I’m not sure if it’s the countless scratches and bruises I wear from working outdoors or it’s the ferocity of that curved beak tearing at the treats I hold in my hand, but either way, I have to say that it’s not uncommon for people to be a little nervous when I offer to let them feed our birds.
Being unfamiliar with chickens, they worry (if only a little) that the chicken will hurt them. Yes, people are considerably larger than birds, but those little feathered fiends are incredibly quick and can flap up at eye level in a heartbeat.
So should you worry? Can a single chicken hurt you? Yes! Chickens are physically capable of hurting you, via their claws and their beak. Sometimes these attacks cause very little physical damage and then sometimes the results are severe. For example, a rooster would have no problem putting its spur through your eye – causing permanent blindness.
Generally though, chicken attacks on people are a rarity – a good caretaker dealing with any aggressive behavior before it hurts someone. But chickens are animals and if the right trigger is there, the bird can act aggressively; much to the misfortune of any bystander.
Do Chickens Bite?
Ask anyone who has had to move a broody hen and they’ll tell to ‘watch out for that beak!’ She’s in full ‘wanna-be-a-mama’ mode and everything else is secondary – even if you are/were best friends.
Messing around in the nest of a broody hen is sure to get you pecked at. And it can leave a mark if they get a hold of you just right. However, generally speaking, when a chicken bites you, it feels more like a good pinch than say a dog bite that tears.
The intensity of the ‘pinch’ will vary from bird to bird and from breed to breed. My girls get me all the time when I’m hand feeding them. This usually happens because they’re trying to snag the treat before someone else steals it. And while the sensation surprises you, I hesitate to call it painful.
This isn’t to say that a chicken’s bite can’t hurt you. I just need to be fair and say that I, personally, have never been significantly injured by a chicken bite. One thing to note, however, is that I work outdoors a lot so my hands are pretty callous. Also, the type of birds we raise are not overly aggressive breeds.
Do Chickens Have Teeth?
Do a search on the internet for images of chickens with teeth and you are sure to be entertained. Some images are ridiculous and then some of them pretty believable.
Aside from the egg-tooth a chick will use to break through the egg shell, chickens do not have teeth. And I for one am glad. Chickens can peck with amazing speed. It’s easy for me to visualize the damage they could do if they did have teeth.
Biologically speaking however, it would be a rough deal for chickens if they did have teeth. Their beaks are made of Keratin, the same stuff our fingernails are made of, and as such they grow continuously. If teeth were somehow attached to the beak, the teeth would eventually be pushed out. This means if chickens were to maintain teeth, they would have to grow them over and over again. As it stands, hens are already using a phenomenal amount of calcium in the production of egg shells, so reproducing teeth would be problematic.
How Do Chickens Eat Without Teeth?
Birds as a whole, are considerably different when it comes to food consumption. We, as mammals, grab our food, take a nice bite, chew it for a while – savoring the taste as the food breaks down, and then we swallow it for our stomachs to retrieve nutrients.
Birds, however, do no biting or chewing. This means that everything has to be bite sized before it goes down the throat.
For food that is too big to be swallowed, a chicken will hold it in its beak and smash the desired meal against something – this replaces our biting process. Once the object is small enough to be swallowed, it makes its way down to a gizzard. There in the gizzard, the food is essentially ‘chewed’ and broken down.
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The lack of chewing, on the part of the fowl species, is incredibly helpful with regards to nature and how plants spread.
For example, imagine a bird landing on a berry bush. This bird spies something tasty and so, down the meal goes; completely whole and in one gulp. The gizzard works on the berry and with the help of ‘roughage’ (generally in the form of small pebbles ingested by the bird), the meat of the berry is broken down leaving only the seed.
This seed is then carried with the bird as it goes about its day, only to be ‘planted’ somewhere at random. And if this ingenious process isn’t enough to impress you, ask yourself, ‘what else gets passed with the seed?’ (Fertilizer)
Nature is truly impressive!
Should I Trim My Chicken’s Beak?
Knowing that a chicken’s beak never stops growing, an obvious question would be, ‘what if it grows too long?’ And in truth, this can be an issue.
Generally though, for chickens that have adequate access to abrasive surfaces – such as found in the outdoors – no beak trimming is required.
Most beak trimming for chickens happens in industrial situations where adequate space is not available. Cramped and crowded, the chickens will peck at eat other. And if one of the birds happens to get a bloody ‘spot’ from a pecking injury, the other chickens will notice it and peck at it with fervor. This can lead to the death of the injured chicken. Consequently, caretakers in these types of situations, will lightly grind the tip of the bird’s beak off – blunting it in order to negate injury.
Will A Chicken Scratch Me?
One of the most frustrating things when it comes to backyard farmers, is having to move an animal that is completely freaked out. They don’t understand that you are trying to help them. They only know that they don’t like the current situation and you are there, unintentionally adding to adding to their fear.
Chickens are no exceptions to this. My flock is always finding new ways to get themselves into trouble. And when they do, it’s up to me go to out and catch them – which for the record can be remarkably challenging as they are QUICK! Inevitably, a bird will claw me pretty good as it attempts to evade what it sees as a lumbering, two-legged predator.
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This is why we spend so much time training our flock to come for treats. If a wayward bird is found quickly and hasn’t stepped into ‘panic mode’, then the promise of treats will bring the bird to us. This is much easier than having to try and corner/catch an animal that can run faster than you – not to mention fly!
