Rooster Spurs: How to Protect Hens from Damage

Two Methods to Keep Hens Safe

by Ana Hotaling
PHOTO: pesenka77/Adobe Stock

Rooster spurs look intimidating and can do damage not only to people but also to hens. This can look unsightly if you’re trying to take pictures of your flock and it can result in scrapes and cuts that require attention. Here’s why this happens and how to protect your hens.

Rooster Spurs: How Damage Is Caused

It’s not that roosters intend to injure their hens’ backs. It is a result of mating. To mate, a rooster has to climb onto the hen’s back and then line up his reproductive parts with hers — all without opposable thumbs.

To not continually slip off while mating, the rooster has to hold on to his partner’s neck with his beak. However, that’s only enough to keep his head and torso steady. His lower half is in peril of falling off to the side, thus preventing the alignment necessary to fertilize eggs.

rooster spurs in backyard
rooster spurs

To keep steady a rooster uses his spurs to “tread” the hen’s back. It’s similar to treading water. A rooster continually steps on a hen’s back to keep himself from falling off.

The result, unfortunately, is that the rooster spurs break or yank out the poor hen’s back feathers. By mid-summer, the “popular” girl looks like she’s been through the wringer. The extent of the damage to a hen’s plumage constantly varies. I’ve had gentle giants who very politely mount a hen, quickly do their business, and then leave as the hen stands and shakes herself out with nary a feather out of place. I’ve had young guns who are so intent that they fail to realize they’re practically flaying the female. 

Rooster Spurs: Stopping the Damage

I’ve tried various remedies to the bare-back situation over the years. One of the worst approaches was to keep the roosters separate from the girls and only put them together to mate. That didn’t work out at all.

Subscribe now

Not only did the boys continually fight, but they practically all-out assaulted the hens when they were reunited to mate.

Some people recommend increasing the ratio of roosters to hens to share the love more evenly. This does not work. Having more hens only means having more hens to protect. More available hens to the roosters is like spreading a smorgasbord in front of them. 

Two Solutions to Protect Hens

The two methods that actually help hens are far less expensive and far less stressful for both humans and the birds.

1. Hen Aprons

Hen aprons are little outfits consisting of a back piece that completely covers the affected area, plus elastic loops that cross in front of the hen’s neck and loop around each wing. The aprons fit snugly and stay on securely, protecting the damaged area by placing fabric between the rooster and the hen.

I’ve yet to have a hen remove her apron.

Some seem to like their aprons so much that I leave them on even after the feathers have all grown back. It does take a hen a bit of adjusting time to become accustomed to the apron. This usually manifests by a hen walking awkwardly backward and sitting down unintentionally. This usually lasts only a couple of days. 

2. Desheath the Rooster Spurs

The other solution to a spur-raked back is to remove the rooster’s spurs. Or rather, the outer sheath that covers the spur.

A rooster’s spur is actually skeletal. It’s part of the leg bone. Cutting off entire spurs would be cruel, not to mention crippling, to your rooster. The sheath, however, is made of keratin—the same protein found in a chicken’s beak, claws and feathers.

This sheath can be easily removed by the potato method:

  • Bake a medium-sized potato (in a conventional, toaster or microwave oven)
  • While the potato is hot, firmly hold your rooster, then wrap a small rag or towel around his leg under the spur. Impale the potato on the spur to within a half inch of the rooster’s leg. Do not let the potato touch his leg. This can cause a painful burn.
  • Wait for approximately five minutes. Remove the potato and set it aside.
  • With a pair of pliers, take hold of the outer spur and gently twist in one direction. The sheath should pop right off. If it doesn’t, apply the potato for a few more minutes, then try again.
  • Repeat on the other leg (you may need to warm the potato up again before doing the other leg). Feel free to chop up the potato and give it to your rooster as a treat afterward.

Without his pointy spurs, a romantic rooster will not tear up a hen’s back to the degree that he did with spurs on. However, the downside is that he will also not be able to face off against a predator as efficiently, since his chief weapon has been removed.

Should you live in an area frequented by raccoons, weasels or other carnivorous creatures, a bare-backed hen might be the trade-off for your rooster keeping your flock safe.

This article about rooster spurs was written for Hobby Farms online. Click here to subscribe.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *