By Dr. Alicia Nolfi
This is a topic that generates a lot of discussion. Given the amount of posts we have on here daily, relative to the amount of memebers we have, I can’t guarantee that all questions here will be addressed. We want to answer as many posts as we can – so urgent situations will take priority. That being said, if veterinarians or members want to comment here, please do. This is an informative post for anyone interested in humane treatment of roosters.
Regardless of what people have always done for years, twisting off spurs and/or removing them in their entirety causes pain. Different animals have species-specific behaviors – they do not all behave as humans expect, in response to certain situations. Please consider this, even though a bird does not outwardly display pain.
I reached out to a colleague who has a ton of long-term experience with roosters. She gives me permission to anonymously share her thoughts on this page. Below is a detailed explanation of how she humanely handles rooster spurs. In the past I have stated trimming is not recommended – however, if it is done humanely and as described below, it can be fine. Trimming other than described below, and carefully – not ok. I have copied and pasted her response. She has some FANTASTIC and innovative suggestions. Please make good use of it.
From an experienced poultry veterinarian:
I trim rooster spurs all the time. It’s not hard at all. There is no need to twist it off, which I would consider to be very painful, regardless of whether or not they express pain. (When I was a student, we had an owl come into the clinic. The wing was obviously broken, at a 90 degree angle of the main long bone. The veterinarian manipulated the wing to straighten the bone before splinting it. The owl didn’t move, didn’t vocalize in pain. The veterinarian said this is common for birds. They do not outwardly show pain. Under many circumstances you can do the most dramatic things, and they don’t express pain. That doesn’t mean that they don’t feel pain, but they don’t express pain under all circumstances.)
The spur is just like a spike-shaped dog toenail that is rigidly adhered to the bone of the shank. I use a new pair of large dog toe nail trimmers, or a pair that I know is extremely sharp. Dremmelling is fine to round it off, but prolonged dremmelling vibrates the bone of the shank, creates a lot of heat, takes a lot of time and can become uncomfortable under certain conditions.
To trim, I first gather my supplies. A chair or something to sit on, a small table or large brick to set my stuff on, a lightweight towel to place over the bird’s wings and face, some styptic powder, the nail trimmers, and a dremmel with a fine grinding stone on it. I capture the rooster, place the towel loosely over his back and head, sit down and lay him on his side on my lap with his back up against my belly. I am holding both his legs in my left hand, and pick up the clippers in my right hand (I am right handed). I then let go of the “top” leg to work on the “down” leg. On the down leg, the spur is now sticking straight up. In my left hand, I hold the base of the spur very firmly, either by squeezing it directly between my thumb and index finger, or by placing my left hand underneath the “down” leg, palm up, wrapping my palm around the shank such that I can hold the shank in my hand while firmly holding the spur between my thumb and index finger. Holding the base of the spur firmly is essential, as you do not want any torque at all to transfer from the nail trimmers to the bone of the shank. You need any torque that might be produced to transfer from the trimmers to your hand, not the bone.
Once you’ve got really sharp nail trimmers and the hold right, you just start trimming. Start about 3 inches away from the shank if the spur is really long. Then trim away mm by mm, or maybe a slightly longer cut, watching the center of the cut surface closely. As you approach the quick, the appearance of the tissue will start to change. It will become slightly shiny compared to the surrounding cut surface. A wider and wider shiny spot, and if you go too far you’ll hit the quick. At the point that the center becomes a little shiny, stop cutting directly across the spur, and angle the clippers so that you are only cutting one edge of the spur, around and around all edges of the diameter, slowly shortening the center also. When it looks like you’re right on top of the quik, stop there. If you hit the quick, apply quickstop powder and hold it on until it stops bleeding. It is exactly like learning how to trim black nails in a large dog, except that the base is rigidly attached to the bone, so you need to absorb any torque with your hand by holding the base tightly. Once you’ve got it trimmed down to the level that you want, you can then dremmel the outer edges smooth. That produces weird vibrations that my birds don’t like, but I use as fine grinding stone that doesn’t vibrate much and I can smooth it out in about 10 seconds, so it’s not a long grinding process that is uncomfortable for them, and it doesn’t have time to get hot. Once done, turn the bird over and repeat.
For my breeding cocks, I typically apply a vinyl thread protector to the spur, much like applying Soft Paws to cats. This protects the hens from breeding injuries accidentally caused by spurs, and protects people from being flogged if you have a rooster that is mean to people. It’s pretty easy.
Picture of a Croad Langshan rooster wearing spur caps. The green and yellow are different colors because they are different sizes. This is a rooster with extra short spur quicks. Most roosters cannot be trimmed this short, so don’t start this close.
Here’s how I apply them. You can do it by yourself, but it it MUCH easier if you have an assistant to hold the bird. This works great for aggressive roosters. No more flogging wounds!!
These are vinyl thread protectors. I can get them at ACE hardware or True Value Hardware, in the “bulk hardware” area, the same place in the store where you can get just 1-2 screws or bolts. They come in different sizes, and are meant to slip over the threads of exposed bolts to protect the threads from being damaged, therefore allowing the nut to be removed and replaced at will.
Things you will need:
–An assistant that can hold a rooster without letting go (I’ve done this by myself with good roosters, but only after doing many of these caps — wouldn’t want to have to both hold the bird and deal with glue on my first one).
— An assortment of thread protector sizes
–A pair of scissors in case you need to cut a thread protector in half
–Some paper towels to wipe up spilled or extra glue
–At least 2 pairs of exam gloves, more is better
–A place for your assistant to sit
–A table, chair, whatever, to put your stuff on
–A thick towel to put on your assistant’s lap
–A thin towel to cover the rooster’s wings/head
–The supplies needed to trim the spur (see comment above)
This is my version of Softpaws (a nail cap for cats to prevent scratching), but for rooster spurs. These thread protectors are very strong but pliable. I trimmed the spur back as far as possible without making them bleed. I then select the ideal size of thread protector — it should slide over the spur tip such that the tip seat fully into the bottom of the thread protector. Then (while wearing disposable gloves) I half filled the thread protector with super glue (the same way that Softpaws are applied). My assistant held the rooster on his side with the spur pointed down towards the ground, and the other leg positioned out of the “drip zone.” Then I slid the thread protector over the tip of the spur as deep as possible and held it firmly in place for 60 seconds, wiping up any overflowed glue within a few seconds, and adjusting my gloved fingers every 10-15 seconds to avoid being glued to the rooster (which wouldn’t be a big deal, as it would just keep a tiny piece of glove glued on). I first did this with aggressive roosters, as my legs were getting spurred so often that they were never healed. Then I started doing this to all roosters. It prevents accidental spur injuries to the hens. They typically stay on for 6-12 months!! Sometimes I’ll get a rooster that has a very tapered spur, like the one in the picture below. If you look closely you’ll see that there’s a weird bulge around the center of the green cap. Because the spur was so tapered at that location, and I needed a snug fit along the length of the cap, I cut a narrower sized cap to about half the length and inserted it inside the green cap. That fit fairly snugly along the length of the cap. The tapered ones only stay on about 3-6 month, as the contact isn’t as good, but it still works well.
It’s these things, except at the hardware store I can buy just one or more of each size. I think I paid 25-35 cents each for them, which was great considering I needed a variety of sizes.