One of the best parts about having egg-laying chickens is the fact they are fairly low maintenance when it comes to grooming. Provided with adequate dust, sand, gravel and space, they do a fine job on their own keeping their feathers and nails clean and trimmed.
Daily dust baths — an activity in which a hen will roll around in dust or sand — not only leaves the chicken with clean feathers, but it also helps get rid of any mites, lice or other parasites that can infest poultry.
Plus, the hens really enjoy it and will often hold communal dust baths.
Scratching in gravel and dirt keeps the nails on their feet trimmed down.
But every so often, due either to the chicken’s advanced age or a behavioral issue, a chicken will no longer scratch. The nails will grow unchecked and begin to twist and curl, making it difficult and uncomfortable for the chicken to walk.
That’s when it’s time to give your chicken a pedicure.
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How do you give a chicken a pedicure?
— Gather your materials. Clippers — the kind used in trimming dog nails work great, styptic powder of some other coagulating agent to control any bleeding from the nails, saline solution to clean any bleeding nails and antibiotic ointment to disinfect any bleeding nails.
— Catch the chicken. This can be harder than it looks as chickens — even those with long nails — can put on bursts of speed. Not only is this frustrating for the human, but it also can stress out the hen. A good strategy is to wait for nightfall when the chickens are on their perches. They are much easier to gently grab then.
— Brace your … chicken. Hold the chicken gently, but firmly, against your chest with one arm and use your other hand to carefully clip each nail. Cut each nail a little bit at a time and pay attention to the single vein that runs up each nail. It’s usually pretty easy to see, but sometimes it can get nicked. That’s when you need the first aid materials listed above.
— Keep them calm. Speak softly and gently to your chicken during this process to keep her calm.
— And relax. When done, place the hen gently back on her perch or on the ground and congratulate yourself on a job well done.
Once a chicken stops scratching, it will likely not start up again. So if one of your hens does start needing her nails clipped, keep an eye on her as this will likely become a part of your poultry care routine for the life of this bird. Plan on giving her a pedicure every few months.