Day 25: How to Clip Your Chicken’s Wings

Should you clip chicken wings

First, Should You Clip or Not?

It can be a dilemma for many backyard chicken owners – To clip or not to clip their chicken’s wings. The answer is that you don’t need to do it unless your chickens are getting into trouble by flying over fences or restricted areas. In that case, clipping the wings can keep them safe and your garden intact.

The idea behind clipping is that it prevents your chickens from being able to get lift when trying to fly. Granted, a chicken doesn’t fly much anyway because their body mass prevents them (in most cases) from getting more than a few feet off the ground. But lighter breeds can fly over six feet high. And even within the heavier breeds, you can always have a few birds with enough determination and wing strength to get high off the ground.

The problem with backyard fliers is that they can get into BIG trouble. They fly over walls and fences into the neighbors yards (which is especially bad if there is a big dog on the other side of that fence). Or they can fly into areas that you want to keep off limits. Clipping can help with this. It keeps the chicken safe within their confines and that is better for you, the chickens and your garden.

Important Considerations:

Before you grab your scissors, you need to consider if the chickens you want to clip might ever have to deal with predators.

A predator can be a dog, cat, raccoon, fox, etc. If they do, you do NOT want to clip. Without a rooster to give them some protection, a hen’s only defense is to fly or flutter to get away from a predator. NEVER clip the wings of birds that are out in the open – a field, pasture or an unfenced yard where a neighborhood dog can walk right up to them. One predator can take down your whole flock and the birds will not be able to fly away.

However, if your chickens are truly confined to your backyard or an enclosed area, they should not have to ever fly in the first place. Clipping can be the perfect option for you. But remember, clipping is not a guarantee. Even with clipping, some birds will manage to get over fences.

Does Clipping Hurt?

No. When done properly, clipping the flight feathers is the same to the bird as us clipping our fingernails.

How often Should You Clip?

You should only have to do it once per year or after each molt. Sometimes, the clipped feathers do not fall out well during the molt, so watch for that.

How Do You Clip Wings?

My friend Michelle had some chickens that were flying over every barrier in her backyard, so said I would help clip her hen’s wings. The “girls” were gracious enough to be out models for the step-by-step instruction.

1)  You are only going to clip one wing – not both sides. Clipping only one side throws them off balance and even if they flap hard enough to get some lift, they will be out of control. If you clip both sides, some birds will be able to build up wing strength to still fly up and over things.

2) Have a friend help you. It is safer for the bird and easier for you. One person gently holds the bird and the other clips.

3) Be careful where you cut. There ARE blood vessels and bones in the wings. You do NOT want to cut in the wrong place! Only clip the “primary flyer  feathers” as seen in the photo below.

4) Gently hold open the wing so that you can plainly see the primary flier feathers and the secondary feathers.

5) Clip the primary feathers only as far back as the next level of feathers. NO SHORTER! Backyard chickens has a nice illustration on their website that takes the guess work out of it.

6) That’s it! Easy-Peasy. I recommend you give your hen a treat for being a good sport. Then later, sit and laugh at her when she tries to fly up on a chair or planter. But be nice and don’t laugh too hard, it just might hurt her feelings.

This post is part of the 31 Days of Living Homegrown. Sign up for my newsletter (weekly or monthly) so you don’t miss any of the inspiration and resources I will be sharing for living local, fresh and homegrown! 

 

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About the Author

Theresa Loe is the Co-Executive TV Producer and the On-Air Canning/Homesteading Expert for the national PBS gardening TV series, Growing A Greener World. She is a lifetime canner and a graduate of the Master Food Preserver Program. She studied both sustainable horticulture and professional culinary arts and she is a wrangler of chickens and two teenage children. (Not necessarily in that order.)

{ 6 comments… add one }

  • Julie February 8, 2013 at 1:44 pm

    I wrote a post on this, too, awhile ago because our two Golden Campines are such flighty birds. My daughter was showing them in 4-H and didn’t want to clip their wings. (The judges prefer that the birds aren’t clipped.) However, because we are in a subdivision, and because our little naughty girls kept flying out of the run into the forest or to our pool (or to our neighbors’ yard sale!)–I feared that their next adventure would take them flying over the fence to our pups. So, we clipped their wings. We only clipped one each to keep them off balance so they couldn’t fly. Sadly, three weeks ago, Spice did exactly what I feared–she flew over the fence to our dogs, even with her clipped wing. Needless to say, we were heartbroken–and I felt so guilty, because perhaps she could have gotten away had we not clipped her wing. (Why didn’t she just fly back over the fence, for goodness sake?!) We’ve never had a problem with the other chickens–just the Campines. And today, Sugar was by the pool again. We have strings that crisscross over the top of the run to try to keep them in and hawks out, but now I’ve also purchased bird netting that we’ll be adding over the run in hopes to keep Sugar contained. It’s such a hard decision to clip wings, because depending on the breed–it might not be a solution to their flightiness.

    Reply edit
    • theresa February 8, 2013 at 3:09 pm

      Oh so sorry to hear Julie! And you bring up something that I forgot to mention in my post (but will add now) – that clipping is NOT a guarantee. It is a tough decision and needs to be thought through. I think I would have done exactly as you did. I would have clipped and would have had the same results. So sorry for your loss.

      In the case of my friend Michelle, she was clipping to keep them out of her vegetable garden. They really have no dangers in her backyard, but kept jumping over the fence and feasting on her veggies there. Her 5 foot fence was not keeping them out. So she clipped. It should help.

      ~Theresa

      Reply edit
    • Mike May 21, 2013 at 10:23 am

      hello, I have chickens that are 6 weeks old. How soon can I clip there wings to prevent them from flying. Thanks

      Reply edit
      • theresa May 21, 2013 at 10:44 am

        Hi Mike,

        I’m usure. I would probably not clip until they are large enough to actually fly or are laying eggs. At least 5 months old. But you might want to ask this question on a chicken keeping forum where more owners could answer. Good luck!

        Reply edit
  • TeresaR February 21, 2013 at 7:57 am

    I just clipped the wing of one of our hens last week. That used to do it for our older, fatter hens, but this young one (like Julie’s chickens above) can still fly with a clipped wing.

    Sadly, even having roosters doesn’t help with predators. Stray dogs and raccoons have killed our roosters (and most of the rest of the flock) before.

    What a great tutorial with wonderful close-up photos though! I’m doing a post about our chickens next week and have listed your blog as a resource for people who want to keep chickens. :)

    Reply edit
    • theresa February 22, 2013 at 5:52 am

      Awesome Teresa! Thanks so much for giving me a shout out.

      I’m sad to hear about the stray dogs and raccoons getting your flock before though. So hard to loose so many at once! Seems there is no perfect answer to protecting our hens.

      Reply edit

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