This is a summary of the thread Caring for Cross-Beaked and Special Needs Chickens. Flock owners who have a chicken that is temporarily unable to eat may find useful information here on how to get extra nutrition into their birds as well.

Some of us have opted to take on the care of chickens that require a higher level of maintenance than other birds. These are a few of the tips that we have picked up and shared with each other. You may be contemplating whether or not to save that one little runt in your hatch group; hopefully we can convince you that the love and affection returned by these special chickens is more than worth the extra effort. You may also find some of these tips helpful if you have an otherwise healthy bird that requires a little extra care after an injury.

bantyshanty said, “Many other sick or wounded chicks have gotten up to an hour of my time a day, and I've loved every moment with them. These special animals come into our lives to open our hearts more & teach us about other kinds of wisdom.”

Here’s hoping you might just decide to save a little cross-beak yourself!


  • Nutritional issues

Feed your cross beaks the same feeds you would give other birds of the same age, laying and moulting stage but in crumbles. If they are young or very disabled, make the feed into a mash, i.e., a wet mushy mix of chick feed and other ingredients.You may want to add vitamins and grit into the mash. They cannot pick up the grit and adding it to the mash ensures they get grit. You can add pieces of bread torn up and tossed into the mash for the cross beaks to pick up. You’ll also find that the mash becomes quite a big hit with the entire flock, so make sure your cross-beak gets alone time with the mash first.

If the mash is your bird’s main source of food and not just a treat, check that the protein / calcium / fat ratios are still what they should be. Don’t overfeed proteins unless its molting season and watch the calcium levels of layers. Excessive fat can be detrimental but some oil can be good as a lubricant and as a way to break up and clear impacted crops. Also canned pet foods can have too much salts in them not to mention other by products.

Some ingredients to try:
Powdered vitamins at the feed store
Poly-Vi-Sol infant drops, the ones that do NOT contain iron in it.
Tuna or other cooked fish
canned cat food
creamed corn
raw egg, esp the yolk
peanut butter
Olive Oil
Nut Oils
corn meal
ground flax seed
whole grain flour
watermelon or other fruit juices

Yogurts, Sour Milk, Cheeses, etc.
Some say feeding them yogurt is a good way to get probiotics in their gut if they have problems, however it is not a good idea to give long term. Dairy is not good for chickens and they do not process it well if at all. Again, a once in a while treat is OK but don’t give dairy products often.

* Practical issues
You need a deep bowl or container that your cross-beak can have access to all by itself. Then you need to keep that bowl filled to the top. Some owners have had success with bowls large enough for their birds to sit in, see below:


A deep tupperware container nailed to a board sitting on the floor or a smaller anchored dog dish can also work well, but again the most important part is giving them time alone with the dish so they don’t have to fight off the rest of the flock.




  • olive oil
  • 20-ml syringe
  • feeding tube
  • Polyvisol infant vitamins without iron.

The feeding tube can be bought from a vet for around $3.00. The tube is also known as a red rubber tube and come in sizes called French (Fr.). Most standard sized chickens are probably going to be about a 10 or 14 Fr. Also, the larger the diameter of the tube you can get, the less likely you are going to have to deal with clogs.

The vet gave also give you the syringes (no needles to go with them obviously, just the syringe) and the rest can be bought at the store. The bigger the syringe, the better since you don't have to draw up more often. If you can get a 35cc syringe most women with average sized hands find these easiest to work with. Most vets would be able to get you a 60cc syringe, but unless you have large hands these are a real pain when they are full and you're pushing the food through. If possible, many people find catheter tip syringes easier to use with a red rubber tube. Leur-lock syringes have threading at the tip that helps hold needles in place. It doesn't do much for a red rubber tube but will work if you have nothing else.

Use the oil to grease the feeding tube and also the plunger on the syringe to make it go down smoother. Just FYI: if the red rubber tube is too flimsy you can place it in ice water for several minutes to make it a little stiffer.

Use a blender with a liquefy setting or something similar. Do not use a food processor as in my experience they can leak. Use the same ingredients for a mash, but you want a thinner mix for tube feeding. Blend, leaving it on liquefy for 5 minutes and adding hot water if it is too thick, and then blending some more. You want the end result to be a velvety-smooth goop that will flow easily through the syringe. However, you will get some clogs no matter what you do. Try not to force the clog, as the pressure will cause the tube to pop off and spray goo. Just pull the plunger back and forth until it frees up, or if it is really bad, disconnect it from the tube, poke a needle through the tip to see if the clog is there, and try again.

For inserting the tube, you are going to need an assistant. First restrain the bird by wrapping it in a towel, or for a smaller bird you can use the cut-off sleeve of a sweatshirt.

A young Silkie cockerel

Use one hand on the bird’s breast and the other to gently hold its neck. Extend the neck. Holding them like this, they can't escape and your buddy can feel the feeding tube going down into the crop. The first few times you will be terrified of getting it in the wrong hole, but after a while you will be a pro. Another tip, make sure the chicken's neck is extended. Chickens and other birds have a sort of S shaped neck when they are holding it naturally, and this can make it more difficult to pass the tube.

The lovely Miss Bird

You want to aim the feeding tube down the LEFT side of the chicken's mouth if you are facing her. The crop goes off to the chicken's right side. You can feel the crop and jiggle the feeding tube to be sure it's in the right place. When you are sure it's down the right hole, attach the syringe to the feeding tube and fill your chicken with goo! Do not overfeed or you'll have a chicken squirting food out of her mouth.

