Saturday, April 18, 2015


There comes time in every homesteaders life when things don't exactly work out the way we wanted. Sometimes rabbits don't conceive, or the pigs get out (or in the house in our case!), the last freeze shrivels those beans you planted last week, and sadly at times we lose animals.

When I purchased a batch of hens from a local feed store at the end of February I had such high hopes. More layers means more eggs for our family in about 6 months. But alas, all homesteaders know that with baby chicks comes the possibility that not all will survive. At about two weeks we noticed something funky about our little Americauna, it came down with a common disorder, Scissor Beak. We comically named him Edward and hoped for the best as he struggled with this complication. Keeping him secluded and trying to encourage as many fluids and food as possible was all we could really do.

Scissor Beak is a livable disorder most common in breeds such as Americaunas and Easter Eggers. I've read and read and read about this ailment for weeks now trying to find an answer, a cure, even the cause. It can be caused by an injury, genetics, or an inability to hone their beaks from an early age. Honing is a technique integrated into a chickens natural desire to peck at things while foraging, in the process keeping their beaks the proper length, shape, and size needed to eat and drink. If they are not able to properly hone their beaks on hard surfaces for maintenance, scissor beak can emerge. The worst part? This disorder is virtually incurable.

There is a theory out there naming genetically weak jaw or facial muscles in these breeds as the culprit. I heard a first hand account from my local feed stores owner who has a three year old Easter Egger with scissor beak. He says she lives out her life perfectly adequate, just needing a beak trim here and there. He informed me that the disorder is common in these breeds due to non-intentional inbreeding, in an effort to bring back what was once a heritage breed.

Not all birds with scissor beak can thrive unfortunately. Often times folks have to integrate a water drip system when the bird can no longer perform the normal water scooping technique as its peers. I've read a few cases where the bird had to be fed in isolation as the pecking order becomes more defined. Using a feeder higher to chin level to make it easier may also be necessary. These birds do not commonly complete physical maturity, but can be slightly stunted if the condition persisted since chick days.

One of the tough truths about a homestead, as I said before, things don't always go the way we want. In our case this was true. She seemed to be a lively chick until that last day. Though her maturity fell far behind her hatch mates and she could not make the journey outside to the new coop, she seemed content enough staying in the stock tank with the newer baby birds. I never saw her refusing to eat or drink, but made note at the fact that her body weight was not parallel to the development of her head and wings. As she began to take on a condor type look I grew more worried. Her beak grew more and more crooked even with the addition of rocks, branches, and chick scratch for honing. We deemed it genetic and wanted to do all we could. Edward passed away march 31st, after a good effort at life.

The hard part is, do I spend countless time and money on this one bird? Or do I see how it goes and leave it in God's hands? We chose the latter, as it is so common to lose hatch-lings already, and we were prepared for that. It's another hard truth of farm life. We cannot dauntlessly effort to save this one bird, when in reality if one of the matured hens pronounced with Scissor Beak, she would undoubtedly, be headed for the butchers block. What? I said it's the hard truth and its true!

This is a homestead and this lifestyle is no hobby for us, yes we love it and at times wonder if we even have hobbies since we spend much of our time choring. The grand scheme of the farm is so much larger than any one of our animals that sometimes sacrifices are made. In the end, all of these animals serve a divine purpose. A purpose we are ever grateful for, to contribute and sacrifice so that our family may eat.

And I'm okay with that.