I’ve got a flock of mixed breed hens and a few roosters. In the beginning, my knowledge of chicken spurs was limited to the roosters. But then one day I noticed my brown leghorn had a spur on one of her legs. That gave me pause.
What is a Chicken Spur?
A chicken spur is actually part of the shank bone that’s covered with a hard layer made of keratin; the same thing found in our fingernails and hair. Spurs are routinely found on roosters and they’re used for protection and fighting. In cases of poor rooster behavior, those spurs are used to chase humans away from the chicken coop. Many times this is a dominance issue and can be worked out so everyone can visit the coop safely.
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How Does a Spur Develop?
All chickens, regardless of whether they are hens or roosters, have a small bump or spur bud on the back of their shanks. In hens, this bump normally stays dormant throughout their lives. In roosters, the bump starts to develop as they age. It gets longer and harder and eventually forms a sharp tip.
If you have a flock of backyard chickens which includes a rooster, you’ll want to keep an eye on your rooster’s spurs. They can grow too long and be a hindrance when the rooster walks. They can also curl as they grow and reach back to the leg, cutting it. Spurs can be trimmed if necessary. They are like a dog’s toenails and can be clipped in the same way. But, they can bleed if clipped too short, so it’s important to clip small amounts at a time and have something on hand to stop the bleeding. I use corn starch when I clip my dog’s toenails. I’ve only mistakenly clipped her nails too short twice, but I found the corn starch to be very effective at staunching the blood. There are also a variety of styptic powders available for purchase and they work well too. For my roosters, their spurs haven’t grown too long and we’ve not had the need for trimming.
What About the Hens?
So, we know hens start out with the same spur buds as roosters and this gives them the potential for growing spurs. For some breed strains, both the hens and roosters develop spurs from a young age. In that case, the owners are normally aware of this and spurs on both sexes are expected.
It’s a little-known fact about chickens, but hens of any breed can grow spurs. This doesn’t usually happen until the hens are older and this is the case for my hens. They are all over three years old.
There are also certain chicken breeds that more commonly develop spurs; Mediterranean breeds such as the Leghorn, Minorca, Sicilian Buttercups and Ancona, and Polish hens are known for growing spurs.
In my case, the spur on my Brown Leghorn made sense since she’s a Mediterranean breed. I inspected the rest of my flock out of pure curiosity and noticed that Big Red, my New Hampshire hen had some development on one of her spurs. It wasn’t as long or pointed as the Brown Leghorn’s but it was definitely there. Both Big Red and my Brown Leghorns are five years old.
Once noticed, a hen’s spurs should be watched. Just like a rooster’s spurs, they can grow too long and may need a little grooming from time to time.