Healthy, intact beaks are crucial to maintaining overall good health in chickens.
Chickens use their beaks for everything from eating to establishing a social structure within the flock.
While some common chicken beak problems are relatively minor, others are fatal and often lead to additional health problems.
Here are some of the most common chicken beak problems:
- Scissor Beak
- Parrot Beak
- Chicken Beak Underbite
- Broken Beaks
- Metabolic Diseases
- Beak Necrosis
- Chicken Beak Peeling
These conditions include congenital issues (problems present from birth) and acquired injuries or diseases causing deformed beaks.
This post will give you the critical information on how to identify these common chicken beak problems and how to prevent and treat them when possible.
Disclaimer: Always contact a vet if you’re concerned for a chicken’s health.
Scissor beak is also referred to as crossed, crooked, or lateral beak deviation.
In this condition, the beak is crisscrossed, with the upper beak growing in a different direction from the lower beak.
Even if this condition first appears as a reasonably small deformity, it usually worsens over time.
Although some people attempt to correct scissor beaks, it is generally a life-long condition.
Chickens with scissor beaks will have difficulty eating, drinking, preening their feathers, and ground pecking.
One of the main risks for a chicken with a scissor beak is malnutrition.
In addition, wounded or defected chickens are at a higher risk for feather pecking.
This can get pretty violent and include moderate to severe feather pecking.
Monitor the injured chicken for acute signs of distress such as ruffled feathers, and if necessary, protect the chicken with a scissor beak from further injury from the rest of the flock members.
If one of your chickens was born with a scissor beak, avoid using this chicken for breeding.
This will reduce the risk of this condition occurring in other birds.
Scissor beak mostly occurs in young chicks due to genetics or problems hatching.
The main causes of scissor beak include the following:
- Poor positioning of the chick while inside its egg
- Poor nutrition
- Genetic defect
- Poor temperature and/or humidity conditions during the incubation period
The best things to do for a chicken with a scissor beak are the following:
- Isolate the chicken from the rest of the flock. Put them in an enclosure where they are protected from predators and cannot be pecked at by other birds. While it may seem cruel to socially isolate them, reducing the risk of pecking problems is better.
- If you have a docile bird with a lower likelihood of feather pecking, place this bird in the injured chicken’s enclosure for company.
- Feed and water the chicken manually using a syringe or tube, mainly if it exhibits a loss of appetite. Moistening the feed with water and using a deep bowl makes it easier for the chicken to eat.
- Beak trimming and/or filing the beak (using regular nail clippers and a nail file) to a natural shape will help the chicken in minor cases.
- Give the chicken a high-protein, balanced feed with the necessary vitamins and minerals to promote healthy beak growth.
- Bathe and blowdry the chicken regularly to help keep them free of mites and fleas and maintain good hygiene.
- Inspect their beak regularly to check if there is any feed stuck.
Another common chicken beak problem is referred to as parrot beaks.
When a chicken has a parrot beak, the upper beak has grown too long, or the lower part of the beak is too short.
The medical term for this condition is mandibular prognathism, but it is essentially an overgrown beak.
Although the upper beak is naturally a bit longer than the lower beak, it is a significant problem for the chicken when an overgrown beak is exacerbated.
Parrot beak is either caused by genetics, poor incubation conditions, or if the bird simply does not have access to surfaces to file its beak.
The first two causes are likely the cause of this condition in baby chicks.
Want more info on caring for baby chickens? Check out our guide at the link.
If it is a congenital overgrown beak observed in day-old chicks, you will have to continuously treat the bird to ensure it can live a normal life and eat, drink, and preen properly.
If it is a case of an overgrown top beak in adult birds, this is usually an easily fixed environmental issue.
The easiest way to manage parrot beaks is by regular trimming.
Depending on what you are most comfortable with, trim the chicken’s upper beak using a nail file (in minor cases), a pet nail trimmer, or human nail clippers.
Chickens have blood vessels and living tissue inside their beak, so they will bleed if you cut too far back, just like cutting a dog’s nails or your nails too short.
Observe where the beak is lighter in color and check inside the beak for where the tissue ends to avoid cutting the blood supply.
In addition, make sure your flock has access to rough surfaces such as rocks and bricks.
They will naturally use these materials to file their beaks to the appropriate length.
Chicken Beak Underbite
A chicken beak underbite is when the lower beak is longer than the top.
It is a common clinical sign of a chicken being debeaked at a young age.
If left untreated, the chicken may have trouble eating and drinking properly.
A genetic mutation sometimes causes chicken beak underbite.
Avoid using chickens for breeding if they have an underbite to prevent passing this trait on.
Chicken beak underbite is also caused by debeaking chickens when they are chicks.
This process involves cutting the beak tip off, often using a hot blade, during the first 2 weeks of age and then again at 12-20 weeks of age.
Chicks are sometimes debeaked to reduce the incidence of feather pecking, specifically severe feather pecking leading to cannibalism and bacterial disease.
Check out the main causes of chicken fights in our list here.
Debeaking is not generally practiced among backyard chicken keepers.
This practice is more common in commercial and/or conventional farms where birds are overcrowded and in small confinement.
Debeaking is referred to as “beak trimming” and “beak conditioning” by some people, causing confusion and varying attitudes towards beak trimming.
Although some people argue that debeaking is unethical and unnecessary, some conventional farmers argue it is necessary to avoid severe feather pecking.
Chicken beak underbite is a common side effect if the beak eventually grows back after debeaking.
If you see dead tissue (like an overgrown nail appearing lighter in color at the growth edge), filing the bottom beak is one way to manage this issue.
Monitor the chicken’s weight and water consumption to check if they are adequately nourished.
If they start to lose weight, you will need to manually provide food and drinking water.
Creating a wet mash of food also makes it easier for the chicken to eat.
Broken beaks in chickens include any cases where the beak is cracked, chipped, or missing a larger piece.
A broken beak might be a minor case where the beak simply needs to grow out, or it might be very severe and require emergency veterinarian care.
Broken beaks are usually caused by acute trauma suffered during fighting, falling, or pecking at hard objects.
Poor nutrition leading to brittle or weak beaks also contributes to this problem.
Treatment will depend on how severe the case is.
The first thing to do is check whether the bird has a loss in blood supply or is in obvious pain and distress.
Severe breaks are very painful and bleed significantly.
If the problem is severe, take the bird to a veterinarian for immediate care.
If the problem does not require urgent care, continue to monitor the birds for signs such as loss of appetite or reduction in feed consumption.
They may need a wet mash or manual feeding if they have trouble eating and drinking on their own.
If the bird has a scab or bleeding beak wound, monitor for signs of feather pecking (ruffled feathers, feather loss, etc.) or pecking at the wound by other chickens.
Even if you have not yet noticed any ruffled feathers or severe feather pecking, isolating the chicken from the rest of the flock is an excellent preventive measure to reduce the risk of feather pecking.
Metabolic disease is an underlying issue contributing to some of the other problems in this list.
An imbalance in the chicken’s diet can lead to clinical disease and a brittle, weak, dull, or overgrown beak.
Malnutrition and chronic disease increase the chicken’s risk for a broken beak and parrot beak.
In addition to genetic factors, metabolic diseases are caused by a deficiency of protein, vitamins, and minerals in the chicken’s diet.
Some chickens, such as heavy layers, require extra calcium supplements and high-protein diets.
Check if your chickens are receiving a balanced feed based on their type and stage of life.
This includes overconsumption of certain nutrients too.
One of the leading acute signs of metabolic diseases is a rapid weight change.
Beak necrosis is essentially tissue death in the beak region.
Outward signs of necrosis include black or very dark brown coloring.
One significant risk factor for beak necrosis is very finely mashed food.
The accumulation of feed along the edges of the beak can lead to bacterial infections and eventual death of the tissue.
Another cause of necrosis is an untreated infection of a beak wound.
Increase the grain size of your feed if you notice clinical signs of necrosis or wet feed accumulation in the beak.
If grinding up the chicken feed in a coffee grinder or blender, use a different setting or mechanism to get a coarser grain.
To avoid necrosis resulting from infections, seek veterinary care for any severe beak breaks and keep the area clean with saline and water.
Canker is an infectious disease of chickens caused by contaminated water and food containing the protozoan parasite Trichomonas gallinae.
This clinical disease is not necessarily an injury or deformity of the outer beak but rather something to look out for on the inside of the beak when monitoring your chickens’ oral health and nutrition.
The main clinical sign of canker is the presence of yellow lesions or masses on the inside of the chicken’s mouth.
These lesions increase in size over time, causing difficulty in eating, drinking, and breathing.
Other clinical signs observed in infected birds include regurgitation, weight loss, and listlessness.
Infections by this parasite are caused by contact with contaminated water and food sources shared with domestic and wild pigeons and doves.
Approximately 80-90% of these bird species are carriers of this disease.
Treatment for this disease in domestic poultry requires veterinary care.
As part of standard flock management and to mitigate economic losses, isolate any sick birds.
This will prevent the canker from spreading from bird to bird. Reduce any causes of stress for the birds while waiting for professional care.
The veterinarian will be able to prescribe the appropriate medication. Surgery is also sometimes needed to remove the lesions.
A preventive measure for this condition is to seal your birds’ food and water containers off from wild birds.
Chicken Beak Peeling
Peeling or flaking of the outer layer of a chicken’s beak is a commonly observed problem in chickens.
Typically, this condition is not severe and does not require specific treatment.
It is similar to having a weak and/or peeling fingernail.
A peeling beak often occurs due to the chicken scratching hard surfaces such as metal edges or other sharp edges.
If you notice a peeling beak, or as a preventive measure, look around for these types of materials in your chicken’s environment.
Chickens should have access to things like rocks and bricks to file down their beaks as they grow but will not damage a healthy, intact beak.
Although it is not likely to cause direct harm to the bird, a peeling beak is potentially an outward sign of malnutrition.
The beak is composed of keratin, and a poor or imbalanced diet will make a beak more susceptible to peeling, chipping, and breaking.
Using an appropriate feed is good for the prevention of beak problems.
Hens will require more protein and more of certain nutrients during their laying period, and each type of bird will require a specific feed composition depending on their stage of life.