How to trim a chickens beak

Chickens don't require a lot of grooming. The occasional nail trim is usually it...and most chickens keep their nails trimmed all on their own. However, some chickens can need a beak trim from time to time. Sometimes it's due to a deformity and other times the chicken is not scraping it properly to groom it herself. Whichever the reason, beak trimming is simple to do and painless for the chicken.

Chickens can sometimes need a beak trim, here's how to do it.

A properly shaped beak is important for a chicken. When the beak is shaped and aligned correctly it acts as a pincer enabling the chicken to pick up small seeds and bugs as they peck. Chickens can be very precise in only picking up the item they want. A beak that is not properly shaped will not line up correctly and the chicken will have a hard time eating, especially if they're foraging.

I'm not talking about debeaking, as that's a whole different (barbaric) procedure that actually prevents the beak from growing back. I'm talking about the natural alignment of a chicken's beak and why the chicken may need you to step in and help them out by trimming or shaping their beak. 

The terms can be a bit confusing as they poultry industry has started to refer to debeaking as beak trimming to make it sound nicer, but I am only discussing slight trimming to improve the chickens ability to groom themselves and pick up small bits of food or bugs.

Types of beak deformities 

There are 2 deformities of the beak that a chicken can have.

Cross beak: where the top and bottom beak do not align correctly. This is a lateral beak deviation, meaning the bottom beak deviates to the side and the top beak remains in it's correct position. With special care many of these chickens can live a long healthy life. Also called scissor beak or crossed beak.     

Parrot beak: in this case the top beak grows longer than the bottom beak and starts to point downwards, almost like a parrots beak does. This is caused by a mandibular prognathism which is a structural abnormality that causes a protrusion of the upper jaw. 

Chickens with parrot beak often look like their bottom beak is really small compared to the top beak. This is sometimes called hooked beak.

Most likely though, if your chickens beak needs trimmed it's simply because of a lack of filing. A chicken's beak should look very similar to this picture. 

rooster that needs a beak trim

How chicken beaks grow

Chicken beaks are a lot like fingernails. They continuously grow from the base and need filed down to keep them short and useful. Chickens file their beaks each time they eat. Ever see your chicken wipe her beak back and forth across the ground after eating? It looks like she's wiping food off her face, but she's really aiming to wipe her beak. 

By dragging her beak back and forth across the ground with every meal, she slowly wears away at it. Since it's growing daily and she's filing daily, this generally keeps the beak at the perfect size and shape. If she fails to do this regularly or if she doesn't have things like rocks to file her beak against, it might need trimmed. 

Also, if the tip of the beak grows too long it can break off, which can bleed and cause pain for the chicken. It's better to just give it a little trim. The rooster in the picture below needs a slight trim.

rooster with beak that does not need trimmed

How to trim a chickens beak

Just like a chicken toenails or a dog/cats nails, there is a blood supply inside the beak. As the beak grows longer it's safe to trim the very tip...just like trimming the overhang of your fingernails. You want to be careful not to trim too far back, as it will bleed if you cut into this live tissue. 

On a pale colored beak you can usually see where the live tissue is. On a dark beak, it's safe to trim the parts that have turned lighter.

You'll need a pair of nail clippers. Either fingernail clippers or dog nail clippers will work. You want to clip just the tip of the beak so the overhang is reduced, allowing the beak to act more like a pincer. 

You could also use a nail file to file down just the tip of the beak....that's if you can get the chicken to hold still for it. I've had better luck using a pedi paws for dogs, which is basically a small sanding wheel.

If the beak is particularly long you may want to trim it in stages. Trim a small amount and wait a week or so then trim again. This seems to allow the blood supply to recede inside the beak which keeps it from being damaged by cutting.

trimming a hens beak

Chickens are generally very good at keeping their beaks trimmed. If you find that they need their beaks trimmed or filed regularly, consider adding some rocks to the chicken run or free range area so they have something to file their beaks against. A few paver stones or decorative rocks will do.

I have to admit the first time I saw my chicken wipe her beak on the cement walkway I was horrified! I was certain she was going to hurt herself. Then I learned exactly what she was doing and breathed a sigh of relief. Turns out she knew better than I did all along. 

Related reading: Everything you need to know about chicken behaviors


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