Poor old Edgar is four years old with a face you can love with a little effort. He has been messed up like this since his second summer of life when he was just over a year old. The moron insisted on getting into multiple fights with other roosters through wire of a pen. He nearly died outright each time. Normally he would have been culled, but I saw some potential with his rehabilitation and how he might compensate for the damage. It took better part of a year for him to regain the ability to use his beak even slightly as it was designed to work. For a good while we had to work together to figure out how to get enough food into him. He had other problems as well not related to eating that required some assistance. Overcoming those challenges help me understand how important the beak is to normal chicken function.
Edgar used to be a real good looking stud even in the face. He was and still is a lead bird of my outreach program. He very tolerant of little kids poking at him. Not all birds take it as well as he does.
After he is last battle is became apparent a large portion of both the upper and lower bill would come off. When it did Edgar went through a spell where he lost a lot of weight and would only drink. He would come running to me for eats, but just stand there looking at me once at mye feet. He would fly up onto my arm to plunge his head into a container of live meal worms to feed. It was slow feeding and very expensive. He was having to swallow the meal worms alive which is not natural. He would then settle on my arm as he would fall asleep. After almost 2 weeks without eating on his own I noticed him jump into a bucket of feed and start plunging his head into it to ingest the crumbles. I made up another bucket of feed to allow him to get his fill from the first. That was repeated daily for months. He was free-range kept near house with a pullet recovering from an animal attack. The pullet would ultimately produce some really good chicks with him.
As his weight came back on his gameness came back as well so penning was required. The jumping into the bucket trick was no longer practical. For a short time I would the fill a water bowl with much more feed that is normally fed out to a single bird and he could consume only a small portion of it. That proved to be wast full so the next step was to make so the feed was wetted almost like done with fermented feed. Much less feed was required to keep him fed. Still process wast full as he could not pick the bowl clean. His feeding was also so slow he could not keep pace with the pullet housed with him so I had to re-pen her elsewhere.
It took about 6 months for his beak to heal enough where he could consume particulates like shell-corn, BOSS, and layer pellets. It was apparent that he could not consume the larger particulates on the ground and he was not getting grit. The grit problem was resolved by mixing it in with the wetted feed. He was all about the grit at first. He had trouble consuming even the large particulates still.
The adult Differential Grasshopper is a tasty catch for most chickens more than half grown. For Edgar, they are a major challenge as hard to kill. He will handle one for a minute or two before giving up and consuming it alive. Chickens with good bills will dispatch and consume such prey in seconds, much faster than Edgar. During time Edgar processes one such grasshopper, another chicken can move on and capture additional items with a lot less work.
Catching the big and tough Differential Grasshopper is often facilitated by my kids. Edgar walks yard with them going after the grasshoppers that are flushed in the open where he can more effectively pin the hoppers to the ground. Here is an example where my daughter presents a grasshopper she caught and disabled for Edgar. Edgar has learned by observation when we are after morsels for him and he will run to whom ever has found one, sometimes even before it is captured. When he has a broody hen or juveniles in tow he has not trouble simply indicating we caught something the lesser birds can eat catch.
The smaller and softer katydids are much easier for Edgar to consume. Even he can dispatch those with minimal effort.
Edgar also has issues consuming most vegetative plant materials and larger fruits. His inability to completely close mouth in the distal third of the beak's length makes so he cannot clip the tips of leaves and lobes of clover leaves. Below is an image of a piece clover clipped moments before by a cockerel that was walking slowly through yard taking snippets as he went. The grazing activity is typically so light you have to get down and really close to see what a chicken actually takes. Compared to a critter like a ruminant, a single pass by a single chicken causes almost not perceptible changes to the plant community. Even so the birds consume a lot of such snippets and it represents a large portion of what free-range chickens eat. I had to follow a cockerel on my hands and knees in daylight to get these images.
Another plant challenge currently ongoing involves fruits of the American Persimmon Tree. Edgar has to work just to break the skin of the fruit. He really likes them so puts forth the effort, but he can be defeated by all but the ripest / softest fruits.
He can not begin to take on a apple or pear unless well past what most humans would consume.
What Edgar can do relatively well is eat from loose piles of eats like the cooked rice. Consuming such is like eating ground feed in a bowl. Still he is messier than average.
His son Little Edgar does it better even when distracted by potential foes.
The beak plays a significant roll with respect to feathers. The beak is used to "preen" feathers so as to straighten them and occasionally rearrange them. The beak also helps distribute the waxy oil from the Uropygial Gland, aka "Preening Gland" to aid with repelling water. He gets wetter from heavy rain events than other birds held under similar conditions. Edgar is have trouble removing the sheath that protects growing feathers giving the lingering shaft that is preventing feather of his tail from unfurling. He like others with damaged bills take longer for feathers to come into full glory.
More to come later as article improved.