Most animals are born healthy, happy, and ready to eat and play. Chickens are no exception. You'll frequently have great success with very little input. We've now raised twelve chickens, and only one has died. We also seem to be having very good odds on the rooster front. Our choice to raise heritage breeds is based on a number of different things, but one of the more important factors is their resistance to diseases and illness. Only one member of our flock is not a heritage breed, and this post is about her.
Winona was brought home to be raised for the neighbor across the street. Wyandottes are calm and easy to handle, and we thought that she would be a good breed for a novice. Along with two sussex and one light brahma hen, our neighbor's coop would be full of fat, happy, calm chickens. Fate interrupted (as it always does), and I dropped a board on little Winnie's head. Ouch! Her survival endeared her to us in so many ways, and we knew she would stay with our flock from then on.
Winnie and her crew are now just over three months old. They've all grown up well, but we began to see a slight problem with our little grey girl early on. At first I thought she was having residual problems from my clumsy board-dropping, but it has become apparent over time that she suffers from scissor beak. What is scissor beak? We wondered the same thing.
As you can see in these photos, Winnie's upper and lower beaks don't match up correctly. It gives the appearance of her beak being scissor-like. This typically results from a misalignment of the skull, and it's more prevalent in hybrid birds (not just chickens).
What do you do now? Scissor beak can be a death sentence for some birds. Experienced owners may even prefer to cull deformed chicks as soon as they're spotted. Aw, heck. We can't cull Winnie after all we've been through!
The big problem with scissor beak is difficulty eating. Some birds with bad beaks will starve to death. If you have a chicken with this deformity, switch over to mash instead of pellet food, or make some mash available. It's easier for them to scoop mash up in their beaks. Remember, they can't peck like a normal chicken, so they need to scoop with their bottom beak. (Chicken feed is typically available in two forms. Pellet form is small, roundish pellets, a lot like rabbit or gerbil food. Mash is a crumbly texture, a little like grapenuts.)
Eye problems go hand-in-hand with scissor beaks. We toss worms to Winnie, and she always pecks two inches to the left of the worm.
Don't you dare breed a chicken with scissor beak. Since this is genetically related, it'll be passed down to junior, too. Some scientists speculate that scissor beak is the result of malnutrition or poor incubating. The jury may still be out, but the eleven other healthy chickens we've raised have confirmed for me that this is a genetic problem.
Regular maintenance can help your scissor chicken live a healthy life. Beaks are like fingernails. They can be trimmed or filed down, but this must be done regularly.
Side note: Winnie also appears to have an abnormal growth on the left side of her head and face. We don't know what that is or what it means, but you'll know as soon as we do. If anyone has clues, fill us in. Her left wattle is deformed, and there are odd lumps on the left side of her face, behind her wattle and above her eye. Don't lose faith! Winnie is a tough chick.
Manicure, anyone? Winnie's scissor beak is very mild right now, so we're keeping on top of it with regular beak filing sessions. Note the firm grip with the left hand, one thumb on top of the skull, forefinger wrapped under the chin. Don't choke the poor thing, but hold her tight. File away from the head, making sure to round off the edge and tip. Sharp beaks hurt! This chore is not for the skittish. Get yourself and your chickens used to being held close and tight for just such occasions as this one, and be thankful they don't have teeth like your dog or cat does.