Saturday, September 28, 2013

Rooster Spurs

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by Jennifer Sartell of Iron Oak Farm

I am very pleased with the collection of roosters we have at the farm. They're pleasant birds that get along nicely with one another. They're gentle with our hens and I don't have to worry about visitors approaching our roos. This hasn't always been the case...sometimes you just get one that has a mean streak.

In my early years of raising chickens I had a Rhode Island Red that would come at me with neck feathers flared, raise his feet and go at my calves with his sharp, dagger spurs. It was such a fast action as he reared up and beat at me with his inner legs several times before landing, getting his balance and going again. I soon learned to go to the coop with the protection of a large plastic leaf rake as a shield. But he was quick and could get around it. One day, he left me with a puncture wound so deep that I had to be on antibiotics for two weeks! This was before my "farmer" mind set...(if that's what you want to call it) and I looked at my chickens ONLY as pets. Even though he was mean as the Dickens, it broke my heart when my father suggested we add him to the freezer. Now days I wouldn't tolerate this behavior from a chicken. But back then, I was young and hopeful that he would learn to love me...yeah right!

In one last attempt to save Red (as we called him) from the stock pot, I bought a pair of tall rubber boots which protected my legs (somewhat) from his persistent attacks. Eventually he learned to hate the boots and would attack the boots in the same manner whether my legs were in them or not. Red eventually met his doom from a coyote attack, which in many ways, I was grateful to the coyote for making that difficult decision for me.

I was recently telling the story of Red to a friend who has kept chickens for over 40 years. He laughed at my "soft, newbie" decision to keep a mean rooster, and confirmed with my dad's suggestion of adding him to Sunday's supper after he laid into my calf with one of his spurs. Then he suggested something I hadn't thought of.

"You could have trimmed his spurs."

"Can you do that?" I asked.

Indeed you can! But there are a few things to consider.

When to trim spurs?
The spur is a pointed, rigid growth on the inner leg of a rooster and a hen. The hen's spur only amounts to a small hard nubbin just under the skin. But the rooster's spur grows much longer than the hen's. It has an inner layer the "quick" which supplies blood flow and an outer layer which is hard like a finger nail.

There are some things to consider when dealing or not dealing with spurs. Roosters have spurs to protect themselves and their hens against predators or other competing roosters. If they are removed, the rooster looses a natural defense which may or may not be an issue for you and your flock set up. Most of the time a rooster's spurs will not cause any problems if left alone.

However, there are times when spur removal is appropriate. The spurs will continue to grow as the rooster ages and can become quite long and sharp. Even if you have a gentle rooster, sometimes while mating, he can slide down the hen's back and cut her with his spurs. I've also noticed that some roosters have an odd angle in the way the spurs grow from the leg, this can also cause injury to your hens. Inspect your hens often  for feather loss or wounds on their sides especially in the springtime when mating increases and multiple roosters tend to be a little more competitive. Or, be proactive and consider removing the spurs before your hens incur injury. (Suggested methods below)

An aggressive rooster
This could be the subject of a whole new post, but as suggested to me above with my rooster Red, a roosters spurs can be removed if he shows aggression. However, while my friend was trying to be helpful, in my experience, an aggressive rooster is dangerous regardless of his spurs.

Lets talk a bit about an aggressive rooster vs. a rooster showing normal pecking order behavior. There is a notable difference between aggressive behavior in a rooster and a mere squabble like a peck on the head at the food dish, or a signal to tell someone they're out of line. A true aggressive rooster is relentless and will attack persistently. The body language is unmistakable. Usually the feathers on the neck flare, the head goes down in "charge" mode and then the body is flipped forward and the legs pound the victim like a drum while supported with flapping wings. This behavior should not be tolerated whether it's toward another rooster or a human. In the early stages, watch for body language like trying to "round you" up with the flock, or a lowered stance like the one mentioned above. Many times the rooster will drop his wing and dance around you, sizing you up. There might be a few false "runs" where he might charge but then get confused as he approaches. These are signs that the rooster is testing you to see if you are a threat. This behavior should be monitored and small children should not be allowed around a rooster who acts in this way. Sadly, it is next to impossible to correct this behavior once it starts and usually it will only escalate. If any of our readers have suggestions that have helped them deal with a mean rooster I would love to hear from you!

