The effects of different bill-trimming methods on the well-being of Pekin ducks

Poult Sci. 2007 Sep;86(9):1831-9. doi: 10.1093/ps/86.9.1831.


Pekin ducks are often bill-trimmed to prevent feather pecking and cannibalism, but this practice has been criticized because of the resulting potential for acute and chronic pain. The goal of this experiment was to compare 2 different bill-trimming methods, hot blade trimming with cautery (TRIM) and cautery only (tip-searing; SEAR), on the behavior, bill morphology, and weight gain of Pekin ducks. Ducklings (n = 192, 96 per sex) were trimmed at the hatchery and assigned to 12 floor pens (3.66 x0.91 m) by treatment. Behavior was evaluated by scan sampling, and plumage condition was scored using a 0 to 3 scoring system. Thirty-six ducks were randomly euthanized at 3 and 6 wk of age, and their bills were collected for examination. Following fixation and decalcification, the bills were embedded in paraffin wax and sectioned longitudinally. Alternate sections were stained with hematoxylin and eosin and Masson's trichrome for the connective tissues, and with Bielschowsky's silver impregnation, Bodian's staining, and Holmes' staining for the nerve fibers. Trimmed ducks engaged in fewer bill-related behaviors and rested more than untrimmed ducks (NOTRIM) during the first 2 wk posttrim. Ducks in the SEAR and NOTRIM groups showed similar patterns of weight gain, but those in the TRIM group had a lower rate of gain than ducks in the SEAR group during the first week posttrim and had a lower rate of gain than those in the NOTRIM group for 2 wk posttrim. Feather scores of ducks in the NOTRIM group were significantly worse than those in the TRIM or SEAR group by 18 d, and scores continued to deteriorate at a greater rate than those of trimmed ducks throughout the study. Both trimming methods caused connective tissue proliferation in the bill stumps, but the TRIM method caused thicker scar tissue than the SEAR method. No neuromas were found with either trimming method, but there were more nerve fibers in bill stumps of the SEAR ducks than the TRIM ducks. These results suggest that acute pain is associated with both trimming methods, but that SEAR may be a preferable method, causing less check in weight gain and fewer bill morphological changes while still being effective in minimizing feather pecking damage.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animal Husbandry / methods*
  • Animal Welfare*
  • Animals
  • Beak / physiology*
  • Behavior, Animal
  • Ducks / physiology*
  • Feathers
  • Female
  • Male
  • Time Factors
  • Weight Gain