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Debeaking Poultry:
An E-Mail Discussion between Robert Huggins, an Industry Researcher, and Frank L. Hoffman

Robert Huggins wrote (6 Dec 1999):  Pain caused by Debeaking of chickens has been a question asked by concerned persons especially animal rights groups for many years. To try and determine whether birds actually suffer from beak trimming, a study was done by myself at the University of the West Indies on Beak trimming.  Three thousand birds were used. two thousand were beak trimmed using the Lyons debeaker, and the Agribio Biobeaker, one thousand had no debeaking. The results showed that for the first couple of days there was a discomfort of the birds which were expected, however, the final result showed no difference in performance.  In fact, birds debeaked using the Biobeaker actually out performed the control and the other method used.  (The photo to the left shows a typical debeaking procedure)

Even though my study showed no effect, I still do not recommend debeaking.   However, one has to be aware that certain strains of birds can be very cannibalistic.  I have actually seen birds eating each other.  What I would also like to say is that a lot of birds are badly debeaked, and this will cause problems, on the other hand, if the debeaking was done properly, there is no long term effect as shown by the histological studies which were also done during my study.


Frank L. Hoffman's reply (6 Dec 1999):

Dear Robert:

Thank you very much for your letter. It gave me added insight of the debeaking procedure.  But as you verified, it still causes pain and suffering, and the fact that many are not debeaked "properly" is even worse.

We humans have done horrible things to each other, too. People have had their noses cut off and their tongues cut out, and they, too, "survived".  Life is to be more than survival, isn't it?  God made the chickens with the beaks they have, because it was best for them, and not necessarily for us.

I personally don't believe that it's right to cause another living being any pain or suffering just to please our appetite for food or clothing.  We don't need to kill in order to live, and live abundantly.

I really would like to know your personal feelings about the research you did and about our factory farming procedures.

I look forward to hearing from your again.

In the Love of the Lord,

Robert Huggins' reply (7 Dec 1999): 

Dear Frank,

I am surprised to receive such a rapid response from you.  Yes I will agree that it causes a discomfort, probably no more than if one cut his own finger a little to deep.  Incidentally, the nerves found in the chicken beak are the same that you find in your own finger nails. This was interesting, as that is one of the reasons that I went on to do some more research to look at the regrowth of the nerve endings within the beak.   My work also showed and confirmed with other researchers that beak trimming is totally un-necessary in broilers where cannibalistic traits have pretty well been bred out.  In the case of layers, unfortunately, I don't think that trait has been bred out, or if it has it is not being promoted as this would put those companies selling beaktrimming machines out of business, or at least hurt the bottom line.  If beak trimming has to be done, and done properly, it can be done reasonably humanely, resulting in little more than a mild discomfort if only a very small portion of the beak is being removed. I would be glad to send you a diagram.  However, if it is not done properly, the bird will more than likely suffer the same sort of "phantom pains" that amputees experience, personal experience.

Unfortunately, as far as factory farms go, it is the price we pay for progress.   Again, factory farms can be done with little discomfort to the birds.   Chickens are relatively territorial, and once they are satisfied, they do not move around too much.  What I do not like with the factory farms is over stocking of the barns, lighting programs that stimulate the birds to wake up and eat, temperature regulation that stimulates the bird to eat a denser feed just so that they can get to market faster.  If we went only to range chickens, for the amount of poultry consumed per year there would not be enough land.  Again, if the factory farms are done properly, suggested stocking density enforced, and regulations set to prevent inhumane practices, there should be no problem.  The problem arises when greed sets in, and barns are over stocked for the proverbial $$.

Look forward to your opinion.


Frank L. Hoffman's reply (7 Dec 1999):

Dear Robert:

I appreciate your rapid reply, too. You are the first person with truly practical and documented evidence about debeaking, from the industry, with whom I have had a chance to discuss this issue.

It is my understanding that some or all debeaking machines have hot knives to cauterize the cut blood vessels.  Is this true?  If it is, it would indicate that it is quite common to cut too much, and that it also increases the pain and suffering.  I have also heard that part of the chicken's tongue is often cut off in the process.  Is this true?  If this is also true, then the process is doing a lot more damage than trimming a "finger nail".  Also, I would very much like to have a copy of the diagram that you mentioned.

I can empathize with you on the "phantom pain" issue.  My nephew had his foot amputated when he was five years old because of cancer, and today, nearly 30 years later, he still "feels" the foot.  And last year my father had to have his leg amputated.  He, too, has these phantom pains.   This pain and suffering you learn to live with, but the pain is still real.  There may have been no choice in your case, or with my nephew or father, that we might preserve the life of the person.  However, this is not the case with these chickens.  We inflict this pain and suffering upon them for the added profits, as you have admitted.  I believe that this is both immoral and against God's will.

I was taught that the cannibalism in chickens was the result of being crowded together. They have a "pecking order" that gets out of hand at times, but in the wild such chickens would depart the flock before it got to severe.  Additionally, I know two people who have several chickens as companions, and neither of them have encountered these problems. Could it be that cannibalism is the result of a type of insanity brought on by inhumane treatment?

Actually, I don't consider animal factory farming to be progress.  To me it is only an example of our inhumanity and lack of proper stewardship of God's creation.   This brings up another point concerning the environment.  You confirmed that without animal factory farms, there wouldn't be enough land to supply the demand for flesh and other animal products, but in the process we are destroying our environment by polluting it. From my studies, I have found that it takes 7-15 times as much land to produce animal products as it does to produce plant based foods.  If we ate only a plant based diet, there would be more than enough land to sustain the world's growing population, even to abundance.

We also have had regulations against inhumane practices for years, but it has done very little good, because the enforcement is either weak or nonexistent, and any penalties are little more than a slap on the wrist.  It seems that this industry actually attracts people with sadistic tendencies.  And greed seems always to be present.  I see no way of preventing this as long as we have animal agriculture.

Would you mind if we published our e-mail exchange.  I believe that our readers would be quite interested.

I look forward to hearing from you again.

In the Love of the Lord,

(The photo to the right shows a chicken with a deformed beak caused by improper debeaking)

Robert Huggins' reply (8 Dec 1999):

wpe13.jpg (31625 bytes)


I hope that what I have attempted to do makes sense to you


Frank L. Hoffman's reply (14 Dec 1999):

Dear Robert:

Please accept my apology for not writing back sooner, as I was out of town for a few days.

Thank you very much for the drawing and description of the procedure.  It is very helpful in understanding what happens, and how easy it is to do things wrong.   From what I have learned about the industry, there is so much pressure put on the employees to keep up production that there isn't time to insure that everything is done properly.  There is also the problem of people just being indifferent to the pain and suffering because of the frustrations and pressures of the job.

Thanks again!

In the Love of the Lord,

Robert Huggins' reply (14 Dec 1999):

Dear Frank,

I hope that the drawing gave you an insight as to what happens when debeaking is done.  I also sent you another e-mail replying to your last one, don't know if you received it. If you need anymore questions answered about the industry please let me know. I would like to hear some of the comments from your friends concerning beaktrimming.

Merry Christmas


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