Spurs are usually part of your rooster’s, rather than your hen’s, leg anatomy and just like beaks and toenails, they are covered in keratin. Spurs are like a hard nail, which can grow quite long and sharp throughout a rooster’s lifetime. And just like nails there is underlying bone and a quick within them.
They are designed as weapons to fight off predators and other roosters. They can also cause damage to the folks that keep chickens, to hens during mating and even to the rooster himself.
When spurs become problematic they should be trimmed, but not completely removed. Plenty of folks do just that by twisting them off at the base or using a hot potato to ply them away from the leg which I wouldn’t recommend. My mentor, Dr Vicki Bowes, avian vet/pathologist cringes whenever we get onto the topic of spur removal. Her advice is a hard ‘no’ when it comes to removal vs trimming.
These images are good visuals to demonstrate that the outer spur covers both bone and a blood supply into the spur. I know people think that roosters experience no pain at having their spurs removed but to make a comparison, imagine what having your fingernails pulled off without an aesthetic might feel like.
Several weeks ago, Mercedes, one of my three hens that sport spurs got into a mishap when one of her spurs got caught up in some netting that led to near disastrous results.
My rooster, Tarek, has a pretty good pair of spurs himself. I’d been noticing that not only were they getting longer, but one of them was curling upward. To complicate matters, he’s part Silkie and one of the few things he’s inherited from that side of his family are five toes. The fifth one doesn’t touch the ground, so the nail doesn’t get worn down. On one side his toenail was growing into his spur. Mercedes’ accident seemed like a wakeup call, so I decided that it was time to tackle his nails and offer him a pedicure.
I’ve never been one for mani-pedis; the closest I’ve come is when my podiatrist used his custom made Dremel to buff my toenails and remove some calluses on my feet. It doesn’t sound very glamorous, but it was strangely enjoyable. I didn’t think Tarek would be as appreciative, but I hoped he’d be cooperative.
There was a Dremel for sale in our local online classified ads. I thought it might be suitable for the task at hand but, frankly, didn’t feel like forking out $40 for something that might not get much use. I contacted the buyer and asked if I could rent it. He offered to loan it to me on the condition he was not required to help out.
I roped it my friend Tracy to assist. She’s a household name here on Bitchin’ Chickens featuring regularly in my many chicken projects: coop reno, roost bar makeover, fortifying my chicken shelter and more. Her dad Ron has even made an appearance in two of The Funny Farm posts.
The day and time were set; I prepped in advance by having the Dremel, towel and camera ready. I needed to put Tarek in my 4’ x 9’ pen within my main 30’ x 40’ pen. I wondered if he was going to put up a struggle since I rarely pick him up. I’ve made a habit of patting him every once in awhile, which he endures but I don’t think enjoys. I opened the gate and there he was to greet me. I reached down and picked him up with no issue and popped him into the small pen. I didn’t realize that one of my hens had snuck past me, escaping from the main pen, so had to capture her. My coop is surrounded on three sides by forest and dense undergrowth. If she made it that far I might not get her back. Luckily, she followed the fence line of the enclosure and I was able to nab her in a fishing net.
When Tracy arrived, we headed into the pen where Tarek awaited. Unfortunately, I was a bit slow to close the gate and he bolted out. We managed to recapture him quite easily, after which I swaddled him up in a towel, covering his head, to keep him calm. I held him and took the occasional photo while Tracy wielded the tools. We tried the Dremel, but it seemed to take forever. Luckily Tracy had brought her Great Dane’s nail clippers as backup so we tried them next. They looked pretty substantial which they needed to be to tackle his spurs.
Although his spurs are white it wasn’t easy to accurately confirm where the quick was. We wanted to avoid hitting it, which would result in substantial bleeding and some pain for my boy. Keep styptic powder or cornstarch on hand to stop bleeding if you do hit the quick.
Tracy sliced off a few slivers, maybe 1/8” at a time. When we’d taken the point off, we stopped and moved on to the next foot, and then the little toenail.
The whole procedure took about ten minutes. We could have removed much more of the keratin sheath but felt like this was a good start for beginners. I also felt confident that if I kept Tarek well wrapped, I would be able to accomplish his next pedicure by myself. I have a couple of regrets: we needed a third set of hands to photograph the actual procedure as we were doing it and we should have treated him for scaly legs mites while we had him bundled up. I’ll know better for next time.