WAMC’s Hudson Valley Bureau Chief Allison Dunne took a trip to the sanctuary in Ulster County to learn more.

“It does help her leg stay straight because as you can see right now, it’s bending at the knee,” Breuil says.

That was Fawn taking a break from grazing to investigate my microphone. Brace or no brace, the 5½-year-old rescued Jersey Cow is full of personality, well socialized around people, and gets around. The hope is that she’ll get around even better with her new brace, and keep from compromising other areas of her body, like her back, which could negatively impact her quality and length of life. Shelter Director Hervé Breuil:

“She’s the first cow in the United States to be able to wear something because this technology, it’s Ultraflex technology. It’s a joint that was designed for human beings. But Derrick Campana used to work with human beings, and he has the patent to be able to use this on animals as well,” Breuil says. “So he’s using it on, he’s the only one in the United States who can use it both on humans and animals.”

Derrick Campana builds custom prosthetics for animals. Maybe you’ve seen him on Animal Planet, recently fitting a custom brace on an elephant in Botswana. Back at the Woodstock Animal Sanctuary in High Falls, I accompany Breuil to the pasture as he puts the brace on Fawn’s right front leg.

“Adjusting the Velcro straps,” says Dunne.

That’s right,” says Breuil. “There are five of them so it doesn’t move.”

And there is padding to prevent rubbing.

“So with this on her, what is the idea?” asks Dunne. “So as she takes a step…”

“As she takes a step, she has some resistance here that she doesn’t have otherwise naturally, and that’s why she’s bending,” says Breuil. “And so that’s really helping her keep the leg straight, putting some strength in the joint of the knee that she doesn’t have naturally.”

You can dial up the resistance on the new brace. They’re starting Fawn on the lowest resistance, one, for about half an hour daily, increasing the amount of time she wears the brace each week. And they’re doing it in style.

“And the design, the Woodstock psychedelic…” asks Dunne.

“Yeah, the Woodstock psychedelic design, yes,” says Breuil. “So when Derrick sent me an entire page of colors and I had to choose one, so I thought that would fit very well with Woodstock, yes.”

And, Fawn walks with a boot on her left front leg because of extensive injuries and infection sustained in a fall into a manure pit at the dairy farm where she was born. This leg is shorter than the right front and she will need the boot the rest of her life. There have been several trips to Cornell University in Fawn’s young life, for surgeries. And there have been other braces.

“The bills at Cornell for the first few months, that came down to $26,000. And then the new prosthetic that she has, they are $3,000 but Derrick was really nice to give us a 50 percent discount because we are a sanctuary, so that was really nice of him,” Breuil says. “But when I think about this, an animal like her, some people asked us when we rescued her, why are you spending so much money on one cow instead of putting her down. You could rescue so many more animals with that type of money. Well, that’s why we are a sanctuary. We all come together, things we could not do individually, not a lot of people, of course, could give $26,000. So we all get together in this organization, people give us money at times, and this is how we can rescue one animal because their lives matter as much as anybody else.”

Rachel McCrystal is executive director of the Woodstock Farm Sanctuary.

“A lot of what we do here at the sanctuary is experimental because these are farmed animals, and so that means that they’re usually just seen as units of production, trying to accomplish basically the one task of either having babies or giving milk or just getting old enough to be killed for slaughter. And usually they’re killed by the time they’re really young in all of those industries,” McCrystal says. “And so when we do things like prosthetics or braces or even elder care – about one-third of our population here is geriatric, so we provide elder care, end-of-life care, palliative care — a lot of it is experimental because farmed animals don’t have the luxury of growing old.”

And since Fawn began wearing the brace, McCrystal has noticed a difference.

“I’ve noticed her out quite a bit more. She seems to be way more mobile than she was with her previous brace or without it, and that’s something that is really important for her to keep her muscles. We really want… she’s so small that she’s not prone to arthritis that some of the bigger cows on site are, but we really want to make sure she’s mobile,” says McCrystal. “And I’ve seen her just out and about and just being way more playful, moving more smoothly, which I think is a big tell that she is feeling very pain-free, which she hasn’t always felt that way.”

Fawn and her bovine friends Maribeth and Johnny Boy are free to come and go from barn to pasture as they please. And with her new brace, Fawn moves that much more quickly to join her friends heading in for a meal.