Practice of Debeaking, Wing Banding and Leg Banding in Layer Chickens

Ram Singh, Shweta, Jannat Saini, Somesh R Gaikwad, Prajakta Kailas Sangle and Ojal Singh

Animal Nutrition Division

ICAR- National Dairy Research Institute

Karnal- 132001 (Haryana) India

Animal welfare considerations are becoming increasingly important for the keeping and farming of animals, both in India and internationally. Practices which may have once been deemed acceptable are now being reassessed in light of new knowledge and changing attitudes. The minimum standards outlined in this code are intended to help people involved in the care and management of poultry to adopt standards of husbandry that are acceptable. This code of practice is intended as a guide for people responsible for the welfare and husbandry of domestic poultry. It recognizes that the basic requirement for welfare of poultry is a husbandry system appropriate to their physiological and behavioral needs.

The basic needs of poultry are:

  • freedom to move, stand, turn around, stretch, sit and lie down
  • readily accessible food and water to maintain health and vigour;
  • accommodation which provides protection from the weather and which neither harms nor causes distress;
  • prevention of disease, injury and vice, and their rapid treatment should they occur
  • visual contact with other members of the species.

It is noted that there are particular behaviors such as perching, the ability to fully stretch and to lay eggs in a nest that are not currently possible in certain (caged) poultry housing systems. It is further noted that the ability to manage disease is influenced by the housing system. These issues will remain the subject of debate and review. The code emphasizes that, whatever the form of husbandry, managers, employees and all others responsible for the day-to-day needs of domestic poultry have a responsibility to care for poultry under their control. The importance of good stockmanship in animal welfare cannot be over-emphasized. Persons responsible for the care of poultry should be well trained, experienced and dedicated. Staff should be encouraged to undertake appropriate training in poultry management and husbandry. Knowledge of the normal appearance and behaviour of their birds is essential for them to be treated effectively and efficiently and with consideration. Assistance with the establishment of poultry farms and advice on the management of poultry can be obtained from qualified advisers with experience in private or government employment. Veterinary advice should also be sought when poultry are in ill-health.

Beak Trimming: The removal of the top and bottom part of the beak in a bird is called beak trimming. It is also called “debeaking”, but this term is inaccurate as only part of the beak is removed. It is an animal husbandry practice commonly carried out in the poultry industry. Prevent the occurrence of pecking; farm managers have their flocks beak-trimmed to blunt the beaks enough. If a bird’s beak grows back enough to cause pecking damage then re-trimming may also be carried out Birds are often re-trimmed at 9-13 weeks of age to avoid this happening. If a pecking outbreak occurs, then some non-trimmed adult birds may need trimming.

Why beak trimming is necessary?: Beak trimming is performed early in the life of commercial hens to decrease injuries caused by cannibalism, bullying and feather and vent pecking. Birds naturally peck at the environment and each other to investigate and work out where they fit into the flock i.e., pecking order. This behaviour can become a problem in commercial situations and many deaths have been recorded among untrimmed hens. Feather pecking and cannibalism affects all birds in all production systems. When laying birds are kept systems in that give the opportunity for aggressive birds to contact many other birds, cannibalism and feather pecking can spread rapidly through the flock and result in injuries and mortality. Mortality of up to 25–30% of the flock can occur and cause huge mortality and morbidity problems as well as financial losses to the farmer. When beak trimming will be done? Beak trimming is performed at various ages depending on the preference of the farm manager. The most common ages for birds to be beak-trimmed are:

  • Day-old
  • 5–10 days old
  • 4–6 weeks
  • 8–12 weeks
  • Touch up trim of adult birds

How is beak trimming done?:It is most commonly done with a hot blade, generally using a hot blade beak trimming machine with an electrically heated blade. An infrared beak trimming method is also in use, particularly for beak trimming of day-olds in the hatchery. It uses a non-contact, high intensity, infrared energy source to treat the beak tissue. Initially the beak surface remains intact but after a few weeks the sharp hook of the beak erodes. Experiments have also been conducted using lasers for beak trimming but lasers are not used for beak trimming on farms.

Alternatives to beak trimming: Some European countries, beak trimming have been banned and others are working towards banning the practice, following a European Union (EU) welfare directive on the issue. In some production schemes, i.e., ‘Freedom Food Eggs’ (UK), infrared beak treatment is permitted but not hot blade trimming. Research was being undertaken to identify practical, effective and affordable alternatives to beak trimming even before the EU directive was released. Selective breeding strategies are underway to produce strains that are not cannibalistic. A number of nutritional, management and environmental strategies are being promoted as an alternative to beak trimming. The alternatives have some potential to be effective in various management situations, but there is no guarantee that cannibalism and feather pecking will be prevented.

If the birds are not beak trimmed, incidences of mortality and morbidity will increased due to cannibalism. Cannibalism associated with welfare problems can be devastating. Beak trimming has advantages when performed correctly to industry standards.Beak trimming reduces the following:

  • Feather pecking • Mortality
  • Vent pecking and prolapse
  • Bullying
  • Stress on the bird

But if the beak trimming is not done correctly, birds can suffer from:

Reduced ability to eat and drink

Stress (short and long term)

Reduced social status.

There are production techniques which may reduce the need for beak trimming, although none of these can guarantee against an outbreak of damaging pecking and cannibalism.

These techniques are as follows:

  • Light control
  • Nutritional amendments
  • Environmental enrichment
  • Devices to restrict beak use
  • Devices to restrict vision
  • Anti-pick compounds
  • Beak abrasives

Identification methods of animals: Proper animal identification has always been essential for record keeping and for efficient execution of normal management practices. In recent times, the threat of bioterrorism and the potential for rapid spread of diseases affecting livestock and human populations has led to the development of the National Animal Identification System (NAIS). The NAIS is a national program intended to identify specific animals in the country and record their movement over their lifespan. This will help to ensure rapid disease containment and maximum protection of country’s animals. Only a few options exist for identification of poultry. Whatever method is chosen, it should be visible, easy to apply, unalterable, inexpensive and not cause harm or discomfort to the animal.

Possible methods of poultry identification include:

Toe punching, 

Wing banding and 

Leg banding.

Toe punching:

Advantages: It is the simplest of the permanent identification methods.

Disadvantages: The older the chick, the more likelihood for bleeding and other chicks to pick at the toes. Also, only 15 ID patterns are possible, which limits the amount of information that can be transmitted.

Equipment Necessary: Toe Punch

Procedure:Toe punching should be done on chicks between hatching and 4-wks of age. Hold the chick with one hand, using your thumb and index finger to steady the leg and shank and expose the web between the toes for punching.

With your free hand, apply the toe punch to the web between the toes. Center it in the web. Make a clean-cut hole.

Remove the punched-out skin from the hole.

Using the webs on each foot, in all possible combinations, 15 identification patterns are possible.

As the bird grows in size, the hole also grows and can be easily seen.

Wing banding of chicks:

Advantages: Lightweight and can be stamped with any combination of letters or numbers and/or color coded, which enables a relatively large amount of information to be transmitted. The letters and/or numbers are pre-stamped by the manufacturer. Bands should be attached to chicks between hatching and 4-wks of age.

Disadvantage: Some chicks may catch their band on a pen, cage, or by one of their toes, and may be unable to free themselves. The chick may eventually free itself by tearing the band through its wing web. Also, bands that are improperly inserted in the wing web may dislodge and be lost.

Equipment Necessary: Wing Bands, Pliers


  • Pick up the chick with your left hand, with its head up and pointed toward your fingertips. Position its body in the palm of your hand, with its head up between your middle and ring fingers. Use you ring and little fingers to hold the body, with your little finger between its legs. Place your middle and index fingers over the chick’s back and over the top of its wing so that the web is under your fingertips. Use your thumb and index fingers to grasp and spread the wing to expose the web.
  • Grasp the band with the rivet and bent end between the thumb and index finger of your free hand, with the pointed end free and facing up and away from the thumb, ready for insertion in the web.
  • With the pointed end, come up through the web from the underside, aiming the point between your index and middle fingers, which lie on top of the web.
  • Bring together the open ends of the bands so that the rivet goes into the hole in the pointed end. The thumb and index finger of the hand holding the chick can be used to press and hold the open ends together until the rivet is set.
  • Use the hand that inserted the band to pick up the banding pliers and flatten the head of the rivet so that it cannot slip out of the hole.
  • To help in finding the bands on the birds later on, band all chicks on the same wing.

Procedure of adults (wing-badges):

  • One person holds the bird by its legs in one hand, with the palm of the other hand under its keel. Hold the bird out in front with its body upright and facing a badger at the height convenient for him/her to work on the wing.
  • The badger slips the clasp of the badge over the wing at the shoulder so that it can be read from the side. • Lock the ends of the clasp together.
  • Adjust the feathers of the wing so that they fit under the badge and clasp in such a manner that the numbers are not hidden. Leg banding

Advantages: Lightweight and can be stamped with any combination of letters or numbers and/or color coded. The letters and/or numbers are pre-stamped by the manufacturer. Less likely to be lost than wing bands.Easily slipped around the shank.Fits loosely enough not to cut shank. If the correct size of band is used, the leg bands can be attached to birds of any size.

Disadvantages: The need for a two-person approach is recommended. The bands need to be replaced by larger ones as the birds grow.

Equipment Necessary: Leg Bands (there are various types), Leg Rings Pliers


  • Sit with the bird in your lap facing you, its legs stretched to its rear and its hock joints positioned above one knee.
  • Cross one of its legs over the other, bringing it down between your knees. Hold the shank and foot of this leg with your knees.
  • The other leg remains stretched out across your knee and is held in place by the crossed-over leg.
  • Slip the spiral band around the shank as you would slip a key onto a spiral key ring.
  • With an aluminum band, wrap it around the shank and put the rivet of the one end in the hole of the other end, then compress with banding pliers just enough to cause the rivet to mushroom and form a seal.

Conclusions: In commercially kept poultry, mutilations (like beak trimming, toe punching, wing banding, leg banding etc) are applied to prevent behaviour of individuals which may become harmful for group members. Mutilations discussed in this paper are: beak trimming, toe clipping and various ways for individual identification (in laying hens). Mutilations cause acute pain when applied and can in some situations cause chronic pain sensation, depending on the age and extent of the mutilation. Although mutilations are mostly done to prevent injuries to birds, opponents feel there should be alternative management strategies to safeguard the animals from injurious behaviour. However, for the current intensive as well as organic poultry husbandry systems these alternatives do not provide a satisfactory control of injuries and mortality. Animal welfare organization directive is in force only for beak trimming of laying hens. Government may already have or plan to impose more strict regulations and even ban mutilations. In general the situation in practice is in accordance with the legislation.