Meet Mumble: How to Raise Baby Chicks with Special Needs
When Raising Backyard Chickens, Expect the Unexpected.
Rebekah Stewart of North Somerset, Britain, learned even if you know how to raise baby chicks, sometimes things happen. In May of 2015, five chicks hatched without problems. Then Mumble emerged with no eyes. Panicked, Rebekah searched online for help. She knew how to hatch chicken eggs but nothing prepared her for this. Could she do anything for the baby? Her pleas sparked a long forum discussion, in which most people advised Rebekah to cull the chick. But as Rebekah looked at the hours-old yellow baby, she knew she couldn’t do that. Some forum responders believed in Mumble. They said she deserved a chance and Rebekah agreed.
The baby didn’t immediately thrive. Though Rebekah removed Mumble from the brooder to eat separately, the baby was only half the size of her siblings after one week. So she paired Mumble with her hatch-mate Cleo so she would have company and less competition. When she ate, Mumble stood in a container filled with two inches of chick crumble so every bite was food; an important step when raising baby chickens, especially one with special needs. When Mumble still didn’t grow well, Rebekah turned to the Disabled Hens Support Network, a Facebook group which formed in May of 2014 after a truck carrying thousands of ex-battery-cage hens crashed, killing and injuring hundreds of birds. The same people who rehabilitated and kept the surviving chickens as pets advised Rebekah to mash boiled egg yolk and to mix chick crumb with Mumble’s water so she would get a little nutrition when she drank.
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Now eighteen weeks old, Mumble lives with Cleo and her other sister, Elvis, inside Rebekah’s house. The trio goes outside daily to forage and dust bathe, though Mumble is more reserved than the others. She is intelligent but she knows her limits. As her sisters roam around, Mumble pecks at the grass and calls out to ensure Cleo and Elvis are still nearby. Often she cuddles on the garden bench with Rebekah. When clouds pass overhead, the two sisters run for the house. Abandoned, Mumble slumps on the ground or spins in circles until Rebekah rescues her. Mumble panics when her feet leave the ground, so Rebekah taught her to step up on command, nestling in her owner’s hands to go inside. Sometimes Mumble rides on Rebekah’s feet. Sunny mornings find Cleo and Elvis under each arm and Mumble atop her foot as she takes the girls out to play in the garden.
Each day Mumble learns to do things normal chickens do. She’s also gathered a sizable fan club. Since Mumble hatched, so many people have requested updates on her health that Rebekah created a Facebook page for her. If you click on the page, you will see a picture of the little mille fleur cochin with a mask of pipe cleaners and googly eyes, which Rebekah made after her younger brother came home with a craft set. The mask sparked immediate controversy. Though Mumble didn’t mind wearing it and can shake it off when she’s had enough, strangers on the internet felt it was abusive to put costumes on animals. Others found the prosthetic eyes adorable and have shared photos and videos from the page. And though Mumble doesn’t mind the costume, Rebekah urges that not all animals are the same and that they should never be made to wear or do anything that distresses them.
Through friends, Rebekah heard about a cutest pets contest. She entered Mumble in August but didn’t win. After entering a second time, Rebekah is delighted that votes are much higher. If enough people vote, Rebekah wins a cash prize that she plans to use to care for Mumble. Any leftover funds will go to an animal rescue organization.
When learning how to raise baby chicks, expect the unexpected!
Originally published in 2015 and regularly vetted for accuracy.