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.