Posted Thursday, November 12, 2009 --- 10:05 p.m.
On Paul Springer's farm near Mineral Point, it's not unusual to find the unusual. Pointing to a cow he purchased that was born with a fifth leg attached to its back, Springer said, "Freak of nature....it happens!"
It's just the most recent of many deformed animals Paul has purchased and given a home to over the years. He's owned everything from five-horned sheep to six-legged cows. He even once acquired a two-headed calf that had died at birth.
You might have seen some of Paul's animals if you've ever been to a Ripley's Believe it or Not Museum. He's sold six deformed animals to Ripley's' around America, including a six-legged cow named "Slim" on display at the Ripley's in the Wisconsin Dells. "Slim" is positioned right across from the skull of Paul's two-headed calf.
His fascination with "freaks" began in the mid 1970s, when he bought a 6-legged calf named Boldegard, an animal destined for the slaughterhouse, if Paul had not purchased him. "I neutered him, otherwise all I would have had was a mean piece of baloney; couldn't have taken him any where!"
He and Boldegard traveled the country, and people paid to see the steer. "I had him since he was a week old. He was the most gentle. I could lead him around like a dog."
Boldegard lived a long 14 years, and it was tough when he had to be put down, because Paul gets attached to the misfit animals.
Even though he's made some money from these animals other farmers wanted to get rid of, it's about more than that. He has a soft spot for them. Paul said, "There's something about them that maybe I feel sorry for. I give them a life. Most people will put them down and sell them. I am proud of them!"
Paul said the odds of a six-legged calf being born alive are about one in four million! So, he depends on a network of fellow farmers to let him know if an animal is born with deformities. He does not take animals that are suffering.
When Paul buys a deformed farm animal, he buys them some time in the process. Pointing to the five-legged cow, he said, “Somebody would have eaten her up at McDonald's somewhere. At least she extends her life here."
He feels there's a lesson to be learned at his stable of the strange. "People who see them, it gives them a chance to realize that everything isn't, whether it be human beings or pigs or people or cats or dogs, we're not all born normal. Just because somebody has a handicap, they shouldn't be shunned. They should be given every chance, and love and attention that's possible."
Saying that farming is in his blood, he has no plans to retire. He hopes one of his grandchildren goes into farming some day and takes over the farm.
Meantime, he'll continue to keep his eye out for the odd. Asked if he ever sees a freak of nature that surprises even him, with a confident smile, he said, "Not anymore."