A rooster’s spurs are an essential part of their life in the wild.
They are used to fight predators and play a key role in keeping the flock safe.
These sharp and potentially dangerous protrusions were once valuable to protect hens, but how do they fit into backyard flocks? These days spurs are seen as somewhat of a problem, especially with more aggressive roosters.
In this article we explain what spurs are, common problems with them, and how to trim or remove them.
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Rooster Spurs 101
Rooster spurs are the topic of a lot of conversation, but what actually are they?
A spur is a spike-like bone that sticks out from the leg of a mature rooster.
The spur has two main parts, a keratin sheath, and inside that keratin structure, a bone attached to the leg bone. You have probably heard of keratin before, as it is the main protein in our hair and nails.
Roosters first get them at about three months old. At this point they are sturdy yet clippable. However, when roosters reach about 8-9 months old their spurs have fully grown and are hard.
Why Do Roosters Have Spurs?
Roosters’ spurs are an evolutionary adaptation.
They are used by roosters in the wild to fight off predators and other roosters, and they are sharp weapons. These spurs can easily cut or stab into a predator and defend the hens from danger.
Roosters use them while fighting by flying into the air, then turning around and poking them into opponents. This type of attack is crucial for chickens as they are a foraging species that spend most of their time outside looking for food, and are vulnerable to attack.
With roosters on the lookout for danger and able to protect their flock, the hens stay safe.
Spurs are just one of the weapons roosters have adapted over time to help them successfully do their job. A rooster that is tough and protective will keep his hens alive, and therefore will end up producing the next generation.
Even though this tactic can be unwanted and potentially dangerous to you, a rooster with sharp spurs and a tendency to fight will end up passing that adaptation to the next generation as well.
When Do Rooster Spurs Develop
They will start developing at about three months old.
At this time you will see the small buds at the base of the spur start to grow and stiffen. All chickens are actually born with something called a spur bud, or spur dot. This is a small dot about an inch up from the foot, and with roosters, it will grow into the spur. Once the spur has grown it is an easy way to tell a rooster from a hen.
It will take about 8-9 months to fully mature and develop into a bony structure. From here the spur will continue to grow like nails. Usually most spurs are worn down by the day to day activities of the rooster, but in special cases you may need to trim the spurs.
Keeping a rooster that has spurs can make sense for a lot of backyard flock keepers, but sometimes they can be problematic.
The most common problems with them are:
- Aggressive behavior
- Handling problems
- Injuring hens
- Health issues (overgrown or infected)
One of the most common health issues with spurs is that they grow too long and curve up back into their leg. This is painful for the rooster and can cause injury or lameness. Overgrown spurs can also cause issues with roosters getting caught in equipment and even hurting other members of the flock. In this case, trimming them is important for the wellbeing of the rooster.
Another big reason to trim or remove spurs is human safety. Roosters can be temperamental and aggressive around humans. This can cause a rooster to fly up and try to attack. Most of the time it is not be a serious problem, but when there are sharp points attached to the rooster’s foot it can be a scary experience.
It can be very dangerous to handle an aggressive rooster with spurs.
Besides your safety, spurs can also cause problems when the rooster is mating with the hens. If they are sharp and very long, they have the potential to cut the hen during mating. If a rooster is frequently having issues with cutting hens, their spurs should be removed or trimmed.
How to Remove Rooster Spurs
There are a few different ways to trim rooster spurs.
Some methods are permanent whereas others are temporary solutions.
However, the most important thing to consider is the wellbeing of the rooster. Once the rooster is mature, the spur is a bone protrusion that is covered by a keratin sheath. While trimming or removing this sheath will not hurt, cutting into the bone can be extremely painful.
Let’s start by looking at how to trim them.
The most simple way is to clip away at the keratin. Similar to your own nails, the sheath of the spur can be clipped away with a sharp tool. Make sure you have a fairly large clipper to avoid making this a lengthy and stressful process.
Once you have finished clipping you can file down any sharp edges.
If you don’t have a clipper you can grind down the keratin sheath using a file or a dremel.
Now, for the permanent solutions.
When roosters are young you can completely stop the development of spurs by cauterizing the spur bud. This will kill the cells that would have eventually become the spur. This may make sense if you want a rooster in your flock to breed with the hens, but do not want to deal with the potential injury to your hens.
The last option is another permanent option, and by far the most invasive.
If there are issues with aggression and safety then you may want to consider permanently de-spurring the rooster. This involves going into the vet for a procedure similar to amputation. This makes sure that the spur will not grow back, but does have drawbacks, including the cost of the procedure, and the risk for infection to the bone.
Does Removing Spurs Hurt
There are two common methods to remove spurs.
The first method is to de-spur your rooster as a small chick. This method uses electricity to cauterize the cells that will eventually form the spur. The spur bud will be numbed beforehand, so it will not hurt your rooster. This method is called electrocautery and should only be done by a veterinarian as it requires specialized equipment.
Your second option is the permanent removal, de-spurring as an adult.
This is a much more invasive procedure and is basically an amputation. The bone and keratin of the spur is removed from the leg bone completely. This method can be very painful if done incorrectly. It is something that should only be done by a licensed veterinarian.
Frequently Asked Questions
Does Removing Rooster Spurs With a Potato Work?
The potato method is a common way for backyard flock keepers to trim and manage rooster spurs. It is an effective way to remove the keratin layer and remove the sharpness.
You will need to heat a potato in the microwave for about 10 minutes first. Next, place the spur into the potato for about three minutes. The heat and steam from the potato will help loosen the sheath. After three minutes, remove the potato and then gently twist to remove the outer keratin layer. For each spur repeat the process with a new potato. This method will have to be repeated about once a month as the keratin grows back and becomes sharp again.
Do All Roosters Get Spurs?
Nearly all roosters will develop them.
Roosters have developed this defense mechanism through adaptation to a harsh environment, and spurs are necessary in nature to help them protect themselves and their flock.
The only reason they would not develop is if they have some type of genetic disorder.
What Age Does a Rooster Get Spurs?
A rooster’s spurs will first begin to develop at around three months old. They first develop from a small clump of cells called a spur bud. This bud will grow and harden over time to produce a sharp point about an inch above their foot. The spur is fully formed at about 8-9 months of age.
Do Roosters Need Their Spurs Trimming?
Trimming your roosters’ spurs is a personal decision.
In most cases they do not need to be trimmed.
If your rooster is allowed to roam naturally, then their spurs tend to get filed down as they go about their business.
They will only need to be trimmed if they get too large and dangerous.
Why Have My Rooster’s Spurs Turned Black?
Usually this change in color signifies a health issue and you should be looking out for other signs of injury or disease.
A common disease in heavier breeds is something called bumblefoot. Bumblefoot is a bacterial infection of the foot and can be identified by symptoms like swelling, black scabs around the foot, lesions, and lameness.
Can Spurs Be Permanently Removed?
Yes you can permanently remove them.
Younger roosters can be de-spurred via electrocautery. Mature roosters will need a more invasive procedure that is similar to amputation of the bone.
Sometimes roosters with spurs do not act in an aggressive manner.
Roosters like this can be very helpful for your flock, especially when you have predators.
However, spurs are often an inconvenience to backyard flock keepers and can even be dangerous at times.
Depending on the breed, the temperament of the rooster and how comfortable you feel handling them, spurs may cause more problems than they are worth. There is still a lot of debate around the ethics of permanently removing them. However, if the safety of your family or hens is at stake it is something worth considering.
If you choose to permanently de-spur your roosters, it should be done by a vet. Attempting to do this yourself can cause pain and suffering for your rooster.
Just remember that roosters are defenseless without spurs so it is important to prevent predation and other dangers if you remove them.
Let us know your experience with spurs in the comments section below…