Rooster that are aggressive with only other roosters can still prove to be nice chickens to humans as long as the roosters are separated from each other. For more on keeping multiple roosters read my post Keeping Roosters Together.

Removing Spurs
If you decide to remove the spurs on your rooster there are a few methods to choose from. Some better than others. Always have cornstarch or a styptic powder on hand in case of accidental bleeding. An antibiotic wound spray like Vetericyn is also handy. If bleeding does occur, treat with a wound spray or salve (appropriate for chickens, do not use salves with numbing agents as these are toxic to birds) and apply cornstarch or styptic powder with pressure until the bleeding stops.  

Hot Potato Method
This is the method that my friend told me about. You cut a potato in half and microwave it on high till it's too hot to touch. (About 5 minutes) Use a towel or hot pad to handle the potato. Hold the rooster firm under your arm, and pierce the spur through the hot potato (being careful not to get too close to the leg) and hold it there as long as the bird will let you or until the potato starts to cool. The moisture and heat from the potato will penetrate the dry sharp layers of the spur and cause them to soften. The sharp spur will fall off in a day or two or can be coaxed off with a twisting motion by hand or with pliers. If it doesn't want to give easily, apply the potato again. Eventually the process may need to be repeated as the spur will grow back over the years.  

File or Rotary Tool
Spurs can also be filed so that the sharp end is more blunt. This method removes a little at a time but is a slower, safer way than cutting. Hold the rooster under your arm and sand the spur 1/8th of an inch at a time. You can do this with a file or a rotary tool fitted with a sanding disk. You can repeat the sessions every few days as the outer layer will harden and the quick (the inner layer with blood flow) will recede allowing you to cut more off each time.   

Clipping with a Saw or Nail Clippers
Personally I don't recommend this method, though it seems to be the most commonly used. This is where the tip of the spur is clipped with guillotine style nail clippers or sawn off with a hand saw. This is perhaps the most dangerous method as it is hard to tell where the quick begins on a spur and you run the risk of cutting into the blood supply, which if not treated can cause infection and/or death. Not to mention it would be extremely painful for the rooster if done incorrectly. Many people said that the nail clippers can cause the spur to shatter and split into the quick area. Hmmm... and the idea of using a saw on an animated animal like a chicken seems like a risky venture.

Do you have a tried and true way of dealing with rooster spurs? I'd love to hear from you. Leave a comment below or visit the Community Chickens Facebook page. 

33 comments:

  1. Thank you for this post. You have confirmed that I have a juvenile, aggressive rooster. He is about 5 months old and does all of the actions you wrote about. The good thing is he is a Polish, so he has that big wig on his head which makes him halfway blind. Sometimes, I can't tell if he is charging me on purpose or because I startled him :). I will monitor his behavior....

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    1. Do you talk to your chickens? My Rhode Island Reds and Silkies know the sound of my voice and will come to me.
      Sometime in the past I've had to use an old tennis racket to put the boy in his place. He can have the rule of the roost... as long as I'm not in there. Then he has to know who is boss. It only takes a few times for the young-uns to learn. I ain't sayin to knock him over the net, just hit him in the breast to cause him to go backwards - away from you - and he should learn. Haven't damaged any boys yet with this method.

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    2. Carrie,
      I had a polish rooster, He was nice, but was very easily startled, he would jump up acting like he was gonna flog me, but once realizing it was the people who fed him, he quickly settled. Letting polish guys know you are around helps, but sometimes, we accidentally snuck up on each other just working in the barn. I used to joke that I was gonna put a hippie bandanna on him to help him see! We lost him to an intruder unfortunately. We now have two roosters and they all had to be taught that the humans are at the top of the ranking. We have thrown empty milk jugs at them for bad behavior, the sound scares them more than it hurts them. Of course, Im cure there are many "methods" this one just worked for us.

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  2. I would love to mention that the guillotine style nail clippers are awful just as general rule, as a dog groomer of 17 years (and chicken keeper) that style of nail clipper tends to crush the nail and leads to the splintering. If you wish to clip I would really recommend a sharp "scissor" type. --hope it helps!

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    1. They just need to be sharpened and they will cut quickly, easily, and cleanly!

