The Importance of Beak Trimming

The Importance of Beak Trimming

by A.C. Jacobs

I admit, before I had a chicken who required regular beak trims, I did not know this was a thing. Trimming a chickens beak? That sounds strange. Does it hurt?

Relax! Beak trimming is an important part of regular chicken care and maintenance. But, why? 

Beak trimming is the equivalent of cutting your own fingernails. As anyone with extremely short or long fingernails will attest, there is a sweet spot for personal comfort and safety. Like our fingernails, a chicken’s beak is a self-regenerating tool, but it helps chickens do so much more. A well-tended beak allows chickens to eat, drink, preen, and even maintain their social status effectively. Older or ailing birds and breeds that tend toward lazy foraging sometimes need a little help keeping their beaks worn to perfection.

How long is too long? When a chicken beak starts to resemble something you might see on a bird of prey, it is too long. My little hen Saucy (pictured) is a prime example of beak overgrowth. She pecks, she pokes, she is one of my best foragers, but she uses her feet more than her face and it shows.

The only tool you need to trim a beak is a pair of toenail clippers. I have used a variety of things for trimming beaks, but toenail clippers are by far my favorite. They are accurate, sharp, and easy to use one-handed.

What You Need: Toenail clippers, corn starch (in case you over trim)

Step 1: Catch your chicken. If that involves flailing around in your pajamas for 45 minutes, it’s okay. We’ve all been there. No judgment.

Step 2: Sit down and hold your chicken under your arm facing forward (I’m right-handed, so Saucy went under my left arm). Chickens struggle less if they can put their feet down, so I sit and let her use my thigh for support.

Step 3: I use the inside of my elbow to hold Saucy against my body, freeing my hand to hold her head and beak. Your chicken will struggle. Be patient and kind. When she relaxes, you can start your trim.

Step 4: We are only trimming the upper-half of Saucy’s beak today. Most chickens don’t need the bottom portion of their beak trimmed. Trim in very small increments. Use your dominant free hand and trim a little off the hook, then a little off the flares on either side of the hook. Be patient.

Be careful not to cut into the “quick” of the beak that is alive and has blood flow. You can also play it safe by trimming the hook a little and finishing up with a nail file. If you accidentally draw blood, don’t panic. Apply a small amount of corn starch to the area until the bleeding stops. Make sure bleeding has stopped before putting your chicken back with the flock.

You did it! You have successfully trimmed a beak and made a chicken's life better. Now for treats. 

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