Today we are going to talk about one heated debate among small poultry flocks. That’s how to safely debeak my small flock of backyard chickens. If done correctly, debeaking your chickens can calm a flock and even produce more eggs. But if you don’t do it in the right way, it could lead to heartache and misery. So let’s take a look together.
What Are The Benefits Of Debeaking?
We all know that the process of debeaking chickens has been practiced for hundreds of years. And we all know that it’s the primary way for big egg production companies to prevent chicken cannibalism. These companies have giant chicken coops where birds can get overcrowded. So fights are bound to happen. But are there any benefits to doing it for your backyard flock?
The most significant benefit of beak trimming is that it reduces the stress levels of your flock. Female chickens can be nasty little things sometimes. The most commonly debeaked chickens are the White Leghorn and Rhode Island Reds. These chicken’s pecking order can be tricky, but they lose the ability to peck each other with debeaked chickens. Without the fear of feather pecking out of bad habit, the hens calm down.
And with a calm flock, you will notice a massive change in how your chickens live. They will produce more eggs and are less likely to eat their own eggs. What more could you want from your backyard flock?
Are There Any Risks To Debeaking?
As you might have guessed, debeaking chickens is a very complex process. In fact, debeaking is only done in the United States, and it’s illegal in the United Kingdom. That’s because if you aren’t careful, it can harm your hens. So if you aren’t sure about how to do this efficiently, it’s a good idea to hire a professional.
The biggest mistake that a lot of people make when debeaking is not using the proper technique. If done wrong, you could inflict pain on your chicks and burn their tongues. In addition, these open wounds are breeding grounds for infections that may be hard for young birds to overcome. And worse yet, if you don’t do the debeaking correctly, it could cause permanent damage.
Another big con to debeaking is that you have to change the way your chickens eat. Deep dishes are a must, and they will have a more challenging time with free range eating and live foods. So you might go through more pounds of feed than other chickens. In the end, it’s up to you to decide which is good management for your flock.
The Tools Needed
Now that you know the pros and cons of debeaking chickens, let’s talk about the tools you need. There are two methods to debeaking, infrared and hot blades. They use an infrared machine in big industrial settings, but you will be using an electric debeaker that either comes as an automatic machine or electric cutters.
An electric debeaking machine has a moving red hot blade that cuts and cauterizes the wound in seconds. Most of these machines will have your chickens up and going within 4 seconds. And if you have a lot of chickens to do, this will save so much time. They are simple to use and provide the best results.
But there are also electric cutters. These cutters also get hot enough to steal the wound without inflicting pain on your chickens. However, there is a lot more precision needed on your end to cut the chicken beak. One wrong move and you could permanently damage your chicken’s beak. But they are a huge step up from the old blades that need a heat source.
Besides a debeaking machine, you will also need a few other things. One of the most important things is a multivitamin with vitamin K. Vitamin K helps birds with blood clotting and healing, which is very important. You will also need deep clean water and food dishes since the beaks are raw and shaped differently. And a few bright lights in the coop to keep up with egg production.
How To Safely Debeak My Small Flock Of Backyard Chickens
Now that you have all of your tools, let’s talk about how to debeak your chickens safely. Remember to take each step slowly and take breaks as much as you need.
Step #1: Preparation Before
The first thing you will need to do is prep your chickens. For three days before you debeak your hens, you will need to give them a vitamin K supplement in their water. Building up this vitamin in their system will speed up the recovery rate and even stop bleeding faster. You also want to avoid vaccinating during this time to keep the immune system up.
Step #2: Fasting
So we’ve given our hens their vitamins for three days; it’s time to pick a cold weather day to get down to business. It’s always best to fast them for a few hours before the procedure to reduce the likelihood of the crop being full. The cooler air will keep them calm, and empty crops will prevent your hens from throwing up.
Step #3: Heating The Cutters
With your machine ready, adjust a stool or chair at a comfortable height. Then plug in your device and heat it until the blade is red hot. It’s crucial to have the hottest blade to prevent infection and excessive bleeding. If it’s too cold, the machine won’t cut properly, and your hens could walk away with open wounds. So get them piping hot for the cleanest cut possible.
Step #4: The Procedure
So it’s all set up, and you are ready to debeak your hens. If you are using a debeaking machine, adjust the cutter to your chicken’s beak size and turn it on. Next, grab your hen and hold the feet with your left hand. Then pinch the throat with your right thumb and forefinger to keep the chicken still. Then, with a steady hand, insert the beak into the machine for a quick clean cut. And repeat for the entire flock.
If you are using electric cutters, the process is similar, but you will need a helping hand. Have your helper hold the chicken’s feet with one hand and the head with the other. Then take your red hot cutters and clip the very tip of the beak. Remember to avoid the tongue, and make sure the beak stops bleeding after a few seconds. Give them a short time to recover, and they can all go about their business as usual.
Step #5: The Aftercare
That’s almost everything on how to safely debeak my small flock of backyard chickens. The only thing left is the aftercare. As you can imagine, the beak will be a little sore for the first week. So keep an eye on all of your birds to make sure that they don’t develop an infection or blood spots.
It might also be hard for them to eat, so deeper water and food dishes for easier access to scoop food in. Don’t forget to do the same for their oyster shells. And while you are at it, you will want to keep up those multivitamins too for at least three days after the procedure. That way, your chickens are still getting the nutrients they need for their immune systems.
And finally, if you have a laying hen, debeaking could slow their egg production. So adding artificial light in the nesting boxes will help boost productivity. The extra light can also help your chickens heal faster as well.
What Age Should I Debeak My Chickens?
When raising chickens, you might wonder what the best time of year to do this is. Three age groups normally get debeaked, day-old, 6-10 days old, and 8-18 weeks of age. So, of course, you will never want to do this on older birds. But there are pros and cons to doing this procedure at any age.
Most hatcheries and commercial poultry houses debeak at a day old because it’s when the beak is the softest. But debeaking baby chicks is tough to do. We don’t recommend anyone who is debeaking for the first time to do it this young. One wrong move, and your chickens will have deformities for life. Plus, chicks this young aren’t bad feather pickers yet. Not to mention debeaking this young will always need redoing unless you have broiler chickens. Since meat birds are always processed before the beak grows out completely, this isn’t a problem.
6-10 Days Old
Another option is to wait until your chicks are a little older. At this age, your chick’s beaks are still malleable and easy to cut. Most chicks at this age have lower stress levels, so they recover quickly. But there is a downside as well. At 6-10 days old, your chicks are still very tiny. It’s easy to cut the beak wrong or burn the chick’s tongue. Plus, it will have to be redone again as your chicken matures.
8-18 Weeks Old
And finally, we come to older pullets. Many people are opting to wait until older ages to debeak their hens for a few reasons. First, you will have to do the procedure again around 18-20 weeks if you debeak at younger ages. So it only makes sense to wait and do the job only once. And if you wait until this older age, you can get away with only taking the tip off the top beak to reduce problems later.
But there is also a downside to waiting this long. The main problem being that the beak is no longer soft enough to cut easily. Instead, you will have to cut each half of the beak separately. And on top of that, you will need to file the beak edges to round them out. Some people think that this is too much work and not enough benefits. But that is up to you to decide.
So Now You’re Trained!
You know everything there is to know about how to safely debeak my small flock of backyard chickens. So enjoy your fresh eggs without fear of your hens hurting each other.
Below is a Pinterest friendly photo…. so you can pin it to your Backyard Chicken Board!!