RINGGOLD, Va. — John Smith, 22, strolled through the petting zoo at the Danville Pittsylvania County Fair, looking at cows, goats and other farm animals. Something he saw in a stall on his left stopped him mid step and had him turn toward the cage.
“Wow,” was his only thought, he said.
He approached the cage to make sure he saw it right, pulled out his phone, and snapped pictures of Cinco: a perfectly healthy cow with an extra leg protruding from between her right shoulder and neck. The leg dangles downward — too short and coming from too high — to reach the ground with its dual hooves.
This is Cinco’s fifth year at the Danville Pittsylvania fair, where she has served as one of the main attractions at the petting zoo, said JR Burnett, who runs Cavalier Farms where Cinco lives during the year.
“It makes for a great fair cow,” he said.
Having extra limbs — a condition known as polymelia — happens occasionally in Angus cattle. Pete Fulper, a veterinarian with 40 years of experience working with cattle, said he has seen somewhere between eight and 10 cows born with extra legs. One of those was born with eight legs, he said.
Burnett said his parents, who have run a cow calf operation for 40 years, had never seen another one like it. They inherited Cinco as part of a herd of calves about six years ago.
“We just wanted to see it,” he said.
They have not done extensive research into the issue, Burnett said, but have been told the extra limb was a result of conjoined twins. Fulper, on the other hand, said the defect is not likely the result of twins, but simply the result of genetics.
“It’s usually a mutation in the genes of the embryo,” he said.
Despite the extra leg, Cinco has lived a perfectly normal life: she lives in the field with the rest of the herd, has had multiple calves and hasn’t exhibited any significant health problems.
“As far as we’re concerned, and she’s concerned, she’s normal,” Burnett said.
Fulper said getting calves with extra limbs through the birth canal can be challenging, but most of the problems for the animal end there.
Cinco is timid towards people when out in the fields, Burnett said, and she seems to calm down during her time in the stall at the fair.
“It’s like she was meant for this,” he said.
Carolyn McCurry, the fair’s barn manager, said Cinco elicits some great reactions from visitors during her annual week at the fair.
“Everybody’s shocked,” she said. “They don’t think it’s real.”
Mason Jones, 6, said his teacher had told him the five-legged cow would be at the fair, so he was thrilled to find Cinco on Monday.
“It looks like it has a hook growing out of its arm,” he said.
Cinco gets some special treatment from Burnett, such as extra feed and more attention when she’s having a calf. They sell most of their cows and calves much sooner than their sixth birthday, Burnett said, but Cinco isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
“She’ll spend the rest of her days with us,” he said.
Ayers reports for the Register & Bee. Reach him at (434) 791-7981.