Trim Chicken Beak: How, When, And Why
A chicken’s beak is constantly growing, much like our own hair and fingernails. The external part of the beak is a keratin shield, which grows forward and down.
Typically, a chicken will wear down its beak through scratching and pecking at things. Chickens which spend time outdoors nearly always wear down their beaks without any problem, just by digging around in the ground. Chickens which live on a concrete floor or who have access to a rough chunk of rock like granite, will also usually be able to maintain their own beaks by sharpening (wiping) them against these hard, rough surfaces.
However, there are variations in beak growth speed and hardness. (Just as there are differences, from one person to another, in fingernail hardness and growth speed.) Some chickens, even if they are free-range, may occasionally need to have their beaks trimmed. Their beaks may grow too fast to wear down in normal usage, or they may be growing unusually hard.
Chickens which spend most of their lives indoors, particularly inside a structure like a barn (where everything is made of wood), may also need more frequent beak trimming.
When To Trim A Chicken’s Beak
Most chicken beaks should end in a somewhat gentle, rounded point. This indicates that the beak is getting worn down with use. A beak which is not being worn down will be sharp, and may point down much farther than the beaks of the rest of your flock.
A chicken’s beak may also need trimming if it has started to grow astray. Sometimes, often through an injury, a bird’s beak may start growing off at a funny angle. This angle can eventually prevent the chicken from being able to eat properly. Left untreated for long enough, the hen can starve to death.
Beak Trimming Versus Debeaking
Debeaking is an inhumane procedure which is performed in commercial chicken production facilities. To prevent chickens from pecking each other (due to the stress engendered by their overcrowded conditions), half of the top beak is removed when they are chicks.
This practice is painful for the chicken, both at the time of beak removal and for the rest of the chicken’s life. Debeaking has been made illegal in many countries.
Debeaking should not be confused with trimming a chicken’s overgrown beak.
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