Cicely the Leghorn Gets a New Prosthetic Leg

I have had the pleasure of knowing and working with Andrea Martin Ph.D. and her wonderful Black Thistle Farm located in Massachusetts. Dr. Martin has dedicated her life to working with poultry as a behaviorist as well as running a chicken rescue. She is a terrific resource for many local and international chicken keepers. Recently a pullet named Cicely with a bum leg ended up in Dr. Martin’s rescue. Their story is one of fate, love and dedication to the field. With Dr. Martin’s help Cicely has become the first chicken to receive a prosthetic leg in the United States. This week, I had a chance to sit down with Dr. Martin and learn more about her amazing dedication to Cicely and poultry for an interview.

Tell us a little bit about yourself Dr. Martin and your rescue.

Black Thistle Farm works out of two farms, mine and a friend’s horse farm. We only rescue birds that have been abandoned or are in danger of slaughter. We have limited space at this time. We adopt birds out if they are able to find loving homes. Many birds are injured or stressed out and in need of training. The emotional trauma can be severe, and the training can take months or a year.

Tell us about your chicken background please.

I was born into chickens. We always had them. I learned traditional tips and as I “aged” began to integrate animal behavior and cognitive research into understanding the birds. I also use “feel”, and have always had an ability to understand other animals. I use my ability to read the chickens more than anything else – the science supports the intuition.

How did you meet Cicely?

Cicely was a surrendered bird. We had been hoping to rescue her for a while. Getting the birds can be delicate, we need to cultivate trust with the people. Some birds are in bad situations. People either misunderstand their needs or deliberately neglect the birds.

What made you think about creating a prosthetic leg for Cicely?

We initially didn’t think about a leg for her. I assumed she would have to be euthanized – her condition was so severe. The vet (Dr. Knafo) at Tufts gave us two options – put her down, or amputate and create a 3-D prosthetic. We were thrilled and went with the amputation! She informed us this would be groundbreaking. No one had created a full leg for a gallinaceous bird before.

How was the prosthetic leg created?

The first leg did not attach properly, so they are designing another. The leg will be engineered at Tufts University. It is designed from images and measurements based on her good leg. The prosthetic will be made on a 3-d printer.

Where was the surgery done? How long was it and what was the recovery like?

The surgery was done at Tufts Grafton. The leg was amputated at the hock joint. The surgery was straightforward and Cicely came home after a few days. She recovered quickly.

Is there any training after the surgery that you are still working on with her?

Her rehab will be long term. Cicely never walked, so she has no understanding of how to walk. She is perfectly happy bouncing around with one leg! She does everything a normal bird does except roost. She is happy, enthusiastic and keeps up with the flock. I have started showing her that she can put weight and rest using the training leg. She has begun to use the leg as a prop! Her muscles are atrophied and she will require a looong schedule of therapy to rebuild the leg muscle above the hock. She will also have to learn how to walk.

How is she doing now?

She is a happy and charismatic pullet. She lays like a leghorn! Cicely is very vocal and bonded to people. She loves to be around humans.

How can folks get more information about you and what you do?

I run a chicken resource center and we specialize in training roosters. I teach people how to understand and enjoy their birds, how to prevent and solve problems and how to get legal issues regarding chickens resolved. I am dedicated to helping chickens in any way possible – they are my world and my passion. I can be reached at


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