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.
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.
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