Overgrown Beaks: Care And Management
While there is so much planning and consideration that goes into raising chickens, one of the more overlooked aspects of their care is the potential need for beak care and maintenance. The tips of our chickens’ beaks are made out of keratin and continue to grow throughout their lifetime. Both environmental factors and each individual bird’s activity level can help to determine if any routine maintenance is necessary.
Is It Needed?
Typically, a healthy and properly formed beak will never need any sort of trimming, but there are certain deformities that can require trimming and maintenance to support the health and quality of life for the bird. Two of the most common beak deformities include cross or scissor beak (where the top and bottom portions of the beak don’t correctly align), as well as parrot beak (in which the bottom half of the beak is too short, and the top half has grown excessively long). These deformities can make it difficult for birds to properly eat, drink, preen their feathers, peck and investigate their environments.
Should you notice that your birds’ beaks aren’t being worn down as they should, there are few things that can be done, such as filing and or trimming of the beak.
Routine beak trimming is no different than trimming your fingernails. It is different, and not to be confused with, debeaking. It should be noted however, that unlike the trimming of our nails, a chicken’s nails and beak both have sensitive area made of soft tissue, as well as a vein, known as a quick. It is important to keep in mind that even though routine beak trimming is safe, you should avoid getting too close to the quick. Trimming the quick can cause mild pain and bleeding, as well as making it difficult for the bird to comfortably eat.
There are a few techniques that can be used to trim a beak, and the technique of choice is determined by how overgrown the beak is. Both of these techniques are much easier if you have a helper to hold the bird while you concentrate on the trimming.
For a beak that is just slightly overgrown you can use a nail file or an emery board to file down the beak just a little bit. For anything more than just slightly overgrown you can use a pair of cleaned pet or human nail clippers. When using clippers to trim the beak, the overgrown part needing to be trimmed is generally a bit lighter colored than the rest of the beak and can even be slightly translucent. You can also look into the chicken’s mouth to see where the beak itself ends and where the quick is. Trimming a bit at a time is the safest way to remove length from the beak. If in doubt, you can always seek out the aid of an avian vet who will be well versed in beak trimming and care.
Beak deformities that require trimming can be congenital or acquired. Congenital beak deformities are birth defects that can be caused as a result of genetic abnormalities passed down through breeding; acquired beak deformities can be the result of poor incubation techniques, trauma, injury, diseases, parasites, or even poor diet. Poor incubation techniques (humidity and or temperature settings that are too high or too low) during the incubation and hatching process can cause beak deformities, among other issues. Vitamin D3 deficiency has been known to cause beak softening in hens as well as bent and malformed beaks in chicks. Injury or trauma, especially in young chicks, that is not treated properly or soon enough can lead to different beak deformities. Fatty liver disease, common in older birds, can interfere with amino acid absorption that is needed for normal beak growth. Blisters resulting from the Avian Pox virus can sometimes result in beak deformities depending on the location and security of pox blisters.
Even though it is possible to care for and maintain the beaks of our flock, prevention can be the best medicine. Preventative measures can include good husbandry, disease and injury treatment, good nutrition, and providing enrichment and a suitable living environment Proper husbandry practices are providing a clean, sanitary, and disease free environment to raise your birds. Treating injuries or illnesses in a timely and appropriate fashion will not only keep your birds’ beaks in tip top shape, but it will support the rest of their bodies as well. A species appropriate, properly balanced diet will ensure that your birds function to their best ability as well as support their beaks and the rest of their bodies. Making sure that your birds have enrichment and live in a suitable environment will allow their beaks to be worn down naturally through daily activities.
All in all, while often overlooked, beaks aid in so many functions that it is critical to maintain them to keep our birds happy and healthy.
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