Sunday, October 14, 2012

Cross Beak/Scissor Beak: Not Hopeless

This spring when we bought chicks we were excited to bring home several Americauna chicks.  They were so cute and I was in love with one chick in particular.  I spent a lot of time with this baby because she was so personable and had these adorable fluffy cheek feathers.  At about 2 weeks old I noticed my little chick had a beak problem.  The top portion of her beak was jutting to the right and the bottom portion to the left.  I quickly researched online and discovered the disorder my chick had was called scissor beak or cross beak.

The chick that I am talking about is to the far right, in the front.

Scissor beak or cross beak is caused when the top and bottom part of the beak don’t align correctly due to the growth plates in the chicken’s skull not closing at the same rate.  This results in the beak growing at different angles which can make eating and drinking difficult for some birds.  There is no real treatment for this disorder and it varies in severity.  Birds that have a mild case don’t ever have any difficulty, their beak is just crossed and with a little special care they are able to get on just fine.  In moderate to severe cases though, this disorder can be deadly because it prohibits the bird from eating or drinking. 

Sadly, the little chick of mine had to be culled.  Her beak malformation was just too severe and even with all of the things I talk about later in this article, she still could not eat or drink enough to sustain her life.  I am glad I had this knowledge and experience though because it would pay off later when I was house sitting for the Remy Homestead. 

Katzya was out in the chicken coop messing around with the chickens when suddenly she comes racing in with one of the Americauna hens in her arms.  (This disorder appears to be more prominent in the Americauna breed.)  She says, “Mom this hen has the same beak thing that our chick had!”  I looked closer and sure enough she was right.  It was not as severe but definitely a problem.  This time I was armed with some knowledge and I decided to grind the beak back a bit with the hope that I might be able to realign it some, and it worked!

So, please know if you have a chicken with cross beak, not all is lost.  There are a number of ways you can attempt to help the bird before culling if that is of interest to you.

  1.  It is possible to either file or cut the beak to help realign it and take off some of the growth. This is not a permanent fix but it helps.  It has to be done every 4-6 weeks, and you have to use some caution when attempting this.  I used a cordless Dremel to ever so gently shave/sculpt the beak.  Remember, don’t go too fast because you don’t want to create more problems than you started with!  Also, the Dremel can get very hot, so exercise caution and patience when trying this method.  Paired with some of the ideas below though, their hen has a good chance of living a fairly normal life. 

   2.  Make sure your chicken’s food and water dishes are wide and deep because chickens that have this disorder “scoop” their food and water into their mouth.

     3.  It helps to feed the chicken a pelleted form of feed instead of a crumble.  For some reason that appears easier for the chicken to manage. 

      4.     Moisten the feed so it is not so difficult for the chicken to “scoop” it into it’s mouth and they don’t have to chase it.
 5.    Feed the chicken separate from the rest of the flock because it takes them extra time to eat and prohibits the other chickens from pushing them away from the feeders. 

6.       This disorder appears to be genetic so it is important that you don’t breed chickens that have this trait.  (There is another school of thought that says this disease is not genetic, but is in fact due to badly regulated incubator temperatures. You can research and decide…..)

Hopefully this is information that you can file away in the back of your mind and never have to use, but if needed know that there are some options to help the bird lead a fairly normal life.  And who knows, maybe you will need to share this information with one of your “chicken friends” too! 

This post was shared on my favorite blog hops:


  1. I have several Silver Sebrights I purchased as chicks from Ideal Poultry that have cross beak. They indicated the chicks much have been injured but everything I have read says it is genetic. Makes me sick to think they will continue to breed these deformed chicks rather then admit the truth and take the hens or roos out of their breeding program. I have a dog we got as a gift and he has a severe overbite. The older he got the worse it got. The breeder told us to bring the puppy back and he would refund our money, as if we hadn't grown to love this dog. I posted about the breeder on-line and heard from several other people who purchased dog from them years before we got our puppy and they had complained to the breeder about the same defect. Such a terrible thing for people to do, breeding animals they know will inherit such defects and struggle their entire lives, perhaps having shorter lives because of the defect!

  2. Good post. I had an Americana with the same defect. It was way too severe and she didn't survive although I tried. I think a pedi-paw nail grinder for dogs would work too.

  3. Hi Emily, I’m Anne from Life on the Funny Farm (, and I’m visiting from the barn hop.

    I have 2 Americaunas, but thankfully we have not seen this problem. Thanks for the info, though, you never know when I might see it in the future!

    Anyway, it’s nice to “meet” you! Hope you can pop by my blog sometime to say hi…

  4. Hi Everyone,

    Thanks for this info... my hubby and I are in the process of hatching out some chicks and we just noticed a newborn with cross beak... I think she also has only one eye...? Hard to tell fully at this point. From what I am reading, I am thinking she is going to be a severe case because I can see it already?

    He wants to do what we can for her; I just don't want her to suffer. Right now she is in with the others and drying off...

