Clipping a chicken’s wings might sound cruel if you’re not familiar with the process, but it is simple and painless. While these birds can’t fly in the same way that wild birds do, they do have the ability to get out of backyards and propel themselves over fences. They usually manage to get in the air for just a few yards, but this is enough for them to find themselves in danger. Escaping their specified area can put them at the risk of predators, vehicles, and angry neighbors who don’t want your chickens on their property.
The flight that chickens are able to gain can help them escape from predators. If you keep chickens, this flight can also help them escape their enclosures. When chickens’ wings are clipped, this means their flight feathers are trimmed. They may not be the best at flying even with these feathers intact, but wing clipping will keep them as safe as possible.
Will Clipping Their Wings Keep Them Grounded?
Not completely. Chickens may still be able to fly short distances with clipped wings. But they won’t be able to gain any upward flight that would help them escape, roam, get lost, or find themselves in other dangerous situations.
Please note that not all breeds of chickens need their wings clipped. Some breeds are inherently too large or have wings far too small for their bodies to manage flight and therefore wouldn’t require wing clipping.
Why Are Chickens Terrible at Flying?
The simple answer is that their wings are usually too small! Chickens have been selectively bred for generations to have large, heavy muscles (for meat), and their wings aren’t powerful enough to lift them off very high off of the ground. Game birds have large flight muscles because they are typically bred for their meat. These muscles only enable them to be able to fly a low, vertical distance called a “burst flight” before settling back on the ground.
How to Clip a Chicken’s Wings
Remember, this doesn’t hurt the chicken. Trimming a bird’s feathers is similar to people getting haircuts in terms of how it feels. You may be hesitant to do it because you fear hurting the chicken in other ways, such as holding them incorrectly or making a mistake with the clippers. If you’re not feeling confident in this process, contact a veterinarian to either make a house call to clip your bird’s wings or bring the chicken in for a visit. If you have a friend who is skilled at wing-clipping, have them help you. This process can be easier with one person holding the chicken and the other person doing the clipping. You’ll need a pair of sharp kitchen shears to get the job done efficiently.
Pin Feathers vs. Flight Feathers
The first thing to know about clipping wings is which feathers to cut. It’s important to only cut the flight feathers during wing clipping. Pin feathers, or blood feathers, have vein-filled shafts and if these feathers are cut, they will bleed. This is dangerous for the chicken, so make sure you know which feathers to trim before you start.
If a mistake is made and the pin feather is cut, the bleeding may stop on its own, but you can help by applying styptic powder, corn starch, or flour to the injured feather. Have these items on hand during wing clipping, just in case. However, if it doesn’t stop in 3–5 minutes, contact a veterinarian.
1. Hold the Chicken
Pick up your chicken and hold them to your body, leaving one wing free and the other pressed against you. This can stress chickens, so hold them gently for a short period to let them relax. Holding your chicken while you’re seated might be easiest.
If you feel more comfortable, you can crouch down over the chicken and hold them still with one hand, while clipping each wing with the other.
2. Spread the Feathers
Slowly lift the exposed wing and gently spread the feathers. You’ll notice halfway down the wing that the feathers change into about 10 large primary flight feathers lining the outer edge. These are the feathers that you will be trimming.
3. Firmly Cut the Tips
Take your shears, and gently but firmly, cut off the tips of the primary flight feathers.
Repeat the process on the other wing if desired.
If you are clipping the wings of multiple chickens, allow the chicken to settle down before returning them to the flock. The other chickens may sense their distress and start to become anxious. While this process doesn’t hurt the chicken, scared chickens might hurt themselves by becoming fearful and trying to flee. You want calm, relaxed chickens for wing-clipping. Even if the process must be spread over a few days, it will reduce the stress of the flock.
Why Clip Both Wings?
You don’t have to. Your chicken can still fly, albeit poorly, with both wings clipped. To further prevent your chicken from flying, clip only one wing. This will cause them to fly lopsided and make it even harder for them to get off of the ground.
Is This a Permanent Solution?
Wing clipping isn’t permanent. When you clip a chicken’s wings, the feathers do not grow back. They will remain short. However, when chickens molt, these trimmed feathers will fall out. Molting is the process of shedding feathers to make room for new feathers. When new primary flight feathers are fully regrown, they will need to be clipped again.
Wing clipping is a safe and painless way to keep your chickens from escaping their enclosures and winding up lost or hurt. If your flock likes to roam, clipping their wings can give you peace of mind when it comes to their safety.
If you are hesitant to do this yourself, you can ask your veterinarian to do it for you or have a friend help. Always make sure you know exactly which feathers to cut to avoid injuring your chicken.
Remember that clipping your chicken’s wings once won’t last forever. The process will need to be repeated after the molting process is completed and the primary flight feathers have grown back.
Limiting your chicken’s flight is an effective way to keep them safe.
Featured Image Credit: loocmill, Shutterstock