Trimming the Ever-Growing Keratin – by David Rogers

Some long-tailed fowl that exhibit extremely quick growth in the tail and saddle feathers may also have faster than normal growth in the toenails, spurs, and at the tip of the upper mandible.

It is important to keep these keratinous extremities from becoming overgrown. Too long of toe nails can impair walking. Overgrown spurs on roosters may unintentionally injure hens during breeding. Hens with too long of spurs may break eggs when sitting down to lay or nest. An overgrown upper mandible will soon impair eating.

Each of these issues is easily taken care of. The only thing to watch for in each of these structures is the quick, a blood vein that runs nearly to the end of each the toenails, spurs, and upper mandible. The quick can be seen easily in lightly pigmented fowl. In darker pigmented fowl, a small flashlight may be used to reveal its location.

Above – A diagram of the quicks. Click photo to enlarge.
Above left – The toe nails and upper mandible may be clipped using the guillotine type dog nail trimmers. The scissor type of trimmers may not cut evenly. The guillotine type trimmers cut evenly in one smooth motion. As mentioned before, stay just beyond the quick. Click photo to enlarge.

Above right – Trimming the tip of the upper mandible. Fowl of a docile temperament readily accept these grooming practices without restraint being necessary. Click photo to enlarge.

Trimming the tip of the upper mandible in this way is not at all like the practice of "de-beaking" commercially grown chickens. Trimming without cutting into the growing part of the beak allows the tip of upper mandible to continue growing as normal. It is perfectly normal for the tip of the upper mandible to constantly grow to allow for wear. It’s much the same principle as rodents’ teeth. If not wore down naturally, it must be trimmed. An emery board may be used to further smooth and round over the newly cut edges.
Spurs are typically trimmed in a different manner. While holding the leg near the spur with one hand, using a sturdy pair of pliers, give a smooth constant twisting motion in a counterclockwise direction. Do not use a jerky motion, pry, or otherwise twist in any direction other than the proper way while holding the pliers parallel to the leg.

The spurs are made up of stacks of cones. They are much like a stack of several funnels. Twisting the outer layer frees it from the inner layer. As the outer layer is removed, it considerably shortens the spur. There may be a small amount of blood, but cayenne pepper powder or a regular blood stopping agent may be used to clot the blood if it does not do so on its own.

Left – While holding the bird in arm and supporting the leg with one hand, the spur may be twisted counterclockwise with the pliers. The outer portion of the spur will twist free. A blood stopping agent may be applied to the tip of the spur.
Click photo to enlarge.

The frequency at which any of these procedures may be required varies according to the fowl and the season of the year. It is important to watch for overgrowth in the discussed areas and not view it as a once-every-two-months procedure, because keratin varies too much in growth period durations.

Below – Birds that have had a spur trimmed may be seen holding the leg up to rest it to relieve some discomfort. For this reason, I only trim one spur at a time. After giving the first one a few days to heal, I then trim the second spur. Click photo to enlarge.

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