    We'll see how it goes... Thanks again ~ Laura & Dan

    1. Hello I would love detailed info on how trim and sand down my scissor beak I'm just so afraid of hurting her, culling is not an option she is aboutt a wk from laying age and is having more difficulty eating and drinking the older she gets

    2. Hi Fawn,

      What we did was if you wrap your chicken in a towel with just her head sticking out, and you look closely at the beak, you will see where the beak is thinner or more opaque. That is the new growth. We just ever so gently, with a cordless dremel on low, filed the new growth off and it was a successful way of saving this chicken's life. She was treated no different than the rest and lived a great life until sadly she was killed by a fox several weeks ago. Good luck!

  5. Hey Emily, I love your blog. I enjoy reading your posts and am grateful to have found you. By the way, this is Barb Hladick... I couldnt sign in for some reason and just wanted to say hi.

  6. I have four Americana's and for Red's. Only one Americana has cross beak. I will try to file down her beak. Thanks for posting this, it was really helpful :-)

  7. I have a 9 day old ameraucana chick. I noticed her beak was slightly off set the morning after she hatched. Now it is significantly worse. Do you file just the bottom beak or both top and bottom

    1. We had to file the bottom quite a bit, and then carefully file the top. It depends on your chicks particular beak deformity. If you look carefully at the beak though, you will see the new growth. We just filed that off. Good luck!

  8. Hello , Thank you first of all of the positive words an love you have shown your critters , I have special lil chicken i got him when he was 3 months old from a person who was moving an unable to bring all of her chickens with her , his name is weylynn he is a blue red laced wydotte , he has scissor beak and is surviving just fine with the xtra love we give him . I dont know what happened to him when he was hatched i can only guess but i couldn't imagine going out an not seeing him run for me when i go out to the coop . Life has challenges i guess weylynn has a xtra challenge to over come lol .. so i shall help all i can ...lots of faith

  9. I don't understand the "new growth" part. Our's are only 2 weeks old? I'm just sick over this cross beak. Tonight I came in and she was face first in her food - I swear I thought she was dead. I took her and ran an ever so slight thin stream of water from the faucet and she seemed so happy to drink. I have a salsa dish of water i her cage, the regular water drinking thing for chicks, a lunchmeat container )reusable throw away ones, full of food processed chick starter to a nice powder. I just don't know what more to do..:(

    1. Originally I had one chick who did not make it but mere weeks with cross beak. Her case was severe. The adult bird pictured above, looked normal until she was an older chick (10 weeks?) and it was then that my friend noticed her beak was off. (The severity of the beak deformity just depends on how the skull grows...) It sounds like you are doing everything correctly. Sometimes being a chicken lover is not easy. :(

  10. I have a 8 old Easter a Egger with sissers beak. My hen and Roosevelt had these chicks the alarm natural way, they hid a nest somewhere I didn't know about, and on my BIRTHDAY I went out in the morning to find one happy/proud mamma with 9 little peepers. I watched them closely for hours everyday, and after about a week I noticed one little chicken was Stand Office, some one night after the Roots and Hens were dozing I snuck into the greenhouse zip have converted to a big coop, and grabbed him, and the little chick that was sleeping with her head on his back.

    Then next morning I noticed the sissor beak. I decided to raise him and his sister inside under a heat lamp so I could closely monitor and observe him.

    After about a week I noticed he just wasn't growing as fast as his sister, and was having to spend most of the day 'trying to eat' even though I had put the food in a deep dish.

    I did a great deal of research, and was actually surprised at the minimal amount of info on successfully raising them, so I called a local bird shop, and brought my little ZEAK in for them to see.

    They gave me some great advice on making a MUSH,by first grinding up meal to a fine power, and then adding some Kale and spinage and other greens I grow in my garden and feed the hens. I also add a couple raw eggs to boost the protien level. It took me a couple days of trial and error to get the consistency right for him to scoop up and get his fill. He now eats for 15 to 20 minutes before napping, instead of eating none stop most of the day!

    Zeak is really loving his mush, and is only a little behind his sister developmentally and weight wise. Though I have been praying I didn't permanently dwarf him.

    The first few days ALL THE CHICKS LOVED THE MUSH, but some 8 weeks later now the other chicks prefer the dry chick Meal, and leave Zeak to his mush.

    The people at the Bird Shop said that I should bring him back at 8 weeks for his first beak trimming, they offired to do it free of charge if I was willing to bring him in every couple of weeks. I was so happy for the help I actually broke down and cried. My chickens are as much pets as a source of eggs!

    My next hurdle with Zeak will be introducing him cackling to the existing flock, and then the the next hurdle will be figuring out how to make enough of the mush to ensure he ALWAYS HAS FOOD!

    1. Good luck with Zeak! He sounds well loved!

    2. I accidentally deleted your comment about Zeak! How did his trip to the vet go? Were they able to trim his beak down to give him any relief?

  11. My rooster, Chocolate, is also a scissor beak but pretty bad. His bottom beak goes 90 degrees to the side and his top beak curls. Tried trimming it of new growth but not much help as his beak is curled not just the new part.
    Giving him soft crumbles with Apple sauce. He is still very thin. Although inhumane, I am thinking of getting him revealed is possible just so he can thrive.