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  3. All you do is hold the rooster firmly , take a pliers, and twist the spur, the outter cover of it twists off and leaves that inner part which is a little bloody but scabs over quickly and ends up much less long and sharp once its healed. DO NOT TRIM OR CUT ROOSTER SPURS!! You will have a mess of blood and infection for no reason. Just twist them outter nail off. Its simple and it doesnt seem to hurt the rooster. That potato one is new to me but it sounds like so much torture. I think you have to rewrite this post....the majority of what you are saying is wrong. Melina www.meetup.com/chickens1

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    1. MELINA IS RIGHT! DO NOT CLIP OFF SPURS. Just twist off with pliers as she says. You'll be surprised at how easily they pop off. I have heard of potato method but never tried it. I use a little blood stop on the remaining soft spur and they are just fine.

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    2. I recently attended a back yard chicken flock meeting & the chicken Dr from U of A was the speaker & he also spoke of using the potato he said the heat causes the spur to shrink & detatch from the quick & reduces bleeding he said it was safer than clippers because you could cut to far & hit the quick . I tried it & it's works.

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    3. The pliers twisting method is the one we've always used. There seems to be a small nub below the quick that is left behind when you use the twisting method. It bleeds a little, but we just clean it up and put some BluKote on it and the rooster is good to go back to work! If it's an aggressive rooster, he goes in the freezer the first chance we get. We have 4 kids and have had roosters flog them and end up getting too close to their eyes. And, I'm sorry, but you can't train a rooster not to attack you.

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  4. I had an Ameraucana rooster given to me. It only took that day to figure out why he was free. This guy was the meanest rooster I ever seen. I wore my tall barn boots and started booting him back until he backed down...the first day, I thought my leg was going to fall off...he was relentless...each day he got a little better but would stock newby's at my barn and hunt them down and terrorize them. I normally gave them a broom to help train him...it slowly worked and he got better and better as time went on...One day...My BF was working in our machinery shed...That rooster got him from behind and dug his spurs in...I did not know you could remove them at the time...My BF had a steel pipe in his hand at the time and sent that bird a sailing...He thought he killed him but that bird got back up and walked it off....He never attacked again..Not how I would have wanted him to learn but it was a reaction, not a plan and it did change him...He came up missing...we found him and my other best rooster in a water tub out back, both must have put up a good fight, flew up in the air and landed in the tub...strange as it sounds, he had only shown aggression to people, not really the other rooster until that day...He must have thought if he could not bully us anymore, my good rooster was his next victim. Glad he is gone!!! But I miss Big RED

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    1. I had a very aggressive cookoo maran roo......he would come behind me and hurl himself at me, stalk the mailman and visitors, and was always unpredictable.
      Then I read that a SQUIRT BOTTLE was the answer...the squirt evidently feels like a peck to a chicken and they respect that. Sure enough, it worked like a charm immediately. After not carrying the bottle for a time, though, I was again attacked out of the blue by Mr.. And he had learned even to eat from my hand!!! Didn't know about not biting the hand that feeds you, I guess...
      Since I couldn't supply everyone who walked onto my property with a squirt bottle, and especially children would be vulnerable, I did find him a new home where not many people came and went who wouldn't know how to deal with him. (battling with him in many ways never worked). I hated to part with him in a way, for he did an excellent job of protecting his hens, but life is much easier with new peaceful roos here.

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  5. Morning - I don't have a mean Rooster, Doddle Doo just has some spurs and my hens were showing it, not nice. I use the dog clippers, they work great, bring it down to a blunt end. Good luck - be careful and it is always nicer to have someone else to hold him.

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  6. I'm with your old farmer friend...we don't deal with aggressive roosters. They are not just a liability to you, but guests to your farm. Children love to go out and feed our chickens and I can't have an aggressive bird out there. I have had some aggressive birds in the past and trying swatting them, catching them and holding them, etc. It didn't work out; only made them angrier. I took them out of the equation, not only for my own safety, but also because I don't want that aggressive trait in the chicks that I raise. After 4 years of breeding, I can only say that this last batch of my chicks have been the most docile and loving birds I've ever hatched. I believe it is because the male I chose for breeding is docile and likes people. I work with all of my cockerels when they are young to get them used to handling and that does seem to work well. I find that they have the most personality, so I'd likely never be without one. When I was new to all of this I had 2 EE cockerels that I loved. The one I ended up keeping started attacking my kids. Out he went. Never regretted that decision!