Can You Get Sick From Chicken Scratches?
Claw marks on the back of my hands and forearms are pretty common; especially when dealing with a new member of the flock. They haven’t learned all of the ‘don’t push yourself through here’ or ‘don’t fly over the fence and get separated’ lessons. Chickens are curious creatures and they have an innate need to test pretty much everything. This gets them into trouble…which gets them panicking…which gets me scratched!
For this reason, we always keep a bottle of anti-bacterial soap by the door. It may sting a little bit on a good scratch, but it is a necessary precaution against infection. A chicken’s foot will come into contact with poo; sometimes their own poo and sometimes going as far as to claw apart cow poo in search of something to eat. If/when a chicken scratches you, they are bringing this poo in direct contact with your blood, putting you at risk.
With the right breed of bird and proactive hygienic practices, your risk of getting sick is very low. But be very aware of headaches, nausea or fever after being scratched by a chicken.
Should I Trim My Chicken’s Claws?
Like our fingernails, a chicken’s claw will continue to grow. This growth, if left unchecked, can cause the animal injury as the claw arches and extends back into the foot.
A chickens natural instinct, however, is to scratch and dig at the ground. (For an in depth look at this behavior read: Why Do Chickens Dig Holes? ) If given access to the outdoors, you should not need to trim an active chicken’s claws. Their innate drive to scratch at the ground will keep their growing claws trimmed.
There are exceptions, though, where normal active behavior is suspended. For example, a broody hen will sit on a nest without movement for weeks. If the eggs are fertilized and she hatches a clutch, then she will be very active – mothering the chicks – in very short order. This means, her growing claws will be getting the necessary abrasive wear that they need.
If, however, the eggs are NOT fertilized and she has no chance of hatching a clutch, then the longer she is inactive the more she is at risk for an ingrown toenail.
While a hen’s four normal toes (three in the front and one in the back) see constant contact with the ground, a rooster has a fifth appendage called the spur. Theses spurs are located on the back of their legs, generally closer to the ankle, but definitely up off the ground.
Because of the spurs location, it doesn’t get the abrasive contact with the ground as the other four toes. Consequently, spurs can grow very long. But even with their length, they do not tend to be a health issue for the rooster. They absolutely can, however, be an issue for other animals and their human caretakers.
Roosters use their spurs as fighting tools against potential predators and other roosters. And these sharp appendages have enormous potential for damage.
Hopping up into the air, a rooster will kick out with its legs in a thrusting motion, where the spur punctures whatever it comes in contact with. This includes human skin. For this reason, I am adamant when it comes to toddlers and roosters. Toddlers should NEVER be around a rooster. Your rooster might be the sweetest thing in the world and have a perfect track record. But if the right variables are in place, a rooster will use the tools it has the way its instincts tell it to. And let me tell you, a rooster will have no problem getting its spurs at face level for your toddler.
Do Hens Have Spurs?
Like a lot of things in the animal kingdom, male and female do occasionally break what you might imagine to be the ‘status quo’ and share traits. Female lions or lioness, for example, have been known to roar and grow manes just like their male counterparts.
Chickens are no exception. Hens do have the ability to grow spurs. The percentage of this happening varies from breed to breed and usually happens later in the hens life.
If you are planning on letting your hen hatch a clutch of eggs, it would probably be in the chicks best interest for the hen NOT to have spurs, as these sharp appendages could easily kill a chick.
Can You Permanently Remove Rooster Spurs?
Due to their potential for bodily harm, flock caretakers will often address this threat by filing or clipping the rooster’s spur. And while both of these methods are relatively easy (with practice) they are not permanent.
A permanent solution to the spur problem can only be achieved by removing the part of the leg bone that supports the growing claw. Some argue that this process is easier done while the birds are still chicks. Others argue that the procedure has less risk when the birds are older. Either way, I would recommend that you consult an experienced veterinarian as it would be easy to cause painful and permanent damaged to your chicken’s leg.
At What Age Does A Rooster Get Spurs?
The size and shape of a rooster’s spurs are dictated by their genetics. Some breeds have longer spurs and some have multiple spurs. Double and even triple spurs on each leg are not unheard of.
The age at which a rooster starts to develop their spurs is also dictated by genetics – meaning there is no ironclad time frame. You may be able to feel the spur as a bump quite early, while the bird is still relatively young. However, the spur should be fully functional by eight to nine months. This is well past a roosters age for mating.
Are Rooster Spurs Poisonous?
As mentioned above, chickens walking through poo is an established fact. Keeping this fact in mind, having a rooster puncture your leg for example, could definitely lead to an infection.
However an infection, while still requiring definite medical attention, is significantly different than being poisoned. Chicken spurs are not poisonous as they do not deliver any sort of toxin into their victim.
To understand this concept of toxin delivery, think of a snake and how it will inject poison into whatever its biting. A snake has a venom gland and a pathway to direct the venom into its target. A chicken spur is simply a bone with nail material growing over it.
That’s not to say that spurs can’t deliver venom. A good example of this in practice is demonstrated by the platypus. This enigma of an animal, with its duck bill and webbed feet, also has a spur just like the rooster. However, the spurs on the platypus are actually attached to a venom gland that injects toxin into a victim.
I, for one, am very glad rooster aren’t like the platypus!