Trimming Chickens Spurs & Toenails

Trimming spurs on roosters is primarily done for several reasons. Most people trim them to help protect their hen’s back from getting punctured from being topped, but they also need trimmed to avoid injuries from roosters sparring, and in extreme cases, to allow them to walk easier. There are basically two methods for doing this, cutting the spur with a saw, or twisting the spur off with pliers. The method I prefer is to cut the spurs off because when you are done, you will have short, blunt spurs that will be as safe to your other chickens as possible. If you decide to twist off the spurs, you will have short spurs, but they will still be sharp, and can still do damage.

Cutting off spurs is very simple, and does not hurt your chickens at all. Spurs have an inner core, which is the live part, and an outer husk, which is the hard horn type material. When you trim the spur, you are cutting the outer husk. The trick is to not cut into the inner core, which can bleed. The first thing you will need to do is to immobilize your bird. What I have found works well for this is to take an old towel, fold it in half, lay the bird down on it, hold the wings tight to the body, and leaving only the head and legs sticking out, roll the bird in the towel nice and snug. By doing this, it will allow you to work on his spurs much easier, and even do it by yourself! After securing the bird, you will need to decide where you need to cut the spur off. As a rule of thumb, I have found that the length of the inner core is approximately three times the size of the diameter of the spur itself, which on most standard sized, mature roosters will be about 5/8 of an inch away from the leg. Next, grab the spur at the base, while supporting the leg at the same time. Doing this is very important as the saw can grab while cutting, and you don’t want to excessively torque the spur which can actually break the connection of it to the leg bone. Next, use a small, fine toothed hacksaw to cut the spur off. I find it works best to use short, light strokes with the saw. Some people prefer to use a rotary tool to do this, if you do, just make sure that you don’t inadvertently hit the leg, or your fingers for that matter, because it will cut anything it touches very quickly. If done properly, you will see no bleeding at all. If you do trim them a little short, and get into the inner core, you may get some bleeding. This is nothing to be concerned about, as it won’t bleed excessively, and will soon stop on it’s own.

Notice how the bird is immobilized in the towel with only his head and feet hanging out. This will allow you to work on your bird without assistance.

Spur before trimming.

While gripping the spur firmly, begin to make your cut. Notice how I hold both the leg, and the spur at the same time.

This is what you should end up with after being cut, and as you can see, the spur is very blunt. This is the best option to help keep your hens from getting damaged from being topped.

Twisting off the spur is a little more difficult in my opinion. You may have had people tell you to use a potato, or some other method, but you don’t need anything special to twist them off. What you are doing by twisting off the spurs, is removing the outer husk from the inner core completely. To do this, follow the method above to immobilize the bird, then hold the bird by the leg where the spur is attached. Take a pair of ordinary pliers and grip the spur approximately where the inner core ends, and rock the spur gently side to side to help break it loose. Once you feel the spur start to loosen, use the pliers in a twisting motion to pop off the outer husk. What you will end up with is the soft inner core of the spur. You will see some blood, but it is typically minimal. After a few days, the spur will harden up, and you will have a stag sized spur again.

Spurs that have grown long after being trimmed before.

Hold the leg firmly as you begin to remove the outer casing, notice the placement of the pliers, if you get them too close to the leg, you will have trouble twisting them off.

Both spurs have been removed, you can see them laying on the floor next to the legs.

Trimming toenails is another thing you can do to help protect your hen’s backsides. It also will need done to fowl that are raised on wire, because they don’t wear down the toenails naturally as they would if they were raised on the ground. It’s really easy to do with no bleeding, as long as you do it right. To start, you will need to immobilize the bird in the same fashion I already described, and a pair of dog toenail clippers. Some breeds have dark nails, and some have lighter ones. The lighter ones are much easier to do since you can see the vein in the nail. The vein is like the quick in a dog, if you hit the vein while trimming, it will cause some bleeding. On the chickens with light colored nails, it is easy to see where the vein is, so just cut enough that you don’t hit it. On the dark nails, I find it best to hold them up in the light to trim. It can be tricky with really dark ones to see, but by holding them against a light source, it will help you see where you need to cut. It is best to leave them longer if you are not sure where to cut, than to cut too close. If you do cut too far back, and get some bleeding, it will stop by applying pressure. Even if you still see some bleeding after that, don’t worry too much as it will quit on its own.

Toenails in need of trimming.

Find your placement for the cut by watching where the vein ends in the nail.

After the nails have been trimmed.

