When chickens are bred in bulk for commercial egg-laying, their beaks are humanely “trimmed” to prevent them from pecking others. This is such a euphamism; it should be called beak disfiguration instead! Sometimes it involved the chick being clamped into a machine and a hot knife slicing off the end of the beak. Humane, eh? Nowadays, lasers are more commonly used; great, that’s a real improvement! This is done without anaesthetic. The result of this is that a laying hen has to live the rest of her short and painful life without being able to pick up food easily, preen what is left of their feathers (but then they don’t have the space in battery cages to do much preening, anyway), or scratch in the dirt for worms (oh, forgot again, they don’t know what dirt is, nor worms).
Most rescued hens will have a problem with their beak, but after a few months of normal chicken life the beak is naturally worn into a more normal shape. Chooks do this quite naturally by scraping their beaks on a hard surface – garden paving, steps, anything that will help clean their beaks. Sometimes it seems to be a ritual; many of my chooks wipe their beaks on the steps going up to their coop at night, a couple of times on each step. Sometimes they do it because they have something a bit sticky on their beak and it is irritating! They have even done it on my arm when I have been giving them a cuddle!
One of our rescue hens, Doris, has a prominant lower beak mandible. The upper mandible was trimmed at some point, and the lower was not. Most of the time this does not bother her at all; she can eat from my hand, or scoop food from the pellet hopper quite easily, and she obviously finds it useful for her favourite pastime, foraging in the mud of our bog garden! But it is a problem when she tries to peck something on a hard surface, such as the drive, because her protruding lower beak prevents her from getting a grip on it. When I had to take her to the vets for an unrelated problem recently, I asked whether it would be possible to do something about the beak, to make it easier for her to eat, but the vet said it was too late to do anything about it. I’m hoping that it will naturally grind down in time.
Disturbing undercover footage of what really happens in a commercial hatchery http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JJ–faib7to