Beak trimming is the removal of part of the top and bottom beak of a bird. It is also called "debeaking", although this term is inaccurate as only part of the beak is removed. It is an animal husbandry practice commonly carried out in the poultry industry. Farm managers have their flock's beak-trimmed to blunt the beaks enough to prevent the occurrence of damaging pecking.
Re-trimming may also be carried out if a bird's beak grows back enough to cause pecking damage. Birds are often re-trimmed at 8-12 weeks of age to avoid this happening. Some non-trimmed adult birds may need trimming if a pecking outbreak occurs.
Why is beak trimming/Treatment done?
Birds seriously get injured through pecking. Beak trimming is performed early in the life of commercial hens to decrease injuries caused by cannibalism, bullying, and feather and vent pecking. Birds naturally peck at the environment and each other to investigate and work out where they fit into the flock (pecking order). This behavior can become a problem in commercial situations and many deaths have been recorded among untrimmed hens. Feather pecking, and cannibalism affects all birds in all production systems. When laying birds are kept in systems that give the opportunity for aggressive birds to contact many other birds, cannibalism and feather pecking can spread rapidly through the flock and result in injuries and mortality. Mortality of up to 25-30% of the flock can occur and cause huge mortality and morbidity problems as well as financial losses to the farmer.
When is beak trimming done?
Infrared beak trimming machine (photo courtesy of Peter Bell)
Beak trimming is carried out at various ages depending on the preference of the farm manager. The most common ages for birds to be beak-trimmed are:
Who does beak trimming?
Hot blade beak trimming is performed by contract teams, individual farmers and some large poultry companies. Most birds are trimmed by contract teams. Birds must be beak-trimmed by an accredited beak-trimmer to ensure that nationally agreed standards are maintained, and the welfare of the birds is not compromised. The infrared treatment machine is installed by the supplier and leased by hatcheries. It is monitored and controlled by the supplier via a communication system and on-site computer.
How is beak trimming done?
An infrared beak trimming method using a non-contact, high intensity, infrared energy source to treat the beak tissue, is the most common method now in use. Initially the beak surface remains intact but after a few weeks the sharp hook of the beak erodes. Experiments have also been conducted using lasers for beak trimming, however this technology is not used for beak trimming on farms.
A hot blade beak trimming machine with an electrically heated blade is another method that has been commonly used in the past, now being surpassed by infrared.
When birds are not beak trimmed, increased incidences of mortality and morbidity will occur due to cannibalism. Welfare problems associated with cannibalism can be devastating. When performed correctly to industry standards, beak trimming has advantages. These include reduced:
When beak trimming is not done correctly, birds can suffer from: