Home Caring for Your Flock Should I Trim My Chicken’s Nails?

Should I Trim My Chicken’s Nails?

by Jamelyn

If you haven’t noticed yet, chickens have really long toenails! Should you be trimming or filing down these nails?

Typically, a chicken’s nails do not need to be trimmed or filed  down. This will occur naturally as they walk and scratch about the yard. If your chickens are docile and enjoy being held you can trim them. Otherwise, trying to catch a chicken and trim its nails could be a very stressful event for the chicken.

Read on to learn why it’s important for chickens to have long nails and when it might be necessary to trim a chicken’s nails.

How Chickens Naturally Take Care of Their Nails

In the wild, a chicken’s nails will naturally be filed down as they walk and scratch the ground.

Chickens scratch the ground with their feet as a way to find insects and seeds to eat. They will also scratch the ground in search of rocks to eat.

Chickens don’t have teeth so they eat rocks so that it will break down food in their crops. Some people provide their chickens with oyster shells to help break food down in their crops instead of counting on the chickens to find small rocks to eat.

Why Chickens Need Long Nails

A chicken’s nails are important to keep long as they use them for protection.

If a chicken needs to fend off a predator, they will flap their wings violently and scratch their aggressor.

Chickens will also use their nails to grab onto their roosting bar or tree branch.

Since chickens will spend the night sleeping on a roost, they need a way to hang on. Chickens will wrap their toes around the bar and use their nails to hold on while they are asleep.

Another reason why chickens need their nails is to scratch their head when it itches.

Chickens are prone to get pollen and other irritants in their noses. They will often scratch their face or head to help with the irritation.

When to Trim a Chicken’s Nails

Older chickens that don’t scratch the ground as often might need their nails trimmed.  As chickens age, they will become less active and might need more help with keeping up with their grooming.

In addition, a chicken that has excessively long nails might need their nails trimmed to prevent them from injuring themself.

If you do decide to trim your chicken’s nails, try to do the following:

  1. Trim their nails after dark. In general, chickens are more docile when it’s dark outside. Gently remove your chicken from their roosting bar once it’s dark.
  2. Hold the chicken on their side. When chickens are held on their side, they become more manageable and will generally stop fighting you.
  3. Wrap chicken in a towel. This will help keep them still and prevent them from flapping their wings, which could injure them (or you) as you trim their nails.
  4. Get help from a partner. If possible, have someone help you with this task. They can hold a flashlight or help to hold down the chicken.

Make sure you stop trying to trim the chicken’s nails if they get too upset. Chickens can get stressed easily. I’ve heard of chickens having heart attacks when they are too stressed.

What to Know About Trimming a Chicken’s Spurs

Spurs are nails on the back of the legs of chickens. Roosters will use their spurs to fight and to hold on to a hen during mating.

If you have roosters that have exceptionally long spurs, they might need to be trimmed to prevent injury to themselves or your hens.

You can trim spurs with gardening pruning shears like what you use in the garden to trim roses. Just make sure that you don’t trim them too short, otherwise they will start to bleed.

When roosters mount a hen, their spurs can dig into the hen and cause her injury.  This is why some people will dress their hens in saddles or hen aprons.  The saddle (or apron) will protect the backside of the hen and helps to prevent cuts and feather loss.  This can also be used to protect hens from other dominate hens in the flock.

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