Raising cattle in Campbellsville, Kentucky, Stan McCubbin is used to things that would make most people squeamish. But even he wasn’t expecting one of his cows to give birth to a double-headed calf last Friday.
Walking along the farm’s property, McCubbin thought he was looking at newborn bovine twins, but upon closer inspection noticed that the two heads were attached, he told Inside Edition.
Lucky—named by the family’s five-year-old daughter—is very literally lucky to be alive. Many calves with this condition, known as polycephaly, are stillborn. The longest surviving calf, according to Ripley’s Believe it or Not, lived for 40 days.
“Dicephaly, or bicephaly, is the most common form of polycephaly,” Dr. María Ferrer, an associate professor of reproductive veterinary medicine in the University of Georgia’s Department of Large Animal Medicine, told The Daily Beast.
“Dicephaly is, in general, considered a form of conjoined twins,” Dr. Ferrer said. She added that two-headed animals are believed to form in the same manner as conjoined human twins: from a single fertilized egg that fails to divide entirely. Typically, if a single egg is fertilized, it splits into two separate embryos—but this isn’t always the case.
The leading theory, known as fission, holds that if the egg fails to divide or splits too late in the developmental process, the two offspring will be conjoined. “A single ovum [egg] is fertilized… but separation is not complete, leading to duplication of the head while sharing a torso,” Dr. Ferrer explained.
An alternative theory, called fusion, suggests that the embryos may separate and then rejoin later in the womb. Some research suggests that both processes may occur. “It’s not common, but it happens,” Dr. Thomas Divers of Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine told The Daily Beast.
McCubbin and his family were initially “shocked” to learn that they were the owners of such a curious animal, but have since adopted the calf, providing the extra-special care she requires.
With two heads, two noses, two mouths, and four eyes (though blind in the middle two), the calf has a hard time standing up and walking, much less nursing. “Normally within an hour or so of birth, a normal calf is up on its feet and nursing” McCubbin said. “Everything’s pretty instant for them.”
But Lucky has spent most of her time “lying on the ground” and being pampered by the family. “She’s given a lot of special care as opposed to the other calves,” McCubbin said. “We watch after her more [and] we’re hand feeding her.”
McCubbin told The Daily Beast that Lucky has to have her “very heavy” head held up by someone else, and requires help when feeding or walking. “Both her mouths move when she drinks from the bottle and she walks in circles,” he said.
Lucky’s mother has stayed by her calf’s side, too. “[Lucky’s mother is] not naturally nursing because we're having to feed her and all, but [she] has still been very motherly. She’s licking her and standing and protecting her.”
When asked what their plans for Lucky are, McCubbin told The Daily Beast that they’re just doing what they can for her and taking things day by day. “Were just [helping] her survive. The odds are against her... we’re just doing all we can for her right now.”
While Lucky’s prognosis is likely negative, Dr. Ferrer told The Daily Beast that additional examination by a vet would be required to determine “what the prognosis for life is, and what the best and most ethical plan is for [this] particular animal.”
“We’ve spoke to a couple vets and they’ve looked at her,” McCubbin said. “They say she’s healthy and everything seems to be normal from the neck back.”