Some additional notes: Trimming both the spurs, and toenails will definitely help keep your hens from getting damage from them when being topped, but something that is just as important is your hen to rooster ratio. Too many roosters can literally kill your hens from being topped too much, even after being trimmed. Some breeds of chickens are worse than others for this, but as a rule of thumb, one rooster can top several hens without a problem. Also, you can run into problems with abnormally submissive hens. Hens like this will drop to be bred just by the sight of a rooster getting close. When this situation happens, the hen will be over bred, and can easily be damaged from this. There isn’t much you can do about this situation except to keep roosters away from them, put a chicken saddle on her, or what I do, cull her out. This is not a desirable trait, so I prefer to not breed off them. Something else you may run across, are hens that are spurred. I prefer to leave the spurs on the hens, as they won’t hurt anything to let them keep them, and having spurs will help them defend their chicks, especially if they are free ranging. Another thing to consider if you are free ranging is to not trim the spurs on your rooster for the same reasons. A good rooster will help protect your flock, and chicks as well, and having spurs will help him do this. Now saying this, if you let them get too long, they will start curling to the point it won’t help, and will actually hinder him walking properly. This is where twisting off the spur is the better choice, because by doing this, the spur will harden back up to a weapon for the rooster to use for defending with. Either way, you will have to make your own decisions when deciding whether or not to trim your birds, but hopefully this information will help you make that decision. If you want to learn more about this, or any other issues with the caring of your fowl, check out our forum for this at www.ultimatefowl.com.


7 Responses to “Trimming Chickens Spurs & Toenails”

  1. 1 Denis
    June 17, 2009 at 11:16 pm

    Thanks for this information.

    I, if you’ll pardon the expression, wung it earlier this year. I wanted to have a look at one of our laying hens who had lost most of her saddle feathers due to being topped a bit too much by a standard cochin. She made a lot of fuss over being picked up and so I was keeping a close eye on the cochin. What I did not realize was that one of our pair of Dutch bantam cocks was also taking exception to my handling of the hen. He flew up and put a half inch gash in my ear and a puncture wound in my scalp.

    I chased him down and, resisting the urge to wrench his neck, blunted his spurs by abrading them down on some nearby concrete, drawing a modest amount of blood. About a week later, he also got his primaries trimmed back on one wing.

    It’s good to know what the proper technique is for keeping the spurs at an appropriate length and bluntness.

  2. 2 Brie
    September 13, 2009 at 5:21 am

    Thanks so much for showing me how to protect my roosters from each other by blunting the spurs, and also keeping my hens from getting unintentonally injuries during topping from long spurs and long nails. My hens send you their undieing gratuitude. Also I have a question for you concerning colds or flus in farm animals. I had a sheep which came down with a cough and runny nose.She recovered in about a week and is fine. About 10 days to 2 weeks after the ewe showed first signs of her cold, I had several hens come down with runny noses (beaks), and a cough and had definate sounds of respiratory rattling. These are strong healthy hens with a very good diet and clean nesting boxes and coops when they choose to sleep in at night. These are free-range hens on rye, alfalfa and clover grasses as well as organic layer pellets and garden veggies.They seem to be recovering quite well, but did stop laying for just a few days. My question is: Are there colds and flus that affect sheep and other farm animals which sre also contageous to chickens, or are there specific strains that only affect specific animals?
    Thanks in advance for your prompt reply.
    Brie whimsical53@yahoo.com

    • September 13, 2009 at 2:41 pm

      As a rule, diseases don’t spread between different species, so I doubt that was the cause of your problem. If your chickens got better on their own in a short time, I wouldn’t be overly concerned. If they continue to show respiratory problems, check out THIS. Good luck!

  3. 4 Lois & Tammie
    February 6, 2010 at 5:16 pm

    Thank you for the info and pics! It has really helped since this is the first time I have had chickens since I was a little girl even though they really are my daughter’s

  4. 5 Alison
    December 3, 2011 at 7:32 pm

    Thanks for these great pictures and info, I was trying to cut my cockrells claws as they had curled back in to the leg ( he has feathery legs, so had not noticed) and the outer casing came off on both feet , I thought I had done something awful to him. This has put my mind to rest Thanks

  5. 6 Jay
    April 7, 2012 at 10:02 pm


    Can you let me know what tool you are using to to cut off the spur and where I can purchase one?

    Thank you.

  6. July 26, 2012 at 6:13 pm

    Thank you so much for your very thorough explanation! I had visited many sites which gave only a breif description of the trimming, and your instructions are much more clear. I also appreciate you describing the aftermath of removing the spur casings (still sharp), as I was considering doing this but now realize that is the wrong choice for preventing hen damage. I have one old, arthritic hen (chickens are just pets) that cannot escape his advances, so I tripled my flock thinking he will have many other hens to worry about – too bad he already knows she’s a prime target, still overbreeds her. I was trimming the spurs, but now I know I am not going nearly as far as I should.

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