A chicken’s beak is constantly growing, much like our own hair and fingernails. Pullet management should be designed with the goal of meeting the recommended body weight and uniformity as per the breed standards. If these goals are met the pullet will be more likely to express its genetic potential. A key factor influencing the capability of the birds to meet this goal is the quality of debeaking and age at debeaking.Cannibalism is prevalent among the chickens of all ages and debeaking is only the way to prevent it. The pecking mortality may go up to 25 to 30% in the flock. It is a great financial loss to the farmers.
Debeaking must be considered as precision operation and experience is a great asset in doing it properly. Too often debeaking is done carelessly, or by not removing enough- which allows the beak to grow and eventually regain a near normal length.
AGE AND METHODS OF DEBEAKING.
There are several methods of debeaking and several ages when birds can be debeaked. The age of debeaking will determine the procedure.
1. BLOCK DEBEAKING AT 5 TO 7 DAYS:
This is THE BEST procedure for pullets to be used for egg production. Most of the farmers in Nigeria are sceptical about debeaking their birds at this age. This operation can be compared to the cutting of umbilical card in new born babies. Earlier you do this operation lesser the stress and pain.
The chicken are easy to handle at this age and the debeaking process is faster. This precision debeaking needs considerable experience to do a good job. When the beak is cut and cauterized correctly it will not grow back and there is no need for a later touch up. The farmers can utilize the services of the hatcheries to take up this operation.
The chicks are debeaked with an electric debeaking machine having a guide plate with hole. A guide with a larger hole should be used if the
chicks are larger than normal. The chick is held with the thumb on the back of the head and forefinger under the throat. The closed beak is inserted in the hole and light pressure exerted on the throat to pull back the tongue. The beak hits the trigger which allows the hot blade drop down and automatically make the cut.
The lower beak should be slightly longer than the upper. This can achieved by tilting the chick’s head downwards at the time the beak is inserted in the hole. The severed beak must be kept in contact with the blade for exactly 2 seconds. When held longer, stress is too great and if shorter, the beak will grow back.
2. DEBEAKING BETWEEN 2 TO 10 WEEKS:
Many farmers wait until the birds are 5 or 6 weeks of age or until they see the first traces of cannibalism in the flock before they debeak. This require a different procedure. However debeaking after 8 days of age creates a severe stress. Pullets are vulnerable for IBD outbreak between 3 to 6 weeks of age. Any stress at this age may lead to outbreak.
Electric debeaking machine can be used for this purpose. It is advisable to remove one-third to one-half of the beak. The lower beak should remain longer than the upper one. With 10 to 12 weeks and above old birds, it will be necessary to cut one beak at a time.
3. 16 TO 18 WEEK DEBEAKING:
As a last resort, birds may be debeaked around this age. But do not remove as much of the beak. Debeak each mandible separately and the lower beak of pullets should be at least 0.3cm longer than the upper beak to avoid feed wastage.
4. TOUCH-UP DEBEAKING:
If the early debeaking has not been done properly, many beaks will partially grow back by the time the pullets are 8 to 9 weeks of age or older and will need to be ‘touched-up’ by another partial debeaking. This is a common procedure.
POINTS TO OBSERVE DURING DEBEAKING
1) A blade temperature of between 700-800 oC is sufficient.
2) The knife should be “cherry” red. Too hot or not hot enough gives bad results.
3) Do not de-beak under extreme temperatures. The best temperature is 20- 25 oC.
4) Remove the feed 4- 5 hours before de-beaking and give feed immediately after de-beaking. When the birds are hungry, they will start eating directly afterwards; this stops possible bleeding.
5) Supply feed and water adequately immediately after debeaking.
6) Change the blades regularly. Do not use old blades.
7) Always replace the new knife in the proper way, the straight side of the edge in front of you and the sloping side on the backside.
8) Use vitamin-K and broad spectrum antibiotics like Oxytetracyclines in water, 1 day before and 3 days afterwards.
9) It is recommended to check the beaks before production starts. Birds with too long beaks or very long lower beaks should be trimmed again.
10) Prevent the piling of chicks during the debeaking operation.
11) During the debeaking keep the tongue away with the index finger, between the upper and lower beak, to avoid burning.
12) Do not debeak during a vaccination period.
13) Never use sulfa drugs during debeaking. This may increase the bleeding.
ADVANTAGES AND DISADVANTAGES OF DEBEAKING.
There are advantages and disadvantages to debeaking. But certainly the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages.
1. Pecking is reduced.
2. Helps in preventing feather picking and cannibalism.
3. Feed efficiency is improved.
4. Liveability is better.
5. Lesser number of culls.
6. Uniformity of the flock is better.
1. Birds lose weight for 1 to 2 weeks after debeaking.
2. Growth rate is reduced after debeaking.
3. Late debeaking may slightly delay sexual maturity.
( Courtesy: Amo Farm Sieberer Hatchery Ltd “Pulletin”)