Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Betty Beak

     My last order from the folks at McMurray Hatchery was for 39 little chicks. I can't just order a couple of different breeds. I'm the person that has to order as many different kinds as I can get. In the last order, I had:
See the puffy head chick looking right at ya? That's Betty Beak.

Partridge Rock Cochins
Araucana (which are really just    Easter Eggers)
Mottled Houdans
Buff Laced Polish
Silver Laced Wyandottes
Partridge Rocks
Red Star
Pearl-white leghorns

        I bought the mottled houdans for my two young children. They are a “puffy-head” type chicken. Because of their huge head of luxurious feathers, they do not see things descending upon them very well. I thought that this feature would be great for the hawk-like approach of small hands. When they arrived in the mail, my girls and I raced to the post office. We brought our babies home and placed them into their brooder in our garage. I had the heat at just the right temp. I had the water nice and clear. We laid down shavings, but put paper towels over the top. We then threw out scratch on top of the paper towels so that the new beaks could find some grub. They were so cute, and we were very happy.

      The girls could easily spot their puffy head babies. They had this weird little knob on top that looked like they were growing some sort of second head. We checked everyone for pasty booty and felt for full crops. I adjusted the light as the days went on.

      After about one week, I was watching the little babies and noticed something about one of the puffy heads..... She was darting here and there, madly pecking at the food and scratching up the shavings. It was hard to see at first, but then... Yes! There it was!... her beak. It was... crooked. I picked her up and examined her closely. I poked it (of course) to see if it would go back to normal. The poking did not seem to bother her much. Her crop was about half full. I set her back down and back she went, madly pecking along.
      Over the next few weeks, I kept a closer eye on her. The beak was definitely becoming more severe. The bottom half was jutting out to the left. So, I started to research ''scissor beak'' and ''cross beak'' chickens. Almost every article I read said to cull. I felt her crop. It was half full and she was gaining weight. I could not cull.
      After a few more weeks, it was time to move all of the chicks out to “the big coop.” It is a 650+ square foot run with a large coop attached. I watched the little chick with the scissor beak. She was so happy to be running around, scratching in the hay and dirt and playing with the grass. I named her Betty Beak, and I knew then that I would do everything in my power to save her.

      Betty Beak did well for a few days. Around the sixth day, I entered the run to find her pinned beneath two of her larger coop mates. They were pecking her unmercifully. I scooped her up and scolded the others. I tucked her in my shirt and went about the chicken chores. Betty Beak was relieved to be somewhere safe. She fell asleep snuggled down next to me, all warm breath, feathers and down and dirt.

      I brought her to the house and put her in a run all of her own in our garage. I put out bowls of food... one dry crumbles and one a wet crumble mash. She began pecking furiously. The top portion of her beak was normal, but now the bottom portion jutted out at almost a right angle to the top. After one hour of exhaustive pecking, I checked her crop. Nothing. This began my syringe feeding schedule. I made her up a warm mash and fed her with a syringe. It was very slow going. I fed her three times per day. Even after filling her crop half-way (which took about thirty minutes), she was always hungry and always feverishly pecking the food dish. This process went on for about one week. She was dwindling.

This was Betty Beak at approximately 1 week of age.
     One beautiful day at lunch time, I sat in a chair next to her enclosure and pondered her fate like I had done so many times before. She was hunched in a corner and had given up pecking at the food. Her crop was empty. My syringe feeding was not working. She was alone from other chickens. She could not preen and groom herself like she needed and wanted to. She would never be able to peck at the earth and grab a grub. Her tongue had started to shrivel and turn brown because she was not able to keep it moist in her beak. I picked her up and felt her little bony body. She gave out a few hollow cheeps, and I knew it was time...

      Being on the farm is a wonderful experience. There is so much life and so many new beginnings. There are also more chances for unhappy endings. Betty Beak was one of those. I am glad that I did not cull her when I first noticed her deformity. She was able to enjoy a short life of chasing crickets through the grass and scratching in the dirt. I hope she knew how much I tried and how much I wanted life for her. Betty Beak is now buried beneath a beautiful crepe myrtle tree that blooms white in the heat of the summer. Maybe next year there will be an extra bloom just for her.

A crepe myrtle blossom under which Betty Beak was buried.

     Side Note:  I didn't take any pictures of Betty Beak in her older age. I did not have a blog at the time, and it did not occur to me to click the shutter. The younger pictures here show her beak when it was less severe. When she passed, her bottom beak was at a right angle to her face. It was as if half of her beak could grow, and the other half could not.


  1. A beautiful and heart rendering account of farm life. I have a small farm and raise chickens and Nigerian Goats. It is difficult to make a decision to end a life. You always feel there must be something you can do, something you have missed. Sadly, there are times where you have to give them a hug, an apology, and send them to a better place. Thanks for sharing your story!

  2. *sniff, sniff* Farm life is tough. Nice thought of the extra bloom. I call it "playing God" (I mean no sacrilege) and it's the toughest job I've ever loved.

  3. It's a hard story to tell. I've had a chick with a cross beak that we tried to keep alive as well. Ultimately she didn't make it either. So sorry for losing her, but very happy that she had you to take care of her so well while she was here. :) Keep up the wonderful work.