Northern Ireland

Beaky Becky: The bird with a new prosthetic beak

Image caption Beautiful Becky before her operation on Thursday...
Image caption ...and recovering from anaesthetic after receiving her new beak

A rescued battery hen whose top beak was cut off as a chick has had a prosthetic one fitted. The tricky operation took place on Thursday and BBC cameras were there to capture the moment.

Beautiful Becky is a bit of a character.

She had her top beak cut off when she was about 10-days-old. This is common practice in commercial farms where chickens are bred for their eggs.

The process, known as de-beaking, prevents the birds from pecking each other while they are kept in close proximity.

The beak can grow back, but often when it does, it is deformed.

Unfortunately for Beautiful Becky, her top beak never grew back so a prosthetic beak has been specially designed for her.

Barbara Mladek who runs the Nut House Hen Rescue and Rehoming Centre in Moira said when they got the bird, she weighed virtually nothing.

Image caption Barbara Mladek says the hen is very vocal

"We had rescued hens whose beaks had re-grown, but they were deformed like scissors - where the top beak grows off to one side," she said.

"But this little hen was just skin and bone."

Before her operation Becky could not peck at food on the ground so her seed was gathered into little mounds so she could feed.

"We've managed to get her up to about 2kg in weight," said Barbara.

"As soon as she hit 1.8kg she started laying again. Becky's laying process is unusual. She likes to announce it for about three hours before she is actually laying and then for another two afterwards.

"She is very vocal but she is the most loving, affectionate, hilarious hen".

It is hoped her new beak will help her lead a normal life - if it works.

The vet has tried the procedure before but last time the glue took too long to dry and the beak fell off.

This time a new adhesive was used.

Barbara says after much research she found a vet in County Cork who had used the procedure on birds when she worked in New Zealand.

She was able to advise about a different, stronger adhesive which dries quickly.

"We are hopeful it'll work. The procedure has been used on eagles and parrots whose beaks have broken but it's usually a temporary measure until their beaks heal or grow back, we need this to be permanent."

Image caption This is how Becky's new beak looked the first time - but the procedure failed