It’s uncommon, but sometimes chickens need to have their beaks trimmed. This isn’t the same as debeaking whereby a day-old chick’s beak is burned off with a hot knife to the point where the growth matrix is damaged, inhibiting its further growth for the rest of the bird’s life. We breed our own birds and don’t believe in debeaking – a practice only necessary if your birds are grossly overcrowded in the first place.
Normally a chicken will keep its beak lovely and trim through forage and by scraping it on rocky surfaces like concrete, pavement, stones, bricks, etc. Occasionally however, this just doesn’t seem to do the trick – and the bird needs a trim.
Why do they need a trim? Well – let’s look at it this way. Have you ever gotten acrylic nails and then tried to pick up a dime (5 cent coin if you’re Australian) which was flat on its side? Yeah. That’s why. Chickens use their beaks to pick up their food. An overgrown beak is like having crazy-ass fake nails on your fingers and trying to pick up tiny objects. Chickens with overgrown beaks can’t eat very well and can eventually starve to death.
I noticed last week that one of our broody hens Tetra had an overgrown beak. How she obtained it is something of a mystery to us. While it’s true
that a lot of our yard is soft grass and bark mulch, there’s pavement in the front yard, bricks everywhere, and plenty of rough granite stones that they wander over which she could use to trim her beak down. It’s not something that we encounter very often for this reason. Even so, it needed to be addressed.
If you’ve never trimmed your chicken’s beak the idea probably freaks you out a little. I mean…what if I hurt it? How? WHAT IF I KILL MY CHICKEN? (my anxiety is often wildly irrational but I know it’s not just me who is like this)
Fear not. Beak trimming is super easy, quite safe, and while it might bleed a little, there are things we can do to prepare this and minimize blood loss – and we should. A chicken can bleed to death from their beak. While the risk of heavy bleeding is incredibly minimal, you should always be prepared for the worst (Just me? Anxiety? I think it’s smart.)
Things you’ll need:
- A pair of nail clippers or dog claw clippers (preferable)
- Styptic Powder (cornstarch will do)
- An extra set of hands
Get someone to hold the chicken for you. While it’s possible to do this by yourself, you’re far more likely to cause injury to your chicken if you attempt to do this one-handed. In my case I had three people because the only way to take videos of these things while doing them myself is if I realize my dreams and achieve my true form as an octopus. Imagine how much more I’ll get done.
The tip of your chicken’s beak is made of keratin – the same substance which makes our fingernails and toenails. So more or less, we’re going to treat them like pointy fingernails and just cut straight across with a pair of clippers. It’s possible, if you cut too much off, that the beak will bleed. Unchecked this can cause some problems, so let’s keep some styptic powder on hand to dip their beak into should it start to bleed.
Hold the chicken’s head securely in one hand – careful not to strangle her to death in the process. Position the clippers, and snip! Less is more. You can always cut twice but you can’t undo a beak cut too short. We snipped Tetra’s beak twice and left the tip squared. She’ll file it down herself the rest of the way.
And that’s it! Tetra will now find it easier to eat! She looks scraggly at the moment. A little pale from brooding eggs and missing some feathers on top of her head from mating, giving her head a weird, bumpy appearance that makes her look perma-pissed-off.
Have something chicken related you’d like me to cover? Wondering how to do something? Curious about a kind of bedding/feed you’ve heard about but haven’t tried? Email me at email@example.com!