Debeaking, also called Beak trimming in poultry management is the act of reducing the length of the beak of poultry birds. The purpose of doing this is to prevent feather pulling and cannibalism and to reduce feed wastage. It is a delicate operation, and if it is improperly done, it may leads to difficulties in drinking and eating, which directly leads to poor growth, unevenness in flock and even mortality as a result blood loss.
The operation can be carried out at one week-old (7-9 days) and few weeks-old (8-10 weeks). The advantage of debeaking at one-week-old is that, the operation would have a minimum effect on chick’s body weight and it is not necessary to carry it out again a second time during the rearing period.
For precise beak trimming operation, the birds should be few weeks old (8-10 weeks). The general disadvantage of debeaking or beak trimming is that, when it is improperly done, it could take long for the birds to regain body weight.
Debeaking Broilers may not be necessary as they raised for maximum of 3months. At this age, they are likely to cause less harm to one another. However Cockerels and Layers should be debeaked as they are kept for a longer period of time.
The major reason for debeaking Cockerels is to prevent pecking and its attendant problems while Layers are debeaked to prevent them from pecking and from also breaking their legs.
Some farmers do debeak the birds in the first few days of life or any time after ten weeks. It is better done before the birds start laying or any time signs of pecking is noticed on the birds.
Why Poultry Farmers Debeak Chickens
Every industry has particular needs, and in the chicken industry this is just one of them. To understand chicken beak trimming it is necessary to understand pecking, which is perfectly normal behavior in the chicken world. This is where the term “pecking order” originated.
Every chicken knows its place in the pecking order although some will (rather like humans) decide they want to be higher in the chain of command! But even that isn’t usually an issue. Rather, it’s more like a squabble between feathered friends that want to either keep or increase their authority.
Issues emerge when large numbers of chickens are kept in a single flock and their behavior starts to change. For instance, when chickens are cooped up together in a chicken house they tend to peck more than they would if left to roam and forage for themselves.
The reasons for so-called feather pecking are relatively vague and are generally given as boredom or feed deficiency. But sometimes it happens for no reason at all and it becomes horribly violent rather like gang warfare!
Those with experience say that when one chicken draws blood, the rest of the flock can easily be drawn into the fight and this “cannibalistic” behavior continues unabated, often with disastrous results. In the worst case scenario, the entire flock could be injured or even killed.
In the real world, unless they are free-range egg-laying chickens, there is a real danger that they will hurt each other or even start pecking themselves.
That said, there are even reports of free-range chickens pecking each other to death, even if there are only 10 to 20 of them in the yard. So experts do recommend debeaking (beak trimming) if there is evidence of this sort of cannibalism.
Certainly, if farmers keep hundreds or thousands of chickens in a chicken house, debeaking is considered essential, though broiler chickens that are kept for their meat are not usually debeaked. According to research, if chicks aren’t debeaked, up to 30 percent of the flock could be pecked to death.
Debeaking your chicks at the earliest stages of their life is important. This is to protect them against vicious behavior like cannibalism. Also, vent and feather pecking and bullying in general.
Chickens can resort to pecking behavior because of curiosity and aggression. This is to establish where they belong in their pecking order. Such behavior turns out to be a major concern in raising chickens. This brings us to the advantages and disadvantages of beak trimming in chickens.
Pros and Cons to Chicken Debeaking
- Chicken debeaking comes with a lot of controversies. The whole process involves the removal of part of the chicken’s upper or lower beak using electrically heated blades or infrared lasers.
- However, the controversy comes when debeaking chickens. Some think it’s cruel but it merely the same pain level as trimming your fingernails.
- Debeaking is done mainly to day-old chicks when they are vaccinated or sexed. The process is performed mostly on Red Sex-link hens or Leghorns that are raised for laying eggs.
Below are the Advantages and Disadvantages of chicken debeaking:
Advantages of Debeaking
- Beak trimming not only stops a chicken from pecking one another. It also promotes excessive mortality in egg production and most significantly, the vicious habit of cannibalism.
- Numerous studies have backed up beak trimming, suggesting that it is beneficial to the pullet production criteria.
- Also, this practice is effective when it comes to the reduction of feed consumption as well as the improvement of feed efficiency.
