Feather clipping is a simple process that can help to keep your chickens out of your neighbor’s yard and out of dangerous predicaments that may wait on the other side of their fence line. Today we are going to walk through how to clip chicken wings quickly and painlessly.
How to Clip Chicken Wings
Some chicken owners choose to clip wings while others avoid it. You will need to look within the context of your own operation to decide what works best for you and your birds.
If you choose to clip your chicken’s wings, you will need to know where to cut to avoid bleeding and how to hold the bird to reduce stress. Let’s jump into that information now!
Why Would You Clip a Chicken’s Wing?
Chickens that aren’t kept in a chicken coop or enclosed run full time can cause issues by flying onto neighboring properties or nesting high in trees.
Putting in a high fence can also deter them from flying over to your neighbor’s garden bed, but this option is costly and the chickens can sometimes still fly just high enough to clear the fence.
Because of this, it is a good idea to clip the wings of chickens to keep them on your property and in the coop at roosting time. By clipping the chicken’s wings, you inhibit the bird’s ability to fly high up or for long distances.
Some chicken owners choose to wait until their birds have started causing issues before they clip wings, but I chose to clip my chickens’ wings before they had a chance to cause issues since I have close neighbors.
**If you are raising show birds, be aware that trimming their wings will potentially disqualify them.
Do All Chicken Breeds Fly?
All chicken breeds have the ability for burst flights, but some breeds aren’t made to be able to fly more than a foot off of the ground.
If you don’t want to clip wings and you can’t put up a high fence to keep them contained, then you can choose breeds that struggle to fly.
Silkie chickens are known for their fluffy feathers. This fluff, along with their disproportionate wing-to-body ratio, makes it almost impossible for silkies to fly.
Orpington, Brahma, Jersey Giant, Wyandotte
Heavier breeds like these are generally too large to take flight. They may get a few inches off of the ground, but they aren’t known to fly high.
Cochin chickens have larger bodies and smaller wings. This makes it difficult for them to take flight.
Most broiler breeds struggle to fly due to their rapid growth rates. This is especially true for Cornish Cross chickens.
Does Clipping Wings Hurt the Chicken?
Clipping chickens’ wings does not hurt as long as you clip in the right spot of the wings. Identifying the primary flight feathers and avoiding the blood feathers is key.
This process of wing clipping is comparable to a hair cut or clipping nails. The wings are clipped painlessly and they grow back over time.
How to Identify Primary Flight Feathers
Gently spread one of the chicken’s wings out so you can see each feather. You should see several (usually 10) long feathers with light colored quills. These are the primary flight feathers that need to be cut. The primary feathers are just beside a set of feathers called the secondaries.
The primary and secondary feathers are below smaller sets of covert feathers. Primary flight feathers do not have blood running through them so the quill is light colored (usually white). Avoid clipping too high into blood feathers. These will have darker quills due to the blood flow inside of them.
Should You Clip One or Two Chicken Wings?
This is apparently a heavily debated topic in the world of chicken owners. I choose to clip one wing because it makes the birds unbalanced when they try to fly.
In my experience, clipping both wings can help the bird to catch a good lift even without the primary feathers.
Clipping Chicken Wings Step by Step
You will need a sharp pair of scissors or shears to clip chicken wings. Any scissors work fine as long as they have a sharp edge. You may also want to have cornstarch on hand to stop the bleeding in case you clip a blood feather.
STEP 1: Catch the chicken
I choose to clip chicken wings in the morning or in the evening because those are the easiest times for me to catch my free-range birds. If you are clipping wings midday, you may have a chase on your hands.
If you have someone to help you, then have one of you hold the chicken and one clip the wings. This helps to keep the bird steady and reduce stress. If not, then you can hold the chicken in one arm and clip with the other. Don’t hold the chicken upside down or on its back.
STEP 2: Clip the primary flight feathers
Use sharp scissors or shears to clip the long primary wing feathers all the way up the shaft of the feather until just below the primary coverts. Don’t clip into the covert feathers as this can cause bleeding.
If you do happen to clip too high, add some corn starch to the bleeding wing to help it clot. If it continues to bleed, then you may need to pluck the feather out. Check this article for more details on what you can do with a split or broken blood feather.
STEP 3: Let the chicken go
Gently place the chicken back on the ground and move on to the next bird. Wing clipping is as easy as that!
Maintaining Clipped Chicken Wings
A chicken’s primary feathers will grow back during their next molt. If you notice your bird starting to get a little flighty, then new feathers are probably growing in meaning that it is time to clip again.
It is also a good idea to keep a record of when you clipped wings. You can do this on the “Medical” page of The Homestead Chicken Record Book.