Important note: Don't force the tube! It should slide down the esophagus into the crop smoothly and without resistance, especially if you are using olive oil to lubricate. If you have to force it, you're in the wrong place and you need to pull out and try again. If you stay to the right side of the mouth/throat (your left if you are facing the chicken while doing this) then it should slide in easy and you'll be fine. Red rubber tubes are a very safe way to tube feed. Some people also use metal gavage tubes, but these can be dangerous if you don't know what you are doing because they can cause tears to the crop if force is used. The red rubber tube doesn't have enough substance to it to cause the crop to rupture unless you are using what will obviously be too much force.

Your bird may fight the insertion a little because the feeding tube feels weird and a little uncomfortable, but eventually they will settle down. She is able to take 6 1/2 syringes full from the 20 ml syringes I have.

Beak trimming
There are no nerves in the very tips of a bird’s beak! They are made of keratin, the same protein molecules that make up our fingernails. Don’t be afraid of clipping the beaks down, this may be the best way to get your cross beak to eat properly. The beak is very similar in structure to a dog's nails with a quick inside that may be hard to see in dark-beaked breeds. Have a styptic pencil or corn starch on hand to clot any blood that may result if you cut too close to the quick. Both the top and bottom beak should be trimmed to try to create a straight, matched beak edge.

Beak trimming can be done either with nail clippers or a pedi paw nail trimmer. A Pedipaws style tool or a Dremel bit is better for shaping the beak and preventing sharp edges. Just watch out for their tongues when you trim or grind. Some birds like to stick their tongues out while grinding.

How often to trim the beak depends on the severity of the cross-beak on your bird. Some do it once a week, others do this every 3 or so weeks. If your bird’s cross-beak is very mild, you might do it just when you notice them spending more time than normal eating. What is important is to start maintaining their beaks when young and continue to do so as the bird matures.

You might also want to use the beak trimming time as an opportunity to load your cross-beak up on extra calories and make sure they go back to the coop with a full crop.

Other Maintenance Issues

Be aware that cross beaks have a harder time preening than others do. Schedule regular dustings with Sevin, and try flea shampoo or salt/vinegar baths. Removing lice is important so that they don’t lose any nutrition to these nasty parasites. If they get gunky, bathe them in soap-free dog shampoo because that helps them maintain their natural oils better. Link here:

For really bad clusters of lice eggs, use oil to break it up and make it come off easily. Extra virgin coconut oil, slightly warmed up to liquefy it (solid at room temp) and applied to the egg clusters can really work them loose. Use an old toothbrush with the oil to help scrub the eggs off the feathers. Avon Skin-so-soft has a reputation of being a repellent to many insects. Of course individual feather clipping in warm weather is the most immediately effective, just be sure to dispose of the feathers far away from the coop, preferably in a sealed bag.

Some owners have noticed other flock members, especially the broody ones, grooming the cross-beaks on their own, which just speaks to what so many of us know about chickens and their social natures. Of course dust baths are a must, and you should give them access in their coop to one even in winter. Add food-grade diatomaceous earth to the dust to kill any bugs.


Because these birds are perpetually looking to add nutrition and calories, you have to watch for them during cold spells and make sure they aren't exerting calories just staying warm. You may want to move them indoors or at least to a wind-sheltered area.

Causes & Identifying problems

Cross beaks may be apparent at birth, or may take weeks to develop. Often the cross beak is accompanied by eye deformities ranging from a bad eye that needs to be wiped clean several times a day, to no eye at all. These are clearly genetic deformities, especially if they show up in future generations. DO NOT allow these birds to become part of the gene pool if you are breeding, no matter what their other genes may possess, it isn’t worth passing this trait on intentionally.

There may be other causes of cross-beak in addition to genetics. Some breeders attribute incubator issues and humidity or a chick pecking on something hard during the first 2 days of life. Some have observed that chicks hatched with an obvious beak deformity do not thrive as well as others that develop later, which implies that there could be other genetic problems in addition to the cross-beak. The chicks that seem to develop it later from about 6 to 10 weeks seem to fare better and continue a good life with some support. Certain breeds like Easter Eggers, Silkies and Favorolles are more commonly afflicted with cross-beak.

Special Stories
TherapyDogLady contributed this wonderful story:
I guess there are more "idiots" than me out there! I usually cull pretty hard with my big chickens, but for some reason or other, I just have a soft spot for banties! This past spring, I ordered a straight run of "assorted bantams" for my grandchildren's "project" for the summer. I don't know how he got by me, but we had a cross-beak survive to adulthood (fully feathered, anyway). I did not pay close enough attention to the chicks. I was making sure the kids kept the brooder cleaned, fresh water, plenty food, etc. Anyway, we now have a cross-beaked, red rooster, and wouldn't you know it, he is their fav!

When I picked him up while moving to a coop the three of us built, just for them, I realized how thin he was because of his deformity, so we put a bright red band on his leg. (No need, really, since he is the only red rooster) ANYWAY, we started taking yogurt with us when we went out there, and mixed chick starter crumbles in it in an effort to bulk him up. It took him 2 days to expect special treatment, and now, he flies up on "his" corner perch waiting to be picked up. One grand child gets him settled on their lap while the other one prepares the food, and the little dickens eats about 3/4 cup of it twice a day! The kids take turns feeding and preparing. And while the one holding the food cup for "Lucky Chicken" (LC for short), the other one feeds the rest of their flock, changes water, and whatever else needs to be done, then they switch roles the next go round.

I am happy to report that everyone, LC and the kids too, have grown tremendously, in more ways that just weight and size. The kids are even talking about writing a children's book about LC. I think I may have created a monster here, but to develop their nurturing abilities and empathetic social skills, it will be worth feeding the little thing through the school year until they can come again next summer!

Further Reading

Thank you to all the contributors that made this article possible:

and me, the editor that put an entire thread's worth of good knowledge into one place - ImprfctMe aka Heather