- Beak trimming can also delay sexual maturity in your flock. Most importantly, it improves egg production because it minimizes cases of hens eating their own eggs.
- Chicken debeaking will promote a positive attitude in your flock. This is true especially in breeds of chickens such as White Leghorn where it reduces the loss of feathers by preventing pecking and fearfulness.
- Taking into account the practice of beak trimming at the right time can help minimize some problems in your bird’s future life. Which could affect the performance of your birds in general?
Disadvantages of Debeaking
- Contrary to the positive contributions brought about by chicken debeaking. Animal welfare groups have criticized the practice, claiming that it is inhuman. The groups further explain that by trimming your birds’ beaks. You are inflicting pain to them and this can have a negative impact on their wellbeing.
- Even though beak trimming to solve many problems among poultry. The practice is also destructive in one way or the other. Your flock could show visible physical damage as a result of debeaking.
- This process causes wounds to the birds, leading to bleeding from their beaks. The wounded areas can affect the feeding habits of your chickens. This can promote pecking from other birds due to the presence of open wounds around their beaks.
- There are stories of excessive beak trimming. This could cause permanent impairment to the beak functionality. One should use lot of care when performing beak trimming. This will protect your birds against injuries and possible impairment.
- Insufficient beak trimming can lead to beak regrowth. This means that you will have to subject your bird to yet another session of debeaking. Which is painful, costly and stressful to the affected chickens.
Read Also: How to Make Money in Poultry Farming
When is the Right Time to Perform Chicken Debeaking?
- The best time to perform this task is as follows:
- A day-old chick ( this is very common)At 5 to 10 days old
- From 4 to 6 weeks old
- From 8 to 12 weeks old
How is Chicken Debeaking Performed?
The two known ways to debeak includes the use of the infrared and hot blade. However, the infrared beak trimming technique uses a non-contact and high-intensity source of infrared energy. The infrared plays the role of treating the chicken’s beak tissue as part of the beak trimming process.
- This method is so unique that the beak stays intact for a while (perhaps several weeks) before the sharp hook on the beak erodes and falls off. This is a common method. You will see this performed in big commercial egg-producing farms
- There have been several experiments conducted using beams of lasers to perform beak trimming. This technology is the newest and not so widespread compared to infrared and hot blade beak trimming.
- Another technique used in beak trimming is the hot blade chicken beak trimming machine. The machine has an electrically heated blade that cuts off the upper or lower part of the bird’s beak. At the moment this method is being phased out as the infrared beak trimming takes effect.
Alternatives to Chicken Debeaking
- Despite the fact that chicken debeaking has been practiced for decades, some countries are banning it citing the inhumane treatment chickens undergo during the process.
- But all is not lost given that a few production schemes are in support of infrared beak trimming as opposed to hot blade chicken debeaking method. However, different organizations all over the world have urged researchers to identify practical, affordable and effective alternative methods to chicken debeaking.
- Specifically, one of those methods is the use of selective breeding strategies that will produce strains without cannibalistic behavior. On top of that, there are several nutritional, environmental and management strategies in place to offer alternative solutions to beak trimming methods.
- Even if these new strategies are promoted, it remains uncertain whether feather pecking and cannibalism among chickens will be prevented once and for all.
Below are examples of the methods that are underway to replace chicken beak debeaking:
- Genetic selection
- Light control
- Use of special devices that can restrict vision and use of beaks in chickens
- Environmental enrichment
- Use of the anti-pick compounds
- Providing the birds with proper nutrition
- Use of beak abrasive materials
Who Should Perform Beak Trimming?
Not everyone can carry out the chicken debeaking exercise even though it looks so simple. Experienced individuals who are qualified to debeak should be used. Many of the chickens are debeaked by professional contract teams. It has been suggested that any backyard chicken farmer that has less than 50 chickens to not debeak but use peepers.
- If debeaking is your choice, you should only be debeaked by someone who is an accredited beak-trimmer. Also, this task is left to experienced individuals as a way of ensuring that the welfare of chickens/birds remains uncompromised.
- More often than not, the infrared beak trimming equipment is installed by the accredited suppliers and leased out to farmers by hatcheries when the need to use them arises. The equipment is monitored or controlled by the supplier through an on-site computer and a communication system.