Debeaking chickens has been standard among the poultry industry to keep their flocks from picking at each other. But recent studies have shown that debeaking could lead to long-term damage. As a result, we have been on the lookout for the best methods to keep the peace in our hens. And we have come up with 10 alternatives to debeaking poultry that we would love to share with you.
How Is Debeaking Done?
You might be wondering what debeaking means. And to put it simply, it’s the process of using a hot knife to cut off the tip of the beak. This process is typically performed anywhere between the hatch date and 18 weeks of age. If you debeak after 18 weeks old, you can only do a partial removal of the beak of poultry to prevent pain. Partial debeaking is done by only cutting the top beak while leaving the lower beak intact.
In industrial settings, they can use an infrared laser to debeak chickens. This process is less painful and more precise. But the average backyard chicken owner doesn’t have access or the money to get these machines.
Why Debeaking Is Harmful
Before we get into the 10 alternatives to debeaking poultry, let’s clear up why debeaking isn’t ideal. The biggest problem with debeaking chickens is that most of us aren’t skilled enough to perform the task. With the improper technique, you could:
- Permanently damage the chicken beak for a lifelong deformity.
- It can be excruciating if you don’t do it correctly.
- Chronic pain if cut too short.
- Debeaking also causes extreme stress on everyone involved.
- You could also accidentally hurt your hens with broken legs and wings.
- Debeaking can slow down sexual maturity and reduce the number of eggs your hens lay in the first year.
- It’s hard for chickens to eat with the tip of the beak gone. This can lead to food waste and a slow growth rate.
- And finally, if you remove too much beak tissue, your hens are at risk of excessive bleeding, burnt tongues, and infections.
As you can see, if you aren’t an expert, you could be causing your flock more pain than debeaking is worth. There are even some animal welfare communities who call debeaking brutal and cruel. In fact, it’s illegal to debeak in the United Kingdom and is only performed in the United States today. But don’t fret. We have come up with a few solutions for you that won’t hurt your hens.
Why Chicken Feather Pecking Happens
People debeak their chickens as a solution to chickens pecking each other and becoming cannibalistic. So to solve our problems, we need to see why chickens pick at each other, to begin with.
The first reason why most chickens turn on each other is that they are stressed. Whether they don’t have enough space to get away from each other or inadequate care, chickens can turn nasty quickly. And we can’t blame them for this response. In most animals, you can expect them to respond in this way if resources are scarce for survival.
Injury Or Illness
Another common reason why chickens resort to cannibalism is that they sense weakness in the flock. It’s common for other hens to pick on sick, dying, or injured chickens. And if there is an open wound, it can be almost compulsive for the entire flock to join.
Pecking Order Disturbances
And finally, if the chicken feather pecking has just begun, you might want to examine your pecking order. Layer hens take their roles and positions in the flock seriously. And they don’t like to give up their ranking whenever possible. So if you have a hen that’s picking on another, you could have an unbalanced hierarchy.
10 Alternatives To Debeaking Chickens
So now that we have identified why your chickens could be turning to cannibalism, let’s remedy it. Listed below are the top things to examine in your flock and how to fix them. And you won’t even have to debeak your chickens.
1. Dim Lighting
It might surprise you to know that chicks can become stressed out by bright lighting. And if your chicks are stressed, they could start picking at each other. So a common method is to keep the lights dim and the area quiet to reduce the stress levels.
This technique is also used in large production systems. Dim lights in the nesting boxes keep the chickens relaxed enough to keep egg production up. And it can also stop feather picking, so there’s no need to debeak your chickens.
Keeping your chickens cool in the summer is another important factor if you don’t want to debeak your chickens. As we all know, being hot can make you cranky. With high tension in the heat, your chickens will start to pick on each other. So make sure you have plenty of shade, ventilation, and cooling treats.
3. Plenty Of Food And Water
To reduce competition over resources, you should have plenty of food and water dishes out. A good rule of thumb is to have one feeder and waterer per 10 chickens, but you can always have more. And don’t forget to replace the water and food daily. Your chickens could also become defensive if their resources are going bad before you clean them out.
4. A Balanced Diet
You would be surprised at how much rides on the fact that your chickens need a balanced diet. If your chickens don’t have enough calcium, potassium, or protein, they could start to become cannibalistic. So if your hens have aggressive behaviors, you might want to reevaluate your hen’s diet.
As chicken owners, a part of your daily tasks is to perform daily wellness checks. If you ever see chickens with wounds, illness, or weak in some way, you should isolate them immediately. Keeping them away from the other hens will help them heal faster and prevent accidents. So make sure to do thorough checks every day.
6. Slow Introductions
Another trigger for your chickens could be that you are introducing new chickens too quickly. Every time you introduce a new hen to the flock, you disrupt the pecking order already in place. And if you add these hens too fast, it will cause a lot of fights. So remember to take it slow and introduce it on neutral grounds.
Sometimes your chickens get bored and start to peck at each other. So one of the 10 alternatives to debeaking poultry is to entertain them. That’s right, give them special treats to prevent flock disruptions. Frozen berries in the waterer, hanging cabbage and vegetables to pick at or dig boxes filled with mealworms. All of these are great ways to entertain your hens. But don’t underestimate the power of free-range systems to prevent boredom.
8. Shiny Toys
While you might think that chickens are all about food, they also love toys. Hanging mirrors, toy xylophones, hanging vegetable baskets, swings, and even balls are perfect for your chickens. They will love to peck at the toys and exploring what they might do. And in turn, they won’t be as likely to bite at each other. So no debeaking today!
9. Anti-Pecking Ointment
If your hens are insistent on picking at each other, you might want to try a spray or ointment to deter them. These ointments smell and taste awful, so your hens will keep to themselves more. We recommend the Rooster Booster Pick No More. With an easy-to-use applicator and strong scent, your bullies will leave the others alone. Your chickens will thank you for stopping the madness.
And the final solution on our list is to use blinders on more aggressive hens. Products like Weilan 20 Pcs Pinless Peepers are great at calming down a chicken with a mean streak. The way these blinders work is that they only allow your chickens to see directly under them for food. Since the chickens can’t see other hens or make eye contact, they will relax and not fight.
Blinders can be challenging to put on, but they will be a breeze with a bit of practice. But there is some caution to using these. And with blinders on, you won’t want to let your hens out to free roam. They won’t be able to see predators or dangers nearby, and therefore can’t get away. But once your hens calm down and keep some peace, you can take off the blinders.
There Are Lots Of Alternatives!
Debeaking a small flock seems like a waste of time when all you have to do are these 10 alternatives to debeaking poultry. Your problems will be resolved in no time, and your flock will be happy. And that means you’re on the road to more eggs and delicious meat.
Below is a Pinterest friendly photo…. so you can pin it to your Backyard Chicken Board!!