Belle: Adventures of a Crossbill Chicken

Belle looks much jauntier than she is while being rinsed in her bath.

Belle looks much jauntier than she is while being rinsed in her bath.

When we added to our flock of five last March by acquiring chicks, we soon discovered that our Americauna (ironically already named Belle), was a genetic crossbill.  Crossbill is a genetic mutation found particularly in Americaunas which causes the beak to scissor so that they don’t meet.  Some unfortunate crossbills are affected so extremely that the hen eventually would starve to death.  Because of the crossbill, the hens can’t peck at food.

Aww!  Belle as a baby.  Sigh.

Aww! Belle as a baby. Sigh.

So far Belle is able to eat, provided that we give her special food.  We also use nail clippers and a nail file to trim as much of her beak off as we can without nipping the wick and making it bleed.  Belle is very patient during the process.  Mostly.

Gently and carefully trimming and filing Belle's beak, keeping clear of the wick.

Gently and carefully trimming and filing Belle’s beak, keeping clear of the wick.

She also can’t preen well.  Preening in hens means that they dip their beak into an oil gland over their tail feathers and smooth that over their feathers, knitting them together and combing out the pin sheaths emergent feather shed as well as dirt and other itchy things.

Grooming is a challenge for her.  Here feather sheaths and bits adorn Miranda after we finger-groom her.

Grooming is a challenge for her. Here feather sheaths and bits adorn Miranda after we finger-groom Belle.

Belle’s food has to be mushy so that she can scoop it rather than peck at it.  We grind up the foods we feed our other hens and then mix it with water until it has a scoopable consistancy.

Lay pellets, egg shells, oyster shell, cracked corn, and greens are ground up then mixed with water for Belle's mush.

Lay pellets, egg shells, oyster shell, cracked corn, and greens are ground up then mixed with water for Belle’s mush.

We feed Belle the mush in a deep container with enough room for her twisted beak.  Because the pecking behavior is so natural to her she finds it hard even with months of practice to scoop to the side.  She shakes her head often but miraculously enough goes down.

Belle's eating habits are not a pretty sight.

Belle’s eating habits are not a pretty sight.

Although what we feed Belle is exactly what we feed the other hens, only wet, they still are jealous and will push her away from her food.  So she is fed in a special upside-down milkcrate of my daughter’s design, in the upper portion of the quail coop (the quail won’t go upstairs). The door is closed to just a Belle-sized crack and held open with a sophisticated latching unit (a stick).  Even so some of the bolder girls will invade.

Belle eats upstairs in the quail coop.  A crate helps keep her food from being raided by other hens.

Belle eats upstairs in the quail coop. A crate helps keep her food from being raided by other hens.

Some food does go down Belle’s throat, but much of it decorates the crate.

The wall of splatter inside her eating crate.

The wall of splatter inside her eating crate.

After giving her a bath (as in the top photo) to soak off the dried hen food, her feathers looked so pretty (and she strutted around the porch so much as she dried) that I endeavored to find a solution to keep her clean.  Alas, nothing worked.  We ended up trimming her neck feathers to reduce the dried clumps.

I tried an old bib of my children's on Belle to try and protect her clean feathers from splatter.  It didn't work.

I tried an old bib of my children’s on Belle to try and protect her clean feathers from splatter. It didn’t work.

With all the handling Belle gets she has become a spoiled girl.  She lives outside the hen’s pecking order, often scooting under their legs or pushing them out of the way when a treat comes even though she can’t eat it and has to have hers separately.

Belle, the falcon.

Belle, the falcon.  Or the time is quarter-past Belle.

Belle likes to help.  I usually feed the hens in the morning while in my bathrobe. As I bend to scoop their food I find there is a chicken clawing her way up my back. She enjoys sitting on one’s head as well, particularly on my daughter’s as she has so much hair coiled up that it gives Belle a nice place, albeit an unwelcome one, to perch.

Belle likes to help whenever she can.

Belle likes to help whenever she can.

When we fill Belle’s food dish with water outside the Fowl Fortress, she often sneaks under the door as it is closing and makes a leap for her food.  Usually this results in food everywhere but in Belle’s very hungry stomach.

Belle usually can't wait until she's served.

Belle usually can’t wait until she’s served.

Belle is a happy chicken, eager for attention and enjoying being ‘teacher’s pet’.  She doesn’t mind being carried around like a small football.

With all the frequent handling she gets, Belle enjoys being carried around... spoiled girl!

With all the frequent handling she gets, Belle enjoys being carried around… spoiled girl!

After making fried zucchini for dinner one night I had extra beaten egg and soy milk left over.  On a whim I cooked it into a custard for Belle.  Well. I’ve never seen a hen eat so much.  It was the perfect consistancy for her to scoop and it was tasty.  Giving her a few day’s break I eventually made her a more nutritious custard.  In my handy-dandy Vitamix (I really should be paid to sponsor them, although hen custard probably isn’t in their advertising scheme) I mixed quail eggs and their shells, lay pellets, ground cracked corn, oyster shell, buttermilk, and celery greens which I happened to have right there (from home-grown celery).  The custard turned out very unappetising.

Although it looks like a cross between brocciflower and a sea sponge, it is really a dry custard.

Although it looks like a cross between brocciflower and a sea sponge, it is really a dry custard.

Apparently it was only unappealing to me and Miranda.

After-custard clean-up is necessary due to the dairy products.  Belle's not happy about being dabbed.

After-custard clean-up is necessary due to the dairy products. Belle’s not happy about being dabbed.

It is worth the extra effort to insure Belle has a good meal and a full crop at the end of the day.  When she’s full of custard she actually struts around the yard, happy with her fullness and the fact that she had a treat no one else had.  Belle is of laying age but her size is smaller than the other hens and she’s still growing.  I don’t mind if she doesn’t lay; she’s a darling friend and a neutral hen in the coop.  I’m sure Belle will be the source of many more stories and certainly a lot more mess.  Just another crazy, high-maintenance, unproductive little animal here at Finch Frolic!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *