This is a task that most people don’t think about when they become chicken owners. It might be a little overwhelming or scary to think about trimming your silkie’s toenails but with a little practice you will soon see it as a normal part of your chicken’s maintenance and well being.
Long overgrown nails do occur and it is a good idea to trim them before they get too long so that your bird can walk without difficulty. In most cases they wear down on their own. The act of scratching naturally wears down the nails of a chicken. Overgrown nails are not normally a problem in most flocks with access to natural ground. Silkies, however, are not known for free ranging very far away and they tend to go broody. When broody, hens will sit on the nest for long periods of time and their nails will not become worn down. A nail that expands below the toe and is beginning to curl needs to be trimmed.
Pick a day and do all of your birds at once so that you don’t have to keep track of who has had them done and who has not. This is really a two person job, so find someone who can help you out by holding the bird as you trim.
We set up an old ironing board in a sunny spot to rest our equipment on. I have a printed list of all of the silkies and their numbers and I check them off as we complete them. I hold the bird and my husband, Dennis, does the trimming.
I block the birds in their coop or in their runs to make it easier to catch them. After we are finished I release them to a different section or into the yard so I don’t end up catching them twice.
Before trimming the nail, you will want to remove all of the built up mud and poo that is sticking to the nails and bottom pads of the feet. Sometimes these can look like balls of mud at the tips of their toes.
You can use toenail trimmers designed for dogs. Your clippers simply need to be large enough to fit around your chicken’s nail so it can be easily snipped off.
The most important thing is to avoid cutting the vein in the nail. It is just like trimming a dog’s toenail. You will want to stay a quarter inch or so away from the vein. Trim a small amount of the nail off at a time. The nails don’t have to be short, they just need to allow for the bird to naturally stand or move about.
The “quick” is a small blood vessel that supplies blood to the nail. It is inside of the nail shaft. It can be seen as a small, pink line inside the clear nail. Sometimes it is hard to see in younger birds but it is very clear in older silkies. If the quick is cut, the nail will begin to bleed. Don’t panic. The silkie will not bleed to death. Stop the bleeding with styptic powder or a styptic pencil used in shaving. You can also use flour or cornstarch. You can also use a tissue and apply pressure to the spot that is bleeding.
This is also a good time to trim a rooster’s spurs. They continue to grow if not trimmed and can interfere with the rooster’s ability to walk. Us the same method as for trimming the toenails. Blunted spurs are safer for hens, humans and other roosters.
Keeping the nails of roosters trimmed is especially important. His sharp nails can injure the hens when he mounts them and can leave gashes.
If your birds are held often and cuddled it will be easier for you to learn to do this task yourself. The silkies will be more cooperative and it is almost as if you were giving them a manicure and spa treatment. They are very lucky birds to be cared for so well.