Lucky far outlasted them all.
Her survival story so inspired her cattle-farming owners, Brandy and Stan McCubbin and their four young daughters, that the family rallied their Campbellsville, Ky., community to raise money for a potentially lifesaving vet visit to the University of Illinois, where a CT scan of Lucky’s two mouths — both deformed by cleft palates — would decide whether the calf qualified for reparative surgery.
They needed $500. The community came up with $1,200.
The possible surgery extended far beyond the McCubbins’ normal farm routine, but they felt called to seek it out “because she lived,” Brandy McCubbin, a preschool teacher, told The Washington Post. “She didn’t die.”
“We weren’t going to give up on her while she was living,” McCubbin said. “You can’t just give up on somebody because they’re different.”
On Jan. 2, her 108th day of life, Lucky was a week away from the vet visit. But Brandy McCubbin noticed something was off. The two-faced calf mooed as McCubbin approached for the morning bottle-feeding but didn’t engage like normal. McCubbin and her husband called the vet and tried to load the calf into their truck.
But Lucky never made it.
“It was the saddest thing I’d ever seen,” McCubbin told The Post. “I felt like she wanted us there, I felt like she waited for us before she died.”
The calf had become something of a local celebrity — and a member of the family — since her birth, drawing more than 350 visitors to the McCubbins’ 100-acre Kentucky farm. Her extraordinary story had reached the newspaper pages and airwaves of state and national media outlets, and as she continued to survive against the odds, people following her progress from across the globe became more and more invested.
A man running a “freak show” in California offered to buy Lucky from the McCubbins, Brandy McCubbin told The Post. Ripley’s Believe It or Not wrote about the calf.
Lucky even had her own Facebook fan page.
There, the McCubbins posted photos of Lucky walking around their yard and being visited by local schoolchildren. On Thanksgiving, the family posed for a picture with Lucky. Brandy McCubbin offered hopeful updates on the calf’s condition.
Of all the McCubbin children, the couple’s 5-year-old daughter, Kenley, grew the most invested.
She was responsible for Lucky’s name and took extra care to give the calf affection, dragging her blanket down to the family’s unfinished basement, where Lucky lived, to snuggle up beside the napping animal.
Lucky loved to be stroked and would nudge the McCubbins when she wanted attention.
“She enjoyed our company,” Brandy McCubbin said. “Like a pet.”
Lucky’s challenges came from the neck up.
Her genetic mutation — called polycephaly — gave her four eyes, two noses and two mouths, and the calf’s abnormally heavy head made it difficult to walk. She eventually learned how, even if only to travel in circles. When one mouth sucked from a bottle of milk, the other moved, too.
But her cleft palates became a problem when she began requiring more substantive meals. The McCubbins supplemented the milk with a protein mix, but when they tried to feed Lucky hay, the roughage became lodged in the cleft palate pocket on the roof of her mouth. The surgery, ideally, would have fixed that, allowing Lucky to eat and grow like a normal cow.
“I don’t know,” McCubbin said. “Her body just gave out.”
The family buried Lucky by a creek near their house. Kenley wanted a funeral.
“It was a blessing. It was something we’ll always share,” McCubbin said. “Our kids, they’ll never experience something like that again.”
The family has decided to donate the community-raised money to an organization in need, though they haven’t yet decided which one. The children miss Lucky, McCubbin said, but haven’t dwelled on her death.
“They were okay. Kids are strong,” she said. “I was the one that was the mess.”
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