Debeaking: What is It and Should you Debeak Your Birds?

Debeaking (also called beak trimming) is the act of cutting the lower and upper points of the beaks. The trimmed upper beak is usually shorter than the lower beak. Debeaking birds will help prevent feed wastage, cannibalism, feather pecking, and egg eating. Mortalities due to cannibalism can reach up to 15% in un-debeaked laying hens that are housed in aviaries, straw yards and free range systems. However when they are kept in smaller groups in cages, cannibalism is reduced. Birds that are normally debeaked are laying hens, turkeys, quail and ducks. Broilers meant for meat are not debeaked because they reach slaughter weight before injurious pecking start. However broiler breeders are debeaked because they are kept for a long time.

Debeaking machine

Debeaking machine

Debeaking a bird

Debeaking a bird

Types of Debeaking Methods

There are two debeaking methods, namely the hot and cold methods. With hot method, the beak is cut and cauterize at the same time while in the cold method, the beak is cut with scissors etc without cauterizing. Cauterizing involves touching the cut beak with a hot plate/iron. The beak will often re-grow if the cold method is use. Debeaking is a precision operation and must be carried out very carefully to minimize stress.

Minimizing Stress

The debeaking operation causes an enormous stress to the birds and this can lead to drop in production and growth. Because of this, you must ensure that stress is reduced before, during and after debeaking. To minimize stress, give them vitamin K or multivitamins 3 days before and 3 days after debeaking.

Age at Debeaking

Debeaking can be done any time from 1 day to 18 weeks old. The younger the bird, the less stress they will experience. Below are advantages of debeaking at 1 day old:

  • chicks are easy to catch and handle
  • it prevents cannibalism at early age. If your birds start injuring each other at an early age, debeak them before it becomes worse.
  • it saves time
  • the beaks are soft and so debeaking is easy and less stressful
  • it can be done in the hatchery


  • the beaks can easily be damaged
  • chicks have a painful beak just when they have to learn eating and drinking
  • chicks inhale hot air
  • often re-debeaking is necessary, just before the start of laying

Advantages of debeaking at 6-10 days:

  • there is less feed wastage during the rearing period
  • the beaks are still soft and there is less stress than in debeaking at a later age
  • the birds are still relatively easy to handle and a high working speed is possible

Disadvantages of debeaking at 6-10 days:

  • up to 20% of the birds need re-debeaking before the start of laying
  • sexual maturity (start of laying) can be delayed
  • poor debeaking can damage the beak and even lead to high mortality

Debeaking from 8 weeks to 18 weeks:

At this age, the 2 beaks must be cut separately and the corners of the beaks should be rounded off by applying heat. Below are some problems you see while debeaking at this age:

  • debeaking is more difficult to perform
  • more bleeding and more problems with feed and water intake may be expected
  • there is risk of cannibalism before debeaking
  • poor debeaking may lead to increased feed consumption during the laying period
  • the birds experience more stress
  • there may be a serious loss of bodyweight and it can take 2-3 weeks before the pullets regain the lost weight

How to Debeak

  • Cut the beaks of older birds separately; always cut the upper beak first.
  • The upper beak must be cut to two-thirds and the lower beak to one-third.
  • Prevent stress as much as possible.
How to debeak a bird

How to debeak a bird Source: (1) P. 13

Before Debeaking:

  • the birds must be in good health
  • do not vaccinate just before debeaking
  • to reduce stress, fast the birds for some hours
  • demarcate the house so that there will be separation between debeaked and not yet debeaked pullets
  • sharpen knife or blade
  • supply the birds with vitamin K for some days; this is likely to reduce bleeding. Or you can give multivitamin 3 days before and 3 days after debeaking.

During Debeaking:

  • Perform it during the cooler part of the day
  • use sharp knife or cauterizing blade
  • be seated during the work and take a rest now and then
  • do not burn the tongue of the bird
  • cut the beaks of older birds separately
  • when using plier or knife, have a hot iron at hand to cauterize the wound
  • when using an electric debeaker, be sure of the right voltage; the blade must be bright red (heat)
  • make sure that no beak is bleeding after debeaking
  • handle the birds with care
  • regularly clean knife, plier or blade during the work
  • work as swiftly as possible, but maintain quality!

After Debeaking:

  • increase the level of feed and water and feed adlibitum
  • Adjust the feeder and drinker height to be lower than before, to suit the shortened beak.
  • if the birds refuse to eat and drink, sprinkle some water on the feed
  • add some vitamins and antibiotics to the feed for one week (A, B complex, D3 and K)
  • dip bleeding beaks in some feed or sand
  • give extra hours of light for some days to encourage eating and aid healing
  • check the flock regularly for lice, because the birds cannot clean themselves properly after debeaking
Debeaking errors and their causes

Debeaking errors and their causes

Alternatives to Beak Trimming

In some countries, beak trimming is banned and producers are forced to go for alternative measures to prevent cannibalism and other antagonistic behaviors. These alternatives include reducing light intensity so that birds can hardly see each other. This is only possible in houses where light can easily be controlled. The birds are introduced to enrichment devices at an early age. Enrichment devices are anything the birds can play with. You can use grasses, branches etc suspended from the ceiling. You can also use perches.

Dividing large number of birds into smaller groups can also reduce aggressive behaviors. Body weight should be managed properly to avoid underweight pullets which normally suffer from prolapse. When this happens other birds will peck at the prolapse and pull out the intestines.

Works Cited

  1. Hendrix Genetic Company. ISA Brown Commercial Management Guide. [Online]
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2 comments to Debeaking: What is It and Should you Debeak Your Birds?

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