When a calf is born with a birth defect or a disability, its future is grim. However, one area calf, who was born with a condition called contracted tendons, doesn’t have to worry about his future.
Contracted tendons is a condition where the tendons on the front of a calf’s legs are weak or lax and cause the hooves to fold under. As a result, the calf is not able to stand properly on its hooves and it is forced to walk on its fetlocks. Luckily for this adorable calf with a heart shape on his head, the owner of the farm where he was born knew exactly what to do.
Zenz Farms in Grass Lake, where the calf was born, offered the calf free of charge to the Agriscience program at Jackson Area Career Center. The Agriscience program teaches high school students to use science based and hands on learning to acquire the basic skills associated with agriculture. It covers everything from landscape and plant identification to animal care and breeding. Students studying animal science have the opportunity to raise and compete with livestock at MSU and Jackson County Fair competitions through this class.
This turned out to be a great setting for the calf, and a wonderful learning experience for the students. “When two of our instructors showed up at Zenz Farms to pick up our feeder calves for the program, Zenz suggested that the calf could be used for teaching purposes for our students,” says Jennifer Smith, an instructor in the FFA program. When the calf arrived at the career center, the students nicknamed him Knuckles because he walked on his Knuckles.
When Knuckles arrived at the career center, he became a teaching tool for the students. The instructors decided that the students would work with the calf to see which treatment for the contracted tendons would work best. Head instructor Jason Gehrke called Veterinarian Dr. Duane Trupiano, who treats the animals at the career center when necessary. Dr. Trupiano put a cast on one of Knuckles front legs, and showed Gehrke how to do physical therapy on the other leg, who in turn taught the students. Keely Efaw, who is a second-year student and high school senior, says “When Knuckles would eat, we would place his leg in the correct position and force him to put weight on the leg with no cast. We also do stretches to help loosen the tendons.”
Knuckles wore his cast for two weeks. Instructor Smith stated that the students who worked with Knuckles believed that the physical therapy worked better than the casting. Chloe Sanford, another second-year student said “Therapy built up the muscle, while the leg with the cast was still weak. He walks on the tip of his hoofs like a ballerina.” Efaw added that with continued physical therapy on both legs, Knuckles will hopefully begin to walk properly.
The leg therapy and casting isn’t the only learning that the students got from Knuckles. There are several other calves at the career center that, along with Knuckles, needed dehorning and castration. Hannah Baird, a second-year student and high school senior, performed the castration and dehorning on Knuckles under the supervision of Megan McNeil, one of the instructors. “Dehorning and castration is harder than it looks. When dehorning, the scooping makes me queasy, but thankfully we didn’t have to scoop on Knuckles. It’s all a part of being in the program,” she said.
Knuckles, the Holstein calf with a heart shape on his head, has no idea that he is a teaching tool. He just knows that he is loved and adored by the students that take care of him. He will run and greet the students when they go to his pen. When they go to feed him and to clean his pen he will run and follow them everywhere they go. “He’s like a puppy” says Baird. “He just follows us and will come running up to us when we call his name. He gives us kisses too! It’s really cute.”
Both the morning and afternoon classes worked together on Knuckle’s rehabilitation and physical therapy. “It took equal contribution of both classes to make this a huge success,” said Gehrke. Fair goers may be able to see Knuckles at the Jackson County Fair this summer. “I’m really hoping Gehrke will let me show him,” says Efaw. Residents are invited to come to the fair this summer to see if Knuckles will be there and check out the other steers and animals that the FFA students will show.