Clipping a chicken’s wings is super easy, and a great skill to have if you raise, or plan to raise backyard chickens.
My Backyard Chickens are Not Free Range
As idyllic as the thought of hens pecking around the farm sounds, the reality is that they get into everything. Believe me, I keep on thinking it’s a good idea, and I keep on being reminded that it’s definitely not. They seem to have a knack for pooping exactly where we plan to step, and throwing every bit of mulch out of the flower beds. Did I mention that the kids and I run barefoot 99% of the time? Well, the squish of poultry poo between your toes will change your mind about the virtues of free-range chickens real quick. You can read more about our choice to not free-range our chickens HERE.
For the last few months, our hens have been living in a converted dog pen. It’s definitely not as pretty as our old coop, but it’s served us well for a transitional period. Now that it’s spring, it was time to tackle the project of getting them into a larger space. We decided to update a pen on the farm that was once used as a large dog run. It already has sheep wire fencing all the way around, and shelter. We just had to repair a few spots.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why Would You Want to Clip a Chicken’s Wings?
The hens were ecstatic when we turned them out to scratch in their new huge forest pen. They even stayed in it…for almost two whole hours. Then they got bored and promptly flew over and proceeded to scratch up my raised bed garden. After I chased them around like a psycho and considered turning them all into dinner, I decided the best course of action would be to clip their wings.
The thought process behind clipping a chicken’s wings is that it inhibits them from being able to move enough air to get very high off the ground when they attempt to fly. You’ll notice in my video below that I only clip one wing. This causes enough of an imbalance to prevent flight without needing to clip both sides.
Can a Chicken Still Roost If You Clip Its Wing?
Even when chickens can’t fly, they can jump. Also, they don’t typically go into full flight when they are going to roost. As long as your roost isn’t higher than about 4′, your chickens should have no trouble at all making their way onto the roost in the evenings.
Does It Hurt to Clip a Chicken’s Wings?
The primary flight feathers do not have any veins. As long as you don’t clip the feathers too close to the base of the wing, or accidentally cut the skin, this process is completely painless for the bird. If you do accidentally nick the bird’s skin, I’ve read that you can use cornstarch to stop the bleeding.
How to Clip a Chicken’s Wings
Step 1: Catch the Chicken
This is by far the hardest part of the entire process. (If you don’t believe me, just watch the video at the end of this post). Our hens are not the sweet little pets that I see gracing the chandeliered coops of some Instagram accounts. We love them, but they haven’t been handled a great deal, and the only time they really act like they like us is when we’re feeding them. Otherwise, they want nothing to do with us.
It’s easiest to catch your chickens when they are in some sort of contained area. In our case that was the small dog pen where they had been living. Remain calm, and try to get them into a corner. Then close the gap between you and them, blocking their escape on both sides until you’re able to get your hands on them.
Then, I spend a minute or so just calming the chicken down and petting it. Hoping that it will start liking me and decide to be a pet instead of just a terror to my garden and bare feet.
Step 2: Identify the Different Types of Chicken Wing Feathers
The thought of clipping your chicken’s wings might sound overwhelming, but I promise the hardest part is already over. Once you catch the birds, it’s time to inspect their wings. It might seem like all of their feathers are the same, but when you look closely you’ll notice that the feathers differ in size and shape. There are three main types of feathers on a chicken’s wings.
Primary Flight Feathers
The primary flight feathers are the longer feathers that grow from the top of the wing (closest to the chicken’s head). There are usually about 10 of them.
Secondary Flight Feathers
The secondary flight feathers are the shorter feathers near the bottom of the chicken’s wing toward the tail.
These are the tiny feathers at the base of the wings, closest to the chicken’s body. I use these as a guide when clipping the primary feathers.
Step 3: Clip the Primary Feathers
Once you have spread your chicken’s wing and identified the feathers, it’s time to clip! You want to use sharp scissors to make this quick and clean. Identify the primary feathers and clip them using the covert feathers as your guide. I leave around a half inch of primary feather sticking out past the end of the covert feathers.
If you’re more of a visual learner, be sure to check out our video!