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    1. We have a banty rooster, beautiful red feathers but nasty disposition. Rather than fight with the bird I simply enter the pen with a milk crate and gently put it over the rooster. He looks humiliated but it keeps him safe and me too. I do my job in the pen and on my way out pick up the milk crate and set it outside the pen. I believe I can almost hear the hens snickering at his embarasement.

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  7. Melina is right....it is fairly easy to merely twist the spur off and it doesn't seem to cause any discomfort to the roo at all. If you are squeamish, go find a farmer with chickens ( usually the ones in overalls and caps are good at this ---hahahah) and ask them to do it for you. give them a pie or cup o joe in exchange.

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  8. This is a timely post. I have several rooster and only 3 out of the many I have show aggressive behavior. Two of them only show aggressive behavior when they are enclosed with their selected hens. Last night while I was minding my own business and feeding other birds, I had this flutter around my leg and when I looked down, there was Bucky. I'm not sure where he came from, he is a splash looking cochin with the funniest little comb, I don't know if I got him from a hatchery or if he is one of mine, any way, there he was trying to attack me. He is the only one that does this. Unfortunately, I have found that once they are aggressive, they are always aggressive. I can pick him up and he is fine, because he is afraid but let him loose and no one is his friend. An aggressive rooster is relentless in his attempts to get you to go away. They don't care if you are trying to feed and water them, they just keep defending their territory.

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  9. I had an aggressive rooster, who we had named Cogburn. To me he was my much loved, gentle pet- but other people were merely targets.

    He had reasons for his behavior- my one roommate had thought it was funny to spar with him, with a stick or a broom- until he discovered neither he nor anyone else could go into the yard without being attacked. (I had told him not to.)

    Except me- and the REASON I had no problem with him, was because every time he had tried to challenge me, I grabbed him by the feet, and gave him a cussing while he was upside down, until he passed out, at which point I'd lat him down until he came to. It didn't take more that a few "discussions" before he decided that I was alpha, and he needed to behave.

    Forever after, he was my beloved pet, getting his feelings hurt if I didn't stop to pet him on my way in or out of the yard.

    He was very good and gentle with the hens, and very protective of them and the babies, and even adopted a kitten, whom I still have.

    I miss him.

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  10. We had a Polish rooster that would spur you anytime you got close to him. What's more he would peck at the same time so you would have a spur mark on each side of your leg and a peck mark in between. We thought maybe because he couldn't see around his feather crest, he attacked not knowing what was near him.

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  11. aggressive behavior is just part of pecking order if you are not top of order you get attacked. I have caught and held aggressive rosters on the ground pushing their head to the ground till they submitted and where still. Can take some time and they still may be aggressive toward others.

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  12. I had two roosters over the last several years that got nasty. The first one liked everyone but me (he was a house rooser--and I was the one that put him to bed!) and the second one was hand raised and in his first spring, he increasing got agressive to the point of looking me up and attacking without warning. He went down the road to another home with no hens. He is fine there. I won't have a misbehaving animal on my little farm patch! No fun there! I have also just trimmed their spurs and they were fine with the dog nail trimmers.

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  13. Dear Carrie:I don't have chickens but once had a pet rooster. He was a retired fighting cock, who was poorly treated by his owners next door, so escaped and flew over to my nicer, more vegetative yard. I found him when I returned from an absence. He immediately bonded to me; when i sat on the bench in the patio, he sat right next to me, touching, like a little kid. When I gardened, he'd come over and "help" . In the morning when I came outside he was nervous until I talked chicken talk to him, then he talked back and was friendly. Needless to say, he still had spurs, but no comb. There is something those guys who raise fighting cocks must know about getting their roosters to bond with them. Not to support anything else about fighting but we should find out. And everyone can talk chicken talk:"pook pook pook". thanks, Jeffrey

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  14. Folks, don't keep aggressive cocks - and never let them breed. Aggression is at least a partly heritable trait, and a large part of domestication involved bashing aggressive males over the head and eating them for dinner; bulls, stallions, jacks, cocks, ganders, drakes, rams, billies were all historically given this treatment.

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  15. Last summer I raised a set of chicks that were given to me from school science projects. I had 8 chicks and 2 were cockerels--one red and the other white. Once they became old enough to mate they would fight so much that it became obvious that I would have to cull one of them eventually. Upon observing, I noticed that the white one would always try to interrupt if the red one was attempting to mate. We had some older hens in the mix, and then on two consecutive days I found a dead older hen in the coop when I let them out in the morning. I knew immediately that I had to do something about this situation ASAP before I lost all my laying hens. That same day I took him to a live poultry dealer near me who does a lickety-split job--5 minutes and you have a gutted and de-feathered bird. I couldn't bear eating him so I gave the meat to a neighbor who was eager to reminisce over that free range flavor of her southern rearing. So apparently I made the right decision, because the red rooster is a fairly docile guy. He takes good care of his ladies--they eat a lot better with a rooster around.

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  16. All the roos we've had have attacked my now 6 year old DS... to the point where he's even afraid of our new 5 month old roo...The last roo started out really docile and friendly...I could pick him up anytime I wanted, but then came Spring and he started attacking my son when he'd pick up a hen...Then he started attacking me, then he drew blood from my husband...I wasn't sure how long I would put up with it, but the clincher was that our ladies started loosing their feathers...when one became bare backed (11 hens, 1 rooster), I knew it was time...my DH and DS couldn't have him for dinner, so we gave him to a friend who had the most delicious soup for a week...We haven't ever had a dancing roo, only a rapist rooster. The hens were so psyched when he was gone!

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  17. I had a Polish rooster who was also mean. He was fine his first year, but got meaner as he aged. When he was two he started attacking me when I came in the yard and he would chase any of the other animals as well. One day he decided to leave the yard to attack some Canadian geese. While he was out he also decided to attack my dog. That was his last attack as the dog won. I tossed him in the weeds on a large ant hill and found out why he had become so aggressive. When the ants had cleaned him off there were a few feathers from his tophat which had grown through his skull and the feather shafts penetrated all the way to his brain. I have no doubt that this was the cause of his aggression.

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  18. I have a bantam Dutch named Limp Noodle (he passes out when you pick him up, for some reason), and he's gorgeous. This spring, he was 9 months old and the hormones hit him hard. He was pretty sure he was all that and a bag of feed. He had two goes at me, one when I was cleaning the coop and one when I was trying to get an egg out from under a bush. Both times, I was in a funny position and by the time I figured out what was going on, he was done and had run away. The third time, I was giving my peeps a treat and had a metal dog bowl in my hand. He startled me and I whacked him hard three times with the bowl before he got away. I thought for sure I'd killed him, but he stood across the yard thinking about it for a second, then decided he'd rather pretend nothing happened and come eat a treat with the girls. I had a chicken sitter over the summer and he gave her hell until she hit him with a spoon. That seemed to solve the problem. I've had several gatherings in my yard with the peeps loose. Each time, when the first person walks in, I say, "Noodle, do the right thing or you're stew," and Noodle walks into the far corner of the yard as if he's got no idea what I'm talking about. He's brave, funny, stunning, and loves his girls, so he'll always have a home with me as long as he keeps doing the right thing. I have to trim his spurs this fall, though, and I'm really not looking forward to that!

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  19. If you do a Google Search on spur removal, there is a video showing how it's done. Me and a friend did my huge Cucoo Maran and he didn't even flinch. His spurs were so long that they started curving upward.

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  20. When my black Silkie roo started showing some aggression, I took a bowl of water outside with me and when he went after my feet I dumped the bowl of water over his head. He was shocked! I did it again when he began to chase one of the hens. No more problems, at least so far.

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  21. The reason I don't have any roosters in my coops! As a child my folks had a nasty red roo who chased me relentlessly while the adults in the family thought it was funny. A neighbor did the chores one year and low and behold, the nasty red rooster was missing when we got back. I was happy

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  22. In our 4H program and with our own flock, to stop aggressive behavior towards humans; hold the rooster like a baby with one hand holding the legs together, so you won't get hurt, and "rock the rooster" like you would a human baby. If you do this in front of all the other chickens they cut out the bad behavior. I have had to "rock the rooster" maybe 20 minutes. But it beats frying them or beating them with a broom. At the shows the judges were impressed how every rooster could be handled and a 10 year old stopped her rooster's aggression in a five minute rocking session.

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    Replies
    1. teresaratcliffe50@gmail.comNovember 25, 2013 at 9:42 AM

      SAY WHAT? How tried and true is this?

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