The practice of beak trimming, which is intended to control feather pecking and cannibalism in poultry, is viewed by the poultry industry as an indispensable practice to promote the well being of chickens by preventing cannibalism. The intact, untrimmed beak can easily draw blood and lead to increased, exaggerated pecking in poultry. Following proper management techniques will help ensure healthy flocks and effective results from beak trimming.
Feather pecking in gallinaceous birds consists of pecking directed at the feathers of other birds and can range from gentle nibbling to vigorous pulling so that the feathers are removed. It may result in severe damage to the skin of the pecked birds and this may develop into frank cannibalism. There is another unrelated form of cannibalism which can be a problem at point of lay; this starts off as the pecking at the vent and ends up with the abdominal contents being pecked out. It is obvious that feather pecking and cannibalism drastically reduce the welfare of pecked birds by causing injury, pain and potentially death.
Beak trimming has been carried out routinely either on newly hatched chicks in the hatchery or when they are a few days old. Outbreaks of feather pecking occasionally occur with birds that have been beak trimmed at an early age and it is then necessary to beak trim them again. Beak trimming doesn't decrease the tendency of birds to feather peck; it makes pecking much less efficient and so reduces the damage caused.
Beak trimming should be done between 7-10 days age and only by properly trained personnel. Beak trimming errors can result in additional pain and suffering to an already stressful procedure.
It is important to remove the proper amount of beak. Severe beak trimming results in neuroma (tumour) formation and buildup of scar tissue. A conservative trim of only one-fourth to one-third of the upper beak (measured from tip to the nostril) and slightly less of the lower beak usually prevents this outcome. The beak should be trimmed at an angle from top to bottom to remove less of the lower mandible. Bleeding will result if the trimming blade is too hot or too cold or if the environmental temperature causes the flock to become overheated.
Pre- and post-trimming management tips
Steps should be taken to minimise stress, bleeding, weight loss and dehydration both before and after beak trimming.
- Keep the birds as cool as possible if trimming occurs during hot weather. It is better to do the work early in the morning or late in the evening. Keep cool, fresh water available at all times.
- The birds should first be fed before their beaks are trimmed. The reverse will cause severe bleeding in some birds. Ensure the feeders are totally empty. The bleeding birds should be immediately cauterised. It is advisable to put some cushioning (like empty bags) in the feeders.
- For one week post trimming, use high-density stress feed.
- One week pre- and post-trimming, birds should not be subjected to any other stressor like vaccination, transport, de-worming etc. In chicks, the beaks should be rubbed on the hot blade until a "metallic" sound is heard. This provides a way to ensure that the vascular area of the beak is not touched and helps in prevention of bleeding. In adult birds, we come across birds having beaks that are overgrown, non-aligned or improperly aligned. So a decision needs to be made as to how much of the beak is to be trimmed and the most advisable manner in which trimming should occur.
- Extra vitamin K and C both @20mg/Lit of water should be provided for three to five days after beak trimming.
- Check birds often to monitor healing following beak trimming.
- If significant beak re-growth occurs, a second beak trimming may be necessary. This should be done at least five weeks prior to sexual maturity.
- It is advisable to use antibiotics like oxytetracycline to take care of stress-induced disease challenges.
Following the eight pre- and post-trimming management techniques discussed in this article will help ensure healthy flocks and effective results from beak trimming.