Caring for a chicken with cross beak

Unfortunately I had a chick with cross beak hatch a few weeks ago. This has happened a few times over the years, but this is actually the first time I've ever seen it in a guinea! Cross beak is when the bottom and top beaks do not align properly. This can cause problems for the chick but with proper care and attention she may still be able to live a long and happy life.

Caring for a cross beak chicken

Cross beak, also known as scissor beak, is a lateral beak deviation. Meaning the bottom beak deviates to the side and the top beak remains in it's correct position. Or vice versa, actually.

It could happen either way, though in my experience the top beak is generally the one in the correct position.

According to Poultry DVM Beak deformities occur somewhat commonly in chickens, and can be congenital or acquired. They can be caused by a number of different factors, including poor diet, genetics, trauma/injury, disease/parasites, tumor growth, and inappropriate incubation technique.

Scissor beak can vary in it's severity with the mildest cases being barely noticeable. Moderate cases can be managed with proper feeding and trimming of the beak to help it align more closely. Severe cases can require hand feeding and many chicken owners chose to cull in these situations.

How to care for cross beaked chickens

A chick with cross beak may have a hard time eating because they can't peck properly to pick food up. Their beaks don't align to give them control over what they pick up. As a chick this actually isn't as much of a problem since chicks are generally fed from deep feed containers.

Sometimes this causes the scissor beak chick to grow more slowly than their hatch mates. The guinea keets in this picture were hatched on the same day. As you can see the one with cross beak is smaller and has less feather development than the other. 

That is a sign that the cross beaked keet is not getting as much feed and will need fed separately or get additional high nutrition feedings like scrambled eggs or mealworms.

Chicks with cross beak. Guineas

As the chick grows up, it will have a hard time picking up seeds and bugs when free ranging and will have to have their food served to them in a deep bowl or feeder. Cross beak chickens compensate for this misalignment by scooping their food up with their bottom beak.

If the bowl is deep enough, the chicken will just scoop the food then tilt their head up and use their tongue to push the food to the back of their mouths and swallow it. I hang my feeders so they are about chest height anyway, so it's a perfect height for this situation.

You could also set the feed bowl on a paving stone or a few bricks to raise it up so it's closer to face level.

guinea keet with cross beak /scissor beak

Depending on the severity of the scissor beak you may want to feed crumbles instead of pellets. Some chicken keepers moisten the food to make it more like a mash and easier for the chicken to scoop up clumps of it. I used to mix chick feed in with layer crumbles for my cross beak hen as she needed the higher nutrition since it was hard for her to eat.  

Trimming a cross beak

You can trim a mild or moderate cross beak to help it align more closely. A chicken's beak is made of keratin, the same thing that makes up fingernails. Just like a chicken's nails, the beak does have a quick in it. So it's the same as if you were clipping a chicken's nails, you want to only trim the end and not where the quick is.

To trim a scissor beak I use either a pair of dog nail clippers or cuticle trimmers and trim just the tiniest bit of the beak off at a time. Keep checking your work in between trims, making sure you avoid the quick because it will bleed.

Here is the guinea before and after a trim at 3 months old. You can see that the top and bottom beak still do not line up after a trim but it's much closer. I could not trim any closer without causing bleeding (and possibly pain for the guinea). 

Keep some blood stop powder on hand just in case. Or check out this recipe to make your own quickclot.

I also have the PediPaws dog nail filer, it's like a dremel in a protective plastic case. Many chicken keepers have used them successfully though some chickens freak out a bit, so it might work for you. Just be careful to only file in short bursts as they get hot when held to the same surface for too long.

Once the beak is trimmed, you'll probably have to trim it again every month or so. Normally chickens keep their beaks trimmed by scraping them back and forth on the ground after eating. I know it looks like their wiping their faces, but's beak sharpening. Chickens with cross beak cannot get the same results so they often don't even try. It'll be up to you to handle it.

Preening and the cross beaked chicken 

Chickens with scissor beak often have a hard time preening their feathers. Keep a close eye on them and check often for lice, mites and other parasites as they will need a little extra help in that area. Plus with their tendency to not eat as much as the other chickens, an infestation of parasites can affect their health dramatically.

You may have to give the cross beaked chicken an occasional bath. Since their beak prevents them from preening properly, they might get a little more dirty than the average chicken.

Although chickens with cross beak are often at the bottom of the pecking order, they are often the friendliest chickens in the flock! With proper trimming and feeding many cross beak chickens can live a long, normal life.

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I am not a veterinarian or other animal care professional nor do I claim to be. I am simply passing on information that has worked for me and my flock. This information is for entertainment purposes only and is not meant to treat or diagnose any medical condition. Please see a vet if your chicken is ill. Click for my full disclaimer.

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