How to Trim A Chicken’s Toenails

July 20, 2012

All toenails, beaks and feathers are made from a protein called keratin. When chickens are allowed to be out and about to scratch in the dirt and explore, they do a good job at keeping their nails and beaks nice and trim. However from time to time it is not unlikely that your chickens’ toenails and beak will require a little maintenance. For example, our Silkies frequently need their fifth toenail trimmed as it never touches the ground. Keeping the nails from overgrowing is very important for overall general foot health, the ability to walk and the ability to hold the foot in a normal position. Trimming your roosters’ spurs and toenails can also help to keep them from digging their nails into the backs of your hens. Cutting the toenails is relatively easy to do and takes only a matter of a few minutes per chicken.

When cutting toenails, the most important thing to be aware of is the quick. Like dogs, chickens have a quick running through each toenail. They even a quick in their beak. The quick offers blood supply to the nail. If you look at your own fingernails, your “quick” is the pink part that you do not want to cut into. When you cut your nails too short, it hurts. When you cut an animal’s nail too short (into the quick), not only does it hurt but it will also bleed quite a bit. Toenails should be trimmed in front of the quick. If the toenails are excessively long, trim a bit off and wait a couple of weeks for the quick to recede. Then you can gently trim a little more off until the nail length returns to normal. Be patient. This entire process can take up to a month.

In darker nails, the quick can be difficult to see just where it ends.  Here are some tips to help you visualize the quick:
~Look for the quick underneath the nail instead of on the top or the sides.
~Try using a flashlight and placing it up against the nail.
~Try shaving off smaller pieces of the nail gradually progressing up the nail.  Take a peek looking straight on at the end of the nail.  It should look like a semi-circle.  The top of the semi-circle should appear darker and the bottom should appear lighter.  Gradually clip the nail until the darker color from the top fills up over half the nail and the lighter color less than half.  Stop when you see this change.  You are close to the quick.

Supply List
Toenail Clipper (I use a large human one designated for the chickens)
Emery board/Nail File
Paper towel
Bath Towel
A second set of hands~until you get the hang of it

Step By Step Instructions

1. Grab a hold of a chicken.  Sometimes wrapping them in a bath towel helps to keep them calm. Examine each foot.  Look at each nail and determine which ones if any need to be trimmed.  Also inspect for any cuts, broken toes, bumble foot, and also scaly leg mites that might require attention.

2.  With your hand grasp and support the entire foot.  Select the nail to be trimmed.  Identify the location of the quick.  Trim the nail to almost the quick, leaving a space to prevent bleeding.  File the rough edges of the nail with an emery board.  Smoothing the edges prevents your chicken from cutting themselves when they scratch their eyes and bodies.

3.  If you happen to accidentally trim the quick, continue to hold the chicken.  Dip the toenail into the cornstarch coating the tip.  You may need to repeat this a few times.  The bleeding should stop within 5 minutes.  Gently wipe off any excess blood that may have dripped onto their feet or feathers to avoid the other chickens from pecking. Do not return the chicken to the coop or run until you can be sure that the bleeding has definitely stopped.

4.  Continue on to each other toenail repeating the process with each of your other chickens.

Take your time and be patient.  It may take you a few days to get through your entire flock.  Be sure to check on your flocks’ toenails every now and then.  I like to remember to look when I notice the seasons changing.  Longer toenails typically become an issue when the chickens are a couple of years old.

Photo Credits/Sketch:  Tilly’s Nest


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32 thoughts on “How to Trim A Chicken’s Toenails”

  1. I just trimmed the nails and spurs on one of our older roos a couple days ago. My husband had brought him into the den and had him laying upside down in his lap when I noticed how long they had gotten. While he was laying there getting his belly rubbed I just reached over and trimmed his nails with the dog nail trimmers and he never really seemed to notice that I was doing it. Goes to show what a good belly rub can do for ya.

  2. I learned something from your post every time I read them. Thanks so much for this one–I had no idea!! Rabbits have the same kind of situation with their nails as well. Who knew?!! Thanks for continuing to educate me about chickens!! 🙂

    • You are so very welcome. I am glad you found the post helpful. Very interesting to hear about the rabbits too. See I learned something from you. Thank you.

  3. I just received a Silkie pair and they had been kept inside for over a year and their nails have never been clipped…they are VERY long! And I'm new to chickens!? They do have trouble walking on the ground and as of a few days ago my rooster is now limping? There is no cut, and I've seen him put weight on it and I've seen him scratch his head with that foot so thinking he landed funny or could it just be the long nails?
    Going to see if I can clip them tonight…dog clippers or large human ones? Any suggestions? Your post was very helpful! Thank you

    • Poor babies! This is going to have to be a very slow process, and in your case I might recommend a veterinarian to help. The quick will be almost to the end. So you will trim a wee bit, then wait for it to recede (couple weeks) and repeat until they are the desirable length. I think either clippers would work. Wrapping them in a towel with the head covered helps to keep them calm. Clipping the quick can hurt. Be sure to have some cornstarch or a styptic pen at the ready. Good Luck and thank you for rescuing those Silkies.

    • It will probably be a while until you have to trim them. You might never have to trim them. Just inspect them as you would for a dog. You will know if they get too long and then you can intervene. You can also bring your chicken to the vet and they can do it there too. Thanks for the question.

  4. I didn't realize my 1-year-old rooster's nails needed trimming until he started hopping on one foot. The nails on one foot were overlapping the other foot & he was acting very depressed. I've been trimming a little bit each time, and he is looking great again.

    • That is just wonderful news. So happy to hear his feet are feeling better. It does make a huge difference. Thanks for stopping in and letting me know.

  5. found blood on the perch…so I checked my 2 golden comets and one has a torn toenail.looks dirty so can't tell if toenail is completely gone.
    how should I clean the toe? peroxide and water??? after I clean it what else do I need to do?
    They will be one year this spring.
    Also did not knnow I was to trim the toenails. Am I suppose to be giving them any kind of medication, through out the year?
    Thank you so much.

    • Poor thing. It sounds like the quick was damaged. The main thing is to keep it from bleeding and others from pecking it. If you feel the need to clean it, normal saline works best. If you believe it appears infected you might want to visit an avian vet.

    • Great tip. Usually it’s me and the chickens so adding a camera into the mix can be a challenge. When the chicken has difficulty walking, roosting or you notice that they seem longer than about a 1/2 an inch (on a full grown adult bird) , that is usually when they can use some attention. Chickens with 5th toes you will see those nails begin to form a curl. Always be sure to clip below the quick as mentioned in the article.

  6. I have a hen that is about 6 years of age. Her nails have curled, should I do a little at a time and if so, how much is a little?

    • Hello! Yes, you can just do a little at a time, like a quarter of an inch and then wait a couple of weeks or so and then trim a little more. If the nail is light in color, you should be able to see where the quick is located and then you can safely trim within a half an inch of that. If then nail is dark in color, then I would go very slowly one little bit at a time. As the nail is trimmed, the quick will slowly shrink back toward the base of the nail. I hope this helps.

  7. Thank you so much for this article! My oldest chicken’s nails had grown so long that she had become really sedentary. Since clipping her nails she is like a “spring chicken” again :). Well, not quite….but it really has changed her life for the better. Before she struggled just to stand up . Now she is much more mobile, hardly limps at all, her attitude and her tail have perked right up. It’s a joy to witness 🙂


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Sharing an inspired life from the New England seaside. Chickens, Bees, Gardens, Art and Yummy Goodness.