~Common Chicken Practices ~ How to do so, why, and preventions

Instructions on how to trim nails, beaks, spurs and dub your chickens comb, earlobes and wattles.
By CochinBrahmaLover · Nov 12, 2012 · Updated Feb 22, 2013 · ·
  1. CochinBrahmaLover
    No matter how long you've been in chicken keeping, you're bound to run into a chicken who needs to be dubbed or trimming of some sort. The reasons can vary a lot, but lets look at the preventative reasons first. Here will be the instructions to trim nails, beaks, spurs and dub your chickens comb, earlobes and wattles.


    Preventing beak and nail trimming is quite simple. Let your chickens have access to something rough such as some cement, or wood, or brick. Then when a chicken scratches on one of those surfaces, the nail or beak will be worn. Ever had your chicken do the cute act of rubbing their beak on you? They'll also do this to the hard surface which will prevent the beak from overgrowing. When it comes to spurs it really depends on the breed and age. An Old English game rooster would grow much larger spurs then a cochin rooster, in the same way a 5 year old rooster will have larger spurs then a 8 month old rooster. There's really no"Sure fire ways" to keep a rooster's spurs from growing or naturally keep them down, but there are a few ways to keep them temporarily down. When it comes down to combs there aren't really any ways to keep them from growing other then getting a pea combed bird for cold climates.


    Lets start with nail clipping. Maybe your chicken has overgrown nails, or you're showing them and may want them a bit shorter. Regardless of the reasons, here's the steps.
    Grasp your chicken's legs firmly.


    And flip him upside down


    The best way is to snug them between your legs.


    Once they are still, grasp the foot firmly so you have control of the finger


    I used human nail clippers here, but dog clippers work as well. As you can see the nail isn't revealing the kwik. (See below, its a dog toe nail but the concept is the same)


    In a couple of days I would go back and re-cut the hen's nail since its too long that way but if I cut any more it'd result in bleeding.

    If you see blood, STOP!


    Do you see the blood? Yes, stop there!


    A person will come across a chicken with an overgrown beak every now and then,so keep this in mind, you may need it.

    Trimming a beak is the same as a toenail, but takes more will power.
    Simply look at the beak. Is it too long for the chicken to eat with? Can it be worn down naturally without intervention? Take these things into account.

    Also you should know what a chicken with a good length beak should look like, in case you don't know. For example, this chickens beak perfect.


    However this chicken's overgrown beak could cause eating issues.


    What you would do for an overgrown beak is take a pair of human nail clippers, and cut little bits at a time.

    If you ever see blood, stop. If the beak isn't badly overgrown, or you'd rather, use a file and file down the beak. The concept is the same, and is better for the weak hearted ones.


    Spurs can be a pain. Most roosters have spurs of this size or slightly bigger.


    Overgrown spurs can injure your hens, cause walking problems, and even injure you.
    A common way to trim them is wrap your rooster in a towel firmly, tuck him (or her! hens can have spurs however they don't grow as long but they can) in between your legs so you don't have to focus on holding him.
    Hold it so his head is faced down so that less blood in his feet. Take dog nail clippers (since typical human nail clippers won't fit over them), and began to clip. You want to clip at about 5/8 of an inch from the base of the spur.

    If you can't manage to cut the spurs with the clippers get a small, finely toothed hacksaw. It can vary if you need this depending on the thickness of the spurs.

    Another home remedy is sticking a hot potato on the spur.
    Cook the potato then stick it onto the spur. Grab pliers, or a rough cloth, and twist. The old growth will come off revealing the newest growth. It's another temporary method however it works well.



    If you've NEVER dubbed a roosters comb (wattles are easier), then I suggest getting a vet or someone who has dubbed a chicken before to help you. If your chickens comb is ESPECIALLY fat, then I suggest getting a vet to do it for you, period.

    Dubbing is pretty easy. It's where you cut the wattles, comb, or earlobes off a chicken. The reason typically is due to a person living in a cold climate and not wanting to let their chicken get frost bite, but a few breeds of chickens require dubbing of their comb and wattles to show.
    So here's the steps to do so.

    Grab your surgical scissors (SURGICAL, make sure they are surgical scissors, they crush the blood vessels instead of a clean cut. It'll keep the bleeding low)


    And grab some flour or 'Quick stop bleeding powder


    Wrap your chicken firmly in an old towel.


    Set the chicken between your legs, hold the chicken firmly with your legs.

    Grab your scissors and line them up with the natural line on the chickens comb.


