Beak-Trimming Discussed at WPSA Welfare Meeting

The need to carry out beak-trimming of Muscovy ducks was investigated and reported by a French group at the European Symposium on Poultry Welfare in Italy last year, and two posters were presented relating to beak-trimming pullets destined for the laying flock. Editor, Jackie Linden, summarises these papers for ThePoultrySite.
calendar icon 24 March 2010
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Infra-Red Beak Trimming of Muscovy Ducks Shows Promise

O. Rochard (Grimaud, Roussay) and co-authors at the French institutes ITAVI and INRA presented a paper comparing manual and infra-red beak trimming treatments of Muscovy ducks and the consequences on welfare.

Because beak trimming has been shown to be the potential source of stress and pain, they explained that the practice is banned in Pekin ducks and only tolerated in limited circumstances in Muscovy ducks. On the other hand, they pointed out that feather peaking and cannibalism are of major concern in Muscovy ducks, and beak trimming prevents the expression of these behaviours, which lead to injuries and mortality.

In practice, beak trimming is systematically practiced between 14 and 21 days of age for this species, they said. Although some specific preliminary data obtained in ducks contradict those from chickens and turkeys, it is normally recommended to practice beak trimming before 10 days of age.

Rochard explained that the objectives of their two trials were to test beak infra-red treatment after hatching with manual beak trimming carried out at different ages.

The first trial, conducted in an experimental research unit, consisted in four different conditions: no beak treatment (control), manual beak trimming with scissors or infra-red treatment of the beak at the time of hatching and manual beak trimming with scissors at 21 days of age.

The second trial, conducted on male ducks under field conditions, consisted in two different treatments with infra-red treatment of the beak at the time of hatching or manual beak trimming with scissors at 15 days of age.

The researchers found that the practice of beak-trimming was necessary later in the rearing period in both the control group (BT at 46 days of age) and the group of ducks submitted to manual beak-trimming at one day of age (BT at 51 days of age). Infra-red beak trimming on day 1 of age did prevent the expression of aggressive behaviours leading to feather pecking and cannibalism without compromising the expression of the duck's genetic potential for growth.

Rochard and co-authors concluded that infra-red beak trimming ducklings at day-old offered a technical alternative although they felt that the welfare implications of the practice require further investigation.

Comparison of Hot Blade and Infra-Red to Beak-Trim Laying Hens

"The IR method needs further development to reduce the incidence of neuromas"

The effect of hot blade (HB) and infra-red (IR) beak trimming methods on beak condition and production in hens was evaluated and presented as a poster by Phil Glatz of the Pig and Poultry Production Institute at Roseworthy in South Australia.

Dr Glatz explained that IR trimming is undertaken by industry at day-old, while HB trimming is done at 10 days. In the trial he reported, 50 Hy-Line Brown chicks were treated at hatch using an IR machine, which directs heat onto the inner tissue of the beak. After a few weeks, the tip of the upper and lower beak dies and the beak becomes shorter with blunt tips. Another 50 chicks were HB trimmed at 10 days with one half of upper beak and one third of lower beak removed using a Lyon machine.

Pullets from both treatments (ten replicates of five birds per treatment) were housed in rearing cages until 18 weeks and in layer cages (545 square centimetres per bird) until 66 weeks.

Beak length, beak step, beak condition and production were measured. Beak condition was measured qualitatively using a 1-3 grading system using beak pictures as a guide. Data were analysed with ANOVA using Systat software.

Upper beak samples were obtained from five birds for each of the IR and HB treatments at 32, 144 and 420 days of age. The presence of neuromas (tumours of nerve tissue) was assessed by fixing and decalcifying the beaks, embedding in wax and making consecutive seven micrometre sagittal sections of the entire beak. Sections were stained with haematoxylin and eosin.

Beak condition (a measure of its appearance and shape) was significantly better (P<0.05) for IR-treated birds in the rearing period, said Dr Glatz but by mid-lay, it was similar for both treatments. The upper beak length of IR trimmed birds was consistently (P<0.05) longer (4mm) than HB trimmed birds throughout the laying period. The amount of beak exposure, lamp power and duration resulted in IR beaks, which were considerably longer than the HB beaks.

No difference in egg production was observed throughout the production period between the beak-trimming treatments, which is consistent with previous findings but body weight of IR birds was higher (P<0.05) and egg weights lower (P<0.05).

The histopathology of beaks showed that traumatic neuromas persisted to adulthood with both IR and HB trimming, said Dr Glatz, and he added that the IR method needs further development to reduce the incidence of neuromas, perhaps by reducing IR lamp power and beak exposure time. According to the Australian Code of Practice, he said, HB trimming should be done at day-old to allow neuromas to resolve and reduce chronic pain.

Handbook Published to Advise on Beak Trimming

In a related poster, Dr Glatz explained that he co-wrote a handbook on beak-trimming in reposnse to the many enquiries on beak from the industry that had been received by the Pig and Poultry Production Institute from around Australia and worldwide.

It was felt that there was a need to consolidate all the information available in the literature into an easy-to-read handbook for producers as an educational resource to service these enquiries.

To obtain information for the handbook, Dr Glatz explained that a questionnaire was developed and sent to industry specialists with knowledge or experience with beak trimming or alternatives to trimming. The survey of experienced beak-trimmers, egg producers and veterinary and industry consultants in Australia was undertaken to obtain practical knowledge on beak trimming and possible alternatives to trimming in Australia.

The survey requested industry people to comment on the advantages and disadvantages of beak-trimming, bird welfare considerations, current methods, costs of trimming and methods to minimise use of trimming.

The information provided by industry was used to write a chapter in the handbook that reflected the current state of industry knowledge about beak trimming.

The handbook was produced to improve knowledge on why, when and how birds are trimmed, responses of birds to trimming, management of beak-trimmed birds and alternative strategies to trimming. The target audience is farm managers.

The Beak Trimming Handbook for Egg Producers: Best Practice for Minimising Cannibalism in Poultry was funded by the Australian Poultry Co-operative Research Centre and published by CSIRO Publishing in 2006. (For more information on the beak trimming handbook, click here.)

Dr Glatz highlighted that the beak trimming handbook project is a resource for farm managers in the egg industry to support their commitment to maintaining high standards of beak trimming as well as their search for methods that do not require beak trimming. The handbook is aimed to enable farm managers to manage beak-trimmed birds with greater confidence, improve standards of beak trimming and welfare of birds.


Glatz P.C. 2009a. Effect of hot blade and infrared beak trimming on beak condition, production and mortality of laying hens. Proceedings of 8th Poultry Welfare Symposium, Cervia, Italy, 18-22 May 2009, p24.

Glatz P.C. 2009b. Beak trimming handbook. Proceedings of 8th Poultry Welfare Symposium, Cervia, Italy, 18-22 May 2009, p25.

Rochard O., S. Lubac, A. Aliner, H. Morini, L. Mirabito and D. Guémené. 2009. Beak trimming or infra-red beak treatment in Muscovy ducks and its consequences on welfare. Proceedings of 8th Poultry Welfare Symposium, Cervia, Italy, 18-22 May 2009, p129.

Further Reading

- You can see other papers presented at the 8th European Symposium on Poultry Welfare by clicking here.

March 2010
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