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Review Paper
Asian-Australasian Journal of Animal Sciences 2000;13(11): 1619-1637.
DOI: https://doi.org/10.5713/ajas.2000.1619    Published online November 1, 2000.
Beak Trimming Methods - Review -
P. C. Glatz
A review was undertaken to obtain information on the range of beak-trimming methods available or under development. Beak-trimming of commercial layer replacement pullets is a common yet critical management tool that can affect the performance for the life of the flock. The most obvious advantage of beak-trimming is a reduction in cannibalism although the extent of the reduction in cannibalism depends on the strain, season, and type of housing, flock health and other factors. Beak-trimming also improves feed conversion by reducing food wastage. A further advantage of beak-trimming is a reduction in the chronic stress associated with dominance interactions in the flock. Beak-trimming of birds at 7-10 days is favoured by Industry but research over last 10 years has shown that beak-trimming at day-old causes the least stress on birds and efforts are needed to encourage Industry to adopt the practice of beak-trimming birds at day-old. Proper beak-trimming can result in greatly improved layer performance but improper beak-trimming can ruin an other wise good flock of hens. Re-trimming is practiced in most flocks, although there are some flocks that only need one trimming. Given the continuing welfare scrutiny of using a hot blade to cut the beak, attempts have been made to develop more welfare friendly methods of beak-trimming. Despite the developments in design of hot blade beak-trimmers the process has remained largely unchanged. That is, a red-hot blade cuts and cauterises the beak. The variables in the process are blade temperature, cauterisation time, operator ability, severity of trimming, age of trimming, strain of bird and beak length. This method of beak-trimming is still overwhelmingly favoured in Industry and there appears to be no other alternative procedures that are more effective. Sharp secateurs have been used trim the upper beak of both layers and turkeys. Bleeding from the upper mandible ceases shortly after the operation, and despite the regrowth of the beak a reduction of cannibalism has been reported. Very few differences have been noted between behaviour and production of the hot blade and cold blade cut chickens. This method has not been used on a large scale in Industry. There are anecdotal reports of cannibalism outbreaks in birds with regrown beaks. A robotic beak-trimming machine was developed in France, which permitted simultaneous, automated beak-trimming and vaccination of day-old chicks of up to 4,500 chickens per hour. Use of the machine was not successful because if the chicks were not loaded correctly they could drop off the line, receive excessive beak-trimming or very light trimming. Robotic beak-trimming was not effective if there was a variation in the weight or size of chickens. Capsaicin can cause degeneration of sensory nerves in mammals and decreases the rate of beak regrowth by its action on the sensory nerves. Capsaicin is a cheap, non-toxic substance that can be readily applied at the time of less severe beak-trimming. It suffers the disadvantage of causing an extreme burning sensation in operators who come in contact with the substance during its application to the bird. Methods of applying the substance to minimise the risk to operators of coming in contact with capsaicin need to be explored. A method was reported which cuts the beaks with a laser beam in day-old chickens. No details were provided on the type of laser used, or the severity of beak-trimming, but by 16 weeks the beaks of laser trimmed birds resembled the untrimmed beaks, but without the bill tip. Feather pecking and cannibalism during the laying period were highest among the laser trimmed hens. Currently laser machines are available that are transportable and research to investigate the effectiveness of beak-trimming using ablasive and coagulative lasers used in human medicine should be explored. Liquid nitrogen was used to declaw emu toes but was not effective. There was regrowth of the claws and the time and cost involved in the procedure limit the potential of using this process to beak-trim birds.
Keywords: Cannibalism; Poultry Welfare; Beak Trimming

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