All toenails, beaks and feathers are made from a protein called keratin. When chickens are allowed to be out and about to scratch in the dirt and explore, they do a good job at keeping their nails and beaks nice and trim. However from time to time it is not unlikely that your chickens' toenails and beak will require a little maintenance. For example, our Silkies frequently need their fifth toenail trimmed as it never touches the ground. Keeping the nails from overgrowing is very important for overall general foot health, the ability to walk and the ability to hold the foot in a normal position. Trimming your roosters' spurs and toenails can also help to keep them from digging their nails into the backs of your hens. Cutting the toenails is relatively easy to do and takes only a matter of a few minutes per chicken.
When cutting toenails, the most important thing to be aware of is the quick. Like dogs, chickens have a quick running through each toenail. They even a quick in their beak. The quick offers blood supply to the nail. If you look at your own fingernails, your "quick" is the pink part that you do not want to cut into. When you cut your nails too short, it hurts. When you cut an animal's nail too short (into the quick), not only does it hurt but it will also bleed quite a bit. Toenails should be trimmed in front of the quick. If the toenails are excessively long, trim a bit off and wait a couple of weeks for the quick to recede. Then you can gently trim a little more off until the nail length returns to normal. Be patient. This entire process can take up to a month.
In darker nails, the quick can be difficult to see just where it ends. Here are some tips to help you visualize the quick:
-Look for the quick underneath the nail instead of on the top or the sides.
-Try using a flashlight and placing it up against the nail.
-Try shaving off smaller pieces of the nail gradually progressing up the nail. Take a peek looking straight on at the end of the nail. It should look like a semi-circle. The top of the semi-circle should appear darker and the bottom should appear lighter. Gradually clip the nail until the darker color from the top fills up over half the nail and the lighter color less than half. Stop when you see this change. You are close to the quick.
Toenail Clipper (I use a large human one designated for the chickens)
Emery board/Nail File
A second set of hands-until you get the hang of it
Step By Step Instructions
1. Grab a hold of a chicken. Sometimes wrapping them in a bath towel helps to keep them calm. Examine each foot. Look at each nail and determine which ones if any need to be trimmed. Also inspect for any cuts, broken toes, bumble foot, and also scaly leg mites that might require attention.
2. With your hand grasp and support the entire foot. Select the nail to be trimmed. Identify the location of the quick. Trim the nail to almost the quick, leaving a space to prevent bleeding. File the rough edges of the nail with an emery board. Smoothing the edges prevents your chicken from cutting themselves when they scratch their eyes and bodies.
3. If you happen to accidentally trim the quick, continue to hold the chicken. Dip the toenail into the cornstarch coating the tip. You may need to repeat this a few times. The bleeding should stop within 5 minutes. Gently wipe off any excess blood that may have dripped onto their feet or feathers to avoid the other chickens from pecking. Do not return the chicken to the coop or run until you can be sure that the bleeding has definitely stopped.
4. Continue on to each other toenail repeating the process with each of your other chickens.
Take your time and be patient. It may take you a few days to get through your entire flock. Be sure to check on your flocks' toenails every now and then. I like to remember to look when I notice the seasons changing. Longer toenails typically become an issue when the chickens are a couple of years old.
Photo Credits/Sketch: Tilly's Nest