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How (and why) to clip a chicken's wings

How to clip a chicken's wings

Between the raccoon trouble and our dog breaking a bolt-hole in the pasture fence, our chickens started getting in the habit of escaping their pastures.  I was nearly at my wits' end when I realized that only the two pullets we raised this spring were escaping regularly.  With the problem more manageable in proportion, I decided to experiment with clipping the troublesome duo's wings.

Chicken wing clippingBefore I explain how to clip a chicken's wings, I should tell you that the downsides of the process usually outweigh the upsides, at least for me.  In general, I think there's a management problem if your chickens are regularly flying the coop --- perhaps there's a predator they're scared of, or you've let their pastures become over-grazed so there's no wild food available.  Unfortunately, as I discovered, it's quite possible to fix the management problem and have hens who just got used to flying and don't want to stop.  That's when I recommend resorting to wing clipping.

The other reason not to clip a chicken's wings is if you're going to let your flock free range where predators might be present.  Basically, by clipping, you're promising your hen that you're going to take care of her and that she won't have to take flight to escape.  Harvey Ussery writes that he "would never clip the wing of a free-ranging chicken", and I have to agree.

If that reasoning doesn't scare you off, though, it's pretty simple to do the deed.  I was able to hold our chicken and cut her wings myself, but you might be happier if you have a helper to keep your hen contained while you snip.  You'll also want to hunt down a heavy-duty pair of scissors before you start.

Grounding a chickenIn general, it's recommended that you clip only one wing of a chicken at first so that you imbalance and confuse her, not make her completely unable to fly.  If you tuck the hen under our arm, you'll be able to spread out her wing with one hand and snip the feathers with the other.  Just be sure not to cut closer than an inch to the base of the feather or you may make the wing bleed.  As long as you take that precaution, you won't be causing any pain to your chicken at all --- the process is a bit like getting your hair or fingernails cut.

After clipping one wing of each of our pullets, I was very disappointed to find one of them out in the garden the very next morning.  The second step if your chicken is still flying despite her wing clipping is to cut the flight feathers off the other wing.  Unfortunately, even that didn't suffice to ground the most determined member of our flock, so she's currently flavoring a big pot of soup, but everyone else is behaving admirably and all's quiet at last in the chicken yard.

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Make an example out of one of 'em, and the rest will fall in line...
Comment by irilyth [livejournal.com] Thursday afternoon, September 13th, 2012
...my belly. Maybe chickens can count after all.
Comment by anna late Thursday evening, September 13th, 2012
What is wrong with you??? Would you like to have your arms or legs "clipped"??? This is animal cruelty!!!
Comment by Anonymous Wednesday evening, July 2nd, 2014
Anonymous --- I'm so sorry you feel that way. I'm not sure you understand what wing clipping entails, though. You don't actually clip the flesh of the birds, just the feathers, which is analogous to clipping a dog's toenails or cutting your hair. Yes, it can be an annoyance to the bird, but there's no pain involved at all.
Comment by anna at lunch time on Monday, July 7th, 2014
To whoever thought or thinks that clipping a chicken wings is cruel. This is similiar to accusing people of cruelty when they cut someone's fingernails or hair. It doesn't hurt the chicken at all!!!
Comment by Heike Wednesday evening, July 9th, 2014
I agree with some of the other communications, it is cruel to clip the chickens wings. If you need to, only clip a few of feathers past the end 4, this way they have a lower flight and the chickens Can control there landing.
Comment by Alicia late Wednesday evening, June 22nd, 2016
Anyone who believes it is cruel to clip a chickens wing, must definitely be a city farmer, or a demo rate. It is no different than cutting our fingernails, or trimming a horse feet.
Comment by Cheryl late Thursday evening, February 9th, 2017

Thanks for the help! I have one lady who makes it her daily mission to escape. Of course, the entire flock has went from free-ranging to breeding pens and NO ONE is happy about it. I was worried I would cut a blood feather :/ but happy to know I wont be any where near them :) Also, to those of you screaming "abuse"..please do your research. Yes, there are many things you could do to advocate for poultry abuse, please go start with battery hens (that produce the eggs YOU eat..the ones I eat come from happy healthy albeit wing clipped hens), and if thats not enough to get you started, check out the methods hatcheries use to dispatch excess male chicksmy chicks are hatched here on the farm from happy healthy hens that just so happen to not be allowed to fly out o a 2 acres fence bc I am clipping their wings...oh, my poor ladies :'( Wing clipping should be the least of your concerns....just saying..

Comment by Bobbi Jo at lunch time on Saturday, March 25th, 2017
We did it all the time to keep them down on the farm so to speak. Or they would have flown over the fence of their run and be in danger of the local predators.
Comment by Flo early Friday morning, April 21st, 2017

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