My chickens have gone from free-range to all over the farm in the past few weeks.
My ramshackle collection of crossbreed chooks are now in the garden, cleaning out the pig enclosure, laying eggs in the goat house, and goading the dogs.
I’m clearly going to lose the lot if I don’t do something soon and that means it’s time to overcome my chicken fears (I get in a flap when they flap) and clip their wings, but where to start?
Should You Clip a Chicken’s Wings
Some chickens are more adventurous than others, and others are more persistent, free-ranging beyond your own property and exploring neighbor’s yards.
This exposes them to untold dangers, from getting caught in a fence to flying into a busy road. A higher fence is one option, but an expensive and ultimately limited solution.
Some smaller, lighter, and more inquisitive breeds, like the Plymouth Rock, for instance, still manage to pop over a six-foot fence even with one wing clipped, so nothing short of a Fort Knox-style vault will keep them in.
Clipping a chicken’s wings is both effective and safe, even if it seems a little daunting, to begin with.
Many chicken owners, including myself, have wondered, “Do birds feel pain when their wings are clipped?”, fearing that, if the answer was yes, we’d have to reconcile ourselves to owning a flock of suicidal escapologists.
Fortunately, clipping wings is as simple and painless as trimming your fingernails, so there’s little reason not to, especially if, like mine, they’re taking over the farm!
On the other hand, you can’t clip a chicken’s wings so it can’t fly unless you first catch the chicken – a process that can be both complex and painful depending on your expertise and your chickens!
How to Clip a Chicken’s Wings So It Can’t Fly
Once you’ve caught your chicken, patched up the wounds you gained during the process, and given the chicken time to settle, it’s time to figure out which feathers to cut and how to clip the flight feathers specifically.
The biggest challenge here is overcoming your own “does it hurt to cut chicken feathers” fear. Once that’s done, you need to arm yourself with a sharp pair of scissors or toenail clippers, and, if necessary, a nip of Dutch courage.
- Before you start clipping, gently invert your chicken so it’s lying on its back – this seems to calm them down and makes it easier for you to complete the task.
- Now, extend one wing and take a look. Do you see those 10 large primary feathers? Those are the ones we’re aiming for.
- It’s important to clip your chicken’s wings at the right length – too short could cause pain and bleeding (for both chicken and human, potentially) while too long will make no difference to your chook’s ability to fly.
- Starting at the shortest flight feather, closest to the body, you want to clip the flight feathers so they are just below the length of the shorter feathers laying above the flight feathers. You should be clipping less than 6cm off each feather.
- Once one wing is clipped, repeat the process on the other side.
Is it Cruel to Clip a Chicken’s Wings So It Can’t Fly?
While it’s not cruel to clip a chicken’s wings, if it doesn’t go according to plan, it can be messy and a little uncomfortable for the chicken and owner alike.
During my first attempt, I accidentally cut into a newly growing feather – known as a blood feather – a mistake that resulted in heavy bleeding.
- If a similar thing happens to you, the first thing to do is not to panic.
- The second is to try and stem the blood flow. You can do this by applying fresh yarrow leaf to the tip, or using another coagulant, like corn starch or soap.
- Now apply a little pressure to the tip of the wing and stay calm – if you get stressed, so will your chicken, causing her blood pressure to go up and the bleeding to worsen.
Is Clipping a Chicken’s Wings Permanent?
If you own chickens, you’ll be well aware of their molting patterns, having attempted to hide your molting, threadbare hens from public view for eight weeks of the year.
Just as those feathers grow back, so do any flight feathers you’ve clipped, so this isn’t a one-off event, but one you’ll have to repeat on an annual basis.
Clipping Wings May Save Your Chicken’s Life
A couple of weeks ago, a young boy in Lebanon, was nearly shot by Israeli forces while attempting to retrieve his escaped chicken – highlighting just how dangerous it can be not to clip your chickens’ feathers!
Keeping your chickens‘ wings clipped could be the best way of keeping them alive. Not only that, it doesn’t hurt, it’s not cruel, and it’s something any chicken owner can do – assuming they don’t get in a flap, that is!
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Monday 27th of March 2023
You advise clipping both wings. I've also been advised to clip only one wing which causes the chicken to be unbalanced when trying to fly. Is clipping two the better method? I don't want to clip but i don't want my girls to fly away. Mine are in a backyard coop and run in a neighborhood with cats. The cats frequent our yard. I can't let any birds out.
Monday 27th of March 2023
Hi Paul! Thanks so much for your question. I'd say it depends on your environment and setup. Clipping one wing means that your chickens will still be able to fly just a bit, which can be great in some circumstances. For example, if you have a coop where your chickens may need or want to reach elevated spaces, leaving one wing unclipped is a good idea. However, you could risk an escape if your fencing is not high enough. So, ultimately, if your chickens' spaces are not fully enclosed, I recommend clipping both wings. That way, there's no risk at all.
Thanks again, and I hope you have a great day! :)