    Do you see the black line? That demonstrates where you should cut, however your scissors, of course, this can vary depending on how thick or large the comb is, but this is the average spot to cut.


    Set some flour / quick stop bleeding powder to prevent bleeding.

    When you cut the wattles, do not pull them down. If you do, only pull them slightly.

    See how I am holding it? I have a firm grip, and can cut, but not holding it down.

    If you pull them down too hard, then cut, you will cut open the chickens neck. Don't worry, it'll be fine, it looks worse then it is, simply keep it clean and wrap it up.
    For earlobes pinch them and then cut them.

    The next day the cut area will be scabbed over and should be healed in roughly a week. It has been said that a rooster who has been dubbed seems healthier and more robust.

    Well, there you go. Hope this a interesting, and factual article you will someday have the need to use

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  1. CityslickerHomestead
    I like the informative article but I’m very disturbed by the “dubbing” and would like to know of alternatives to protecting my chickens from frostbite.
      Henrik Petersson likes this.
  2. redblack10
    I appreciate the tips for nail trimming. I am against any mutilation that is done for aesthetics. My Brown Leghorn "Roo" had an amazing comb and long, fleshy wattles at 9 months of age. This past Iowa winter was brutal, and his comb froze and began to die. A day later, both wattles were frozen solid. He was in a lot of pain. I conferred with my vet, and she did exactly what I wanted - sedation, laser surgery, stitches. He lived in the house until he healed. My coop is draft-free and my birds keep each other warm, but I broke down and bought a small heater/fan combo just to get the temperatures up to the 20s. Roo is a handsome boy. He lost top rooster status to my Ameraucana "Skunk", but all is well, now.

    BTW - I used Corona, Vaseline, dry and clean coop management, and ventilation without drafts, and Roo still got frostbite.
      CityslickerHomestead likes this.
  3. skullgrrrl
    Dubbing is the equivalent of tail docking in dogs. Its an unethical and painful procedure, done mostly for aesthetic reasons. In many areas tail docking is frowned upon, if not, illegal. I don't care that dubbing is required to show some breeds - we should be pushing back and saying that its not necessary. How can a rooster be "healthier and more robust" for having some parts of him cut off without anesthetic? Sounds like a justification for an outdated practice. If you are concerned about your birds getting frostbite then figure out ways to protect them. If its done strictly for aesthetic purposes then start thinking about how that affects the birds.
    1. GuineaFowling
      I agree. At least with tail docking they use anesthetics and administer pain meds after the procedure.
  4. Gardening&Feathers
    Instead of getting to the point where your chickens get frostbite - try a little preventive care - it's not hard. Use Vaseline, or a beeswax and vitamin E oil mixture on their feet, combs, and waddles in the winter. It prevents frostbite, keeps your chickens (and ducks) healthier, and prevents the need for you to mutilate them for appearances and lack of proper care. Dubbing for appearances is just as awful as telling a person their ears are unsightly - lets cut them off. Especially with animals where their pain is not as easy to see. Also, if you give your chickens proper runs that allow for them to scratch daily - you'll never need to cut their nails. I have raised chickens for over 15 years, most of that time near Buffalo NY where the winters are brutal, never had my chickens and ducks get frost bite, or need nails clipped.

    If you're going to raise animals, take care of them, that's your job for keeping them, if you can't do that properly, don't bother.
  5. Henrik Petersson
    Jesus, don't dub. Don't let your chickens be out in the cold long enough to get frostbite and don't put them in shows requiring dubbing.

    I also feel the caption of this article isn't very informative. "Instructions on how to trim nails, beaks, spurs and dub your chickens comb, earlobes and wattles" would be more fitting.
    1. BantyChooks
      Some single comb breeds, especially those in warm climates, grow combs large enough to obscure sight and wattles large enough to impair eating. I've seen two of those cases on BYC in the last few months. They have to be dubbed for quality of life. Gamefowl fighters also dub to prevent other cocks from getting a hold on the face.

      As for frostbite---unless you're paying my hydro bill, I don't think so, lol! If you want to keep single comb breeds in cold climates there's very few ways around it. That's why I raise cushion/pea combed birds... because frostbite is a pain in the butt, er, head. I see you're in Sweden? Does it get cold there, and if so, what do you do about it?
      Purple_grape84 likes this.
    2. Henrik Petersson
      I can see the reason to dub if the size of the comb and wattles impairs the quality of life, if you want to save that one particular chicken. But I hope you use a painkiller in that case. It's probably as painful as cutting off an ear on a human. And as a future measure, don't let those birds breed. Red jungle fowl don't have combs and wattles that large. At some point the enormous versions of them must have been selectively bred for. Personally, I would rather cull than mutilate the birds.

      What do you mean with hydro bill? Does it cost water to keep the chickens in the coop? Yes, frostbite is common here. I myself have chosen to solve it by picking an Araucana rooster with pea comb. Other people only let their chickens outside a few hours at a time, and chase them in afterwards.

      But then, if your situation forces you to choose between "mutilation" and "frostbite", you can always choose not to have chickens whatsoever. Having chickens is not a human right.
    3. BantyChooks
      Sorry, electric bill.
  6. Tammy N
    Sorry Folks this sounds cruel to cut the Waddles and the Crown off . Maybe we should work on people first ?
  7. Yay Chicks!
    I'm needing to trim nails as the ground has gotten so soft they are not meeting with resistance. Thank you for this! I guess there will be lots of sessions with a little bit coming off at a time, as I've put it off, ashamedly, for so long.
  8. tammyfarms
    Great article. Thank you for sharing your knowledge. I am going home to check the nail length of my chicks! Thankfully I don't have any spur issues right now or areas that need to be dubbed (ewww) although I can think of times it would be necessary. I am so thankful to know that when I have a question BYC is here!
  9. 12321
    More than half of our roosters got frostbite. Earlier today, I practiced dubbing on two 9 month old Jersey Giant roosters that lost their heads. I tried the smaller one first and did cut his wattles too short and left his comb a little larger than I liked, but didn't look like it would have bled. The larger one, I cut his comb shorter and did notice some spots that would have bled. It was pretty thick where I cut. Maybe they should be done when they are younger? It's apparent if I do dub live birds, I'll need better scissors - just used normal large ones. My wife and daughter were not impressed with my handywork, and it seems like we'll be adding more heat in the coop instead of dubbing which is unfortunate because I think I like the look better than a large comb with most of the points frozen. Also, a guy at work, who'd Dad owns a cock farm in the Philippines, did say something about dubbing "bringing the bird to life".
    Thanks for the article. That's information I'll be using.
  10. BorderBrigade
    Wonderful article Cochin. Having step by step pictures for nail trimming and dubbing incase it is ever needing to be used is very helpful. In alot of the country where poultry veterinarians are rarely found and cost prohibitive you can never have to much knowledge and you'll never know when you need it. What's right for one person isn't right for another, people will always add their two cents.
  11. chickenbusiness
    Thank you for posting. Very good information. Excellent diagrams.
  12. CochinBrahmaLover
    SodaBottleBantams :
    *sigh* Thank you! It seems no one believed me that the roosters become better after being dubbed. :)
  13. sodabottlebantams
    I dub all of my old english game bantams. Personally i like the clean and attractive look that it brings out in them once they are dubbed. There stance and appearance seem to change once theyve been dubbed almost like they go from a boy to a man. When it comes to the spurs ive seen people simply cut them off and they wont grow back but i like a rooster with spurs so i prefer to leave mine on but to keep them from getting to long you can take a pair of pliers and gently twist and pull on the spur until it breaks loose and itll be much shorter until a few months later and you can repeat the process.
  14. Emmapee
    While it may be reasonable in certain circumstances (where it is incredibly cold all the time, aka a small area of the US), I just don't think I could do that to my chickens! I honestly think it would be the equivalent of cutting off your ear lobe! I wouldn't have the guts to do it unless it was a case where the comb became a health concern... that's crazy that some chickens have to be dubbed to be shown, I think combs are the coolest/prettiest parts of a chicken.
    1. lawson1986
      Agreed, seems unusually cruel. God made them that way for a reason, no need for me to dub my roos unless its absolutely necessary for their health.
      Table4Six likes this.
    2. Table4Six
      I completely agree. God didn't make an accident in giving chickens ear lobes, combs, and wattles. He made other birds without them that make his creations so diverse.
  15. CochinBrahmaLover
    Thanks Marty
    And yes, I've been begging for my mom to let me cut his comb but she won't let me /: says I have to do it with Peg (person who raises dogs, she clips their toes -the one reeaally far up on the leg, the uh, thumb?- and is too afraid for me to do it alone. GUUH)
    Anna :
    I know the feeling! We have a hen whose toes are bent sideways (we got her when she was full grown, don't know why her toes are like that) and they are really starting to get long. Trimmed them some already but need to re-trim them
  16. Marty1876
    If your birds (esp. roos) combs are turning black, they are freezing, and could get infected and kill your birds. Anyone who lives where it gets truly cold and stays cold, understand the agony frostbite can cause those otherwise hardy birds.
    There are excellent reasons to dub for the health of birds who live in places like Alaska. OF course, some show birds HAVE to be dubbed to be shown. It's not for all birds, but it's better than neglecting freezing combs and forcing long term discomfort.
      DaviJones and HeiHeisMom like this.
  17. Anna-MN
    After reading this I closely inspected my hens nails and I will be trimming them tomorrow! Thanks for this great step by step article. It's really helpful!
  18. CochinBrahmaLover
    Yes, I've seen a rooster get injured by another rooster before. But roosters don't use surgical scissors which crush the blood vessels, use flour, or in anyway try to prevent bleeding. So uh, yeah, I'm SURE its the same.
    Also please don't go telling people what to do on my article, I've clearly labeled the steps, and have added some warnings. There is no need to go telling people not to do it.
  19. CochinBrahmaLover
    OK will also add this...
    If you've never dubbed a chickens comb before, i suggest getting help. Wether its from your vet or someone else, just have someone to guide you.
  20. CochinBrahmaLover
    SpoiledFlock :
    Due to my mother not letting me dub that roosters comb, almost all of his prongs on his comb have gone black, fallen off, and the back of his comb look like an animal bit it off. As for tail docking, all they do is put a rubber band on the dogs tail when its a day old, and it falls off in like a week. No worse then docking a lambs tail. And in some cases tail docking is practical. Even so, some people like docked tails or tipped ears (which should always be done surgically), its really no worse then breeding for specific colors. Sure, this is a physical change, but when done PROPERLY it has little or no pain. And no animal should be babied so that it never feels pain, its part of growing up, some pain never killed anyone. As for declawing, yes its rather bad, and complications can often occur.
    Yeah, which is more cruel, one moment of pain, followed with bleeding, or pain due to coldness day after day? And no, I do not have to time to put Vaseline on his comb EVERYDAY, and even if I did, it doesn't ALWAYS work.
    OK, Let me just put this out here.
    So if you live in Texas, Arizona, Missouri, or any state or country where it doesn't get colder then -20 on a daily basis, DO NOT POST HERE ABOUT HOW DUBBING IS CRUEL. When its -60 during a month on a regular basis, and winter is 9 months out of the year, DUBBING IS VERY PRACTICAL.
    So, if you live somewhere where -20 or colder on a daily basis, then dubbing is practical and not cruel. Same goes if you have a lot of roosters ; they may not be fighting a lot, but sometimes its just easier to dub them, and then you won't have to wake up every morning wondering if one of the roosters comb has a hole in it again.
    OEGB's, or Old English Game (Bantam if is a bantam), are required to be dubbed because (I think this it is) they used to be fought a lot, so for showing, the comb would have to be dubbed to look like a good bird.
    As for the bleeding comments, if you dub a chickens comb a few days before the new moon, more of the blood is in the feet, so it will bleed less (Pretty sure I put that there...) Along with adding quick-stop bleeding powder or flour, it will reduce the bleeding greatly.
    Also, (and I believe I put this there but OK) the benefits greatly out-way having a rooster with a large comb. They become more robust, can't really get frost bite, perk up greatly after just a day or 2, and really, dubbing isn't all that bad.
    If you have a rooster with a LARGE, FAT comb, you may want to ask your VET to do SURGICAL dubbing, but if your roosters comb is SMALLER, and THINNER, you can do it at home with SURGICAL SCISSORS. (Will be adding that, and capitilazed on words that were just important)
    1. Henrik Petersson
      I live in Sweden. If our chickens are out in the cold too long, we chase or lure them into the house, making dubbing unnecessary.

      Unless someone shows conclusive evidence that dubbing is painless, I deem it tantamount to animal cruelty.
      Stephine and Table4Six like this.
  21. tamtam84
    If there is any reason to ever dub your chicken's comb or wattles, I don't see how anyone could safely do it at home. Have you ever seen a chicken whose comb or wattles has been pecked at by another chicken? They bleed like crazy. Cutting off part of the comb or wattles would surely make the chicken bleed a lot and it is no doubt extremely painful for the bird. If there was ever any need for it, I would highly recommend seeing a vet first and getting his or her opinion. This is definitely not a procedure for an untrained person to do at home. Please do not try this at home!
  22. HenFriend
    I used garden clippers to trim my silkie roo's spurs as they curl up and pierce his leg if I leave them. The spurs were too tough for dog nail clippers and the garden ones did the job fine.Don't like the dubbing idea, I know they used to do this in fighting birds.
  23. Betsy57
    I don't see how you can use clippers for spurs. My rooster's spurs are like bone; no clipper is going to take care of that. I use a dremel and file them down that way. Makes quick work of it. They're not in a "position" to cut my hens but his nails are so the info on how to get the quick shorter is very helpful. Thank you. I'll try that.
  24. Dudu
    Thanks for the article!
    I have made it a regular routine to clip nails and trim beaks and spurs, I use a dog nail clipper for all of this - with the beak, at first it was scary but now I just hold the bird under my arm gently, wait until he/she is calm and trim it, making sure the bird is not trying to "lick their lips" or stick out the tongue for whatever other reason. It works just fine.
    With the spurs too, I just trim down the really dead and sharp part with the dog nail clipper, leaving there rest there and making the tip really blunt. We've had a rooster that kept mating the same hen and made a hole in her side with one of his sharp spurs, it was awful (she did live, we used the magic Blue Spray on her).

    I had never heard of dubbing, but I can imagine once situation where it may be necesary - we have some mixed breed roosters with a comb covering one eye because it's not designed to stand straight up, and I wish I could do something about it. Also we had an old rooster with a very large, straight comb which had started to tilt due to his age and was getting infected at the base on the side where it was leaning over (not enough air I assume for ventilation). Wish I had made it smaller too.

    I'll have to ask my veterinarian about dubbing at home, I always thought the combs looked SO meaty and full of blood that it would be very painful and a loss of blood might occur. I sure don't want to harm them in any way.
  25. sunnyvera
    Dubbing sounds awful to me. Surely not painless for the chicken. To me there would never be a good enough reason.
      Stephine, Table4Six and Str4b3rryb33 like this.
  26. Emmapee
    I'm glad to find an article about nail trimming but the dubbing is just to much for me... I would have to imagine it would be similar to someone cutting your earlobe off... :{
      Stephine likes this.
  27. JacobMaxwell
    Rules and regulations don't always sound right, but if certain breeds of chicken are not dubbed before a competition, they will be disqualified.
  28. Kiniska
    I have not heard of cutting a Roos comb off to show. That really does not sound right.
  29. Betsy57
    OEGB's? For chicken shows, one has to cut their comb off? My goodness. I would think that would surely bleed like crazy and hurt. What covers their head then? It will scab over and then heal? I've never seen a picture of a chicken without one I guess.
  30. CochinBrahmaLover
    Thanks Chicken Fan!
    Betsy :
    Chickens can get frostbite, and if you dub the comb it won't get frostbitten in colder conditions ^^ Also for OEGB's, you need to dub their comb to show
  31. Betsy57
    Why would one want to cut the comb off?
  32. Chickenfan4life
    WESOME ARTICLE!!! Congratulations on getting it featured.
  33. CochinBrahmaLover
    :D OMG! I would have NEVER imagined my article being featured!!
    Phyrst : Sadly, I do not. I may be able to add some, but not for a bit. My mother won't dub the chickens combs, and my friend refuses to help me. These are techniques I've found from friends and others :)
    No I have not dubbed the rooster, no one will help me
  34. BYC Project Manager
    Congratulations! Your article is now featured on the homepage carousel! Thanks for submitting it to our BYC Article Writing Contest.
      Farmer Connie and HeiHeisMom like this.
  35. willowbranchfarm
    Great job on this article.
  36. Phyrst
    I'd love to see a pic after you dubbed the crown or waddles. Have you got any? Doesn't that hurt the bird? I've seen torn crowns bleed like crazy! Good article and very informative.
  37. Whittni
    Did you dub that rooster?
  38. mamawolf544
    That is a very interesting point, but we have never had to soften a spur to use this method. We have always used a hack saw or the pliers. And we have never pulled out a spur doing so.
  39. CochinBrahmaLover
    Mamawolf - Yes but if you don't soften it, you might accedidently rip out the spur, which would be extremely painful. But I'll add the potato method (if its not there already)
  40. mamawolf544
    You can also use a pair of pliers on spurs. Grab the spur and gently twist, the old growth will come off and the new spur is underneath.
      Smrtmamahen likes this.
  41. Marty1876
    Cochin, you are a very gifted writer, and this is an excellent article!
      shartnett5 likes this.

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