If you own a rooster, it’s inevitable that you will need to learn how to reduce or remove poultry spurs at some point during his lifetime.
The first time that we gave one of our roosters a pedicure was out of a necessity to protect me! One of our feathered fellows had decided to take his job of protecting the flock with zealous and was attacking me every time that I entered the chicken yard.
There are several ways to remove rooster spurs that we’ll discuss but it’s important to understand what makes a rooster spur in order to know how to approach removal.
Biology of Poultry Spurs
The best similarity that can be drawn for humans to understand is that poultry spurs sort of like our own fingernails and toe nails. While we tend to compare rooster spurs to human fingernails that is only partially true. Spurs are actually a part of the of the leg bone and fed by the circulatory system. Spurs are covered with keratin which is the same hard protein that creates the chicken’s beak and can be found in the hooves, claws and hair of all other mammals.
As the rooster matures, a spur bud begins to develop just above the claw on the back of the chicken’s shank. The spur will grow out and harden as it develops over time and will not stop growing unless the chicken (through injury) or chicken owner (through maintenance) removes it. The spur will develop a sharp end as the rooster matures. Roosters use their spurs as weapons to protect their flock and territory. No matter which spur removal method you choose, the spur will grow back over time so maintenance of these self-defense “daggers” should become a part of your backyard chicken owner skill set.
Much like human fingernails, rooster spurs are a sheath that covers very tender flesh underneath. You should be prepared for a bit of bleeding with the removal of rooster spurs because of these capillaries, but it is a manageable amount. Have styptic powder, flour or baking powder on hand during the process to stop any bleeding.
Poultry Spur Maintenance Health Benefits
The most obvious question would be, “If poultry spurs are the chicken’s self-defense, why would you remove them?” The answer is simple- POULTRY SPURS HURT!
If left unmanaged, poultry spurs can seriously injure your hens during the mating process as the rooster mounts the hen from behind and holds on with his beak, claws and spurs. The spurs are often positioned under the wings and dig into the sides of the hen’s body.
Hen saddles which cover the areas of the hen’s body commonly injured by a mating rooster are a great option. Some of the things you should consider before opting for the hen saddle option are:
- One size does not fit all. Make sure you take the time to measure your hens before ordering. If you purchase a saddle this is to large, it will loosely slide around on your hen’s back and defeat the purpose of covering her during the mating process. If it’s too large, she will often walk her way right out of it during the day and not be covered at all.
Note: don’t forget it will shrink after being laundered. I ordered 10+ saddles one time that fit perfectly to start, but wouldn’t fit a pigeon after they’d been through the dryer. Purchase cotton hen saddles for the fabric’s breathability, but don’t forget they will shrink.
- One style does not fit all. Consider your rooster’s habits when selecting a hen saddle design. Some hen saddles have neck coverage. Some have over the wing flaps to cover her wings. Others have a design for better coverage under the wings. Where does he do the most damage?
- Hen saddles provide temporary relief. Hen saddles will protect your female flock members, but only to a certain extent. You may delay dealing with rooster spurs, but you will eventually have to address them. Like fingernails, rooster spurs just keep growing.
There is often a need to de-spur a rooster for the safety of the backyard chicken owner and children. If you or a family member is injured, please remember that your rooster is only doing what comes natural to him. He is instinctually programmed to protect his flock and territory from anything he perceives as a potential danger.
The spur can be a very dangerous natural weapon, and cause serious flesh injuries. This does not mean that you automatically cull the rooster. It is our responsibility as caretakers to manage the health of our birds and just like your regular manicure, keeping your chickens well-manicured is essential.
Lastly, regular spur maintenance is vital to the chicken’s own health and safety. Roosters can injure themselves with overgrown spurs, get them caught in poultry fencing and even cause lameness in cases where spurs have been left to curl and affect how the rooster walks.
Common Ways to Remove Poultry Spurs
As a general rule, we do not remove rooster spurs unless they become a danger to family (human, furry or feathered). Instead we maintain them by tipping and filing them every few months. While the spur is a very important line of defense against predators for the flock, it is not the only one.
Always keep a blood-clotting agent on hand when you are performing any type of spur maintenance on your flock. Styptic powder is fabulous but regular all-purpose flour or baking powder can be used in a pinch. Cover the bird’s head and body with a towel while performing any type of medical procedures in order to calm your chicken during the process as much as possible. For the average backyard chicken owner, this is done easiest as a two-person job. One holds the chicken firmly while the other works on the bird.
Filing Poultry Spurs
Simply use an electric Dremel with a sand paper file to file off the sharp edge of the spur. If you do not have an electric Dremel a metal file will work it might just take a little bit longer to use. This will keep the spur from being sharp but will have to be done every so often as the spur grows back just like our fingernails do. File the spur if it gets too long and makes it hard for the rooster to walk. It is very unlikely that you will cause bleeding using this method unless you file too much and too fast. The biggest drawback to this method is the time it takes. Being the slowest method of spur management means you have to keep the bird under control and minimize stress for the longest period of time. (And it can seem like forever when you’ve got a squirrely rooster in your arms.)
Clipping Poultry Spurs
Spurs can be trimmed with nail clippers made for our household pets. Unless the bird is a bantam human nail clipper would be too small for most spurs. Just make sure that your clippers are large enough, strong enough and sharp enough to do the job with one clip. Like human and pet nails, the spur can splinter and crack if a blunt clipper is used. Have styptic powder on hand to stop any bleeding from the interior blood vessel if you accidentally cut too far down the spur.
The Hot Potato Removal Method
To remove the entire spur sheath and leave the flesh underneath is another option that is common among poultry owners. To do this, you need pliers and 2 medium sized potatoes. Heat a potato in the microwave until it is fully cooked about 10 minutes. Carefully insert the spur into the potato making sure that you do not touch the leg with the potato to keep from burning the chicken.
Leave the potato on for 2-3 minutes. (This is the tricky part- getting your rooster to hold still for 2-3 minutes while he feels the sensation of heat coming from his spur area. The hot potato over the spur itself does not burn the chicken. However, he will feel the heat sensation and he will try to kick the potato off. Be ready and steady that bird.)
Once you remove the hot potato, firmly grab the spur with the pliers and gently (but slowly) twist the pliers back and forth to release the exterior spur cover from the fleshy “nub” underneath. Once the attachment has been broken, the spur should pop right off. Repeat this on the other spur with the other potato. The hot potato method helps to minimize pain and reduces any chance of bleeding that might occur.
On Gypsy Shoals Farm, we use this method, minus the hot potato, when we need to entirely remove a rooster’s spurs. To remove our rooster spurs, we simply grasp them firmly with the pliers and gently twist back and forth while the cartilage threads slowly release the spur sheath from the flesh and then it pops right off. We have experienced far less bleeding with this method than any other but do advise that you keep an eye on that rooster for a few days in case any others decide to challenge him while he is still tender.
In the end, whichever method you choose will depend on the chicken keeper’s comfort and experience level. The important thing is to address it for the safety of the flock and family members.
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