One, wet Spring day, I got a birthday present. That present was 4, small crested variety chicks (one Golden-Laced Polish and 3 Crevecoeurs). I brought the bunch of chicks home on my lap. They were not the healthiest chicks I’d had. One was half the size of the others (for its first several months), two got Pasted Vents and one… (who almost died when I brought her home) turned out to have a twisted beak. I called her Elly…
A twisted beak (called a lateral beak deviation or cross-beak) is a defect that although can be genetic, is not always. Cross-beak can also be caused by incorrect incubation, fetal mispositioning, nutrient deficiencies or poor breeding. Usually, the slight twisting is barely noticeable in the chick’s early growth stages. However, since the beak grows as the chick matures, the twisting becomes increasingly more pronounced.
Against the Odds
The survival rate for chicks with the twisted beak defect is low. Chicks that do not die within their first week or two are often euthanized because their lives become increasingly cumbersome and awkward. Chickens with defective beaks require a little extra care than average. Additionally, in large flocks, they may get bullied and picked on, making them not profitable, convenient or humane for large-scale egg farmers to keep.
I spent nearly every waking moment (and sleeping moments as well because the chicks where in a box in my room for a little while) with those peeps. However, Elly’s beak defect was so subtle that I did not even notice it until the chicks where 1 week old.
A Second Chance
I was very unsure on what to do… what is best for the chicken? Can it have a decant, functional life? Can it live and be happy? After careful consideration, I decided to let her grow and give her a chance. She didn’t seem to be bothered or pained by her difference. In fact, she was up near the top of the peep pecking order!
‘Handicapped’ chicks are often the victims of bullying. However, Elly never suffered picking or bullying. She was raised in a big box with 3 other companions and let out-side under my watch when the weather permitted. Nobody needed to compete for space. I also kept the box clean and supplied small amounts of fresh food and water on a frequent basis. She was a very happy chick and grew quickly.
However, her beak grew with her… She became a little awkward and had more trouble picking up objects than the others. However, she never seemed to be in any pain. I sometimes mix her food with water (about 1 to 1 ratio) to make “peep mush” which Elly thoroughly enjoyed and ate with ease.
A Little Friend
Partially because I gave her an extra hand here and there, little Elly became very familiar with me and would come running whenever she saw me (or when I called her name). You can see her here:
Elly did well. At one year old, she was as healthy as a chicken could be. She ate very well and her feathers had a rich, very beautiful sheen.
I even trained her to jump on my arm upon request using worms (which wasn’t hard because she is surprisingly smart). You can watch that here:
Above is Elly’s first egg. It was small (like most first eggs) and a slight off-white. (The blood-staining is pretty normal for first time layers as you can read more about here: Blood-Stained Egg Shells).
She needed a few things that the others did not need. However, it was nothing hard: Just lots of good food, dust (to make up for her inability to preen properly) and some TLC… But that’s about it. She was happy, healthy and a joy to watch…
… Until one day, when she was 2 years old, I noticed that her beak was bothering her. I was concerned and gave her a thorough exam. To my dismay, I found a blister formed in the soft tissue near the base of her beak due to the way her beak was growing. It was uncorrectable. Additionally, the raw, injured area would only grow as her beak did. After careful consideration, I decided to have her euthanized.
I do not regret raising her. She was a blessing and a learning experience. However, sometimes we have to let go. As proverbs says, “A wise man regardeth the life of his beast but the tendermercies of the wicked are cruel.” Cruel tendermercies are, I believe, often more subtle than direct physical abuse… Prolonging an animal’s suffering for the sake of our feelings is cruel. :'(
Regarding the animal’s life often means taking thought to its quality of life and carefully considering its proper place in our lives. God made the animals for His glory and our pleasure… In other words, he made the animals for us—so we would see His glory in creation and enjoy his handiwork—but he did not create us for the animals. We were made in God’s image. Animals were not. We where granted stewardship of the animals—but God did not make us stewards for the animals. We should be good stewards to the best of the ability God has given—but the animals have their place. 🙂
Letting go is uncomfortable. It forces us to confront the consequences of our sin and see our separation from God. This is one of the reasons God commanded the Israelites to sacrifice animals for sin. Animal sacrifices did not take away sin and could not correct our state of separation from a Holy God. The animals also did nothing to deserve death. It was a foreshadowing of the redemption that would come… The redemption in Jesus Christ. 🙂