Clipping A Chicken’s Wing Feathers: When And How?
Even though chickens are not the best fliers, they can still flap over fences or fly into trees. These situations aren’t ideal if you live in a suburban neighborhood or an environment with lots of predators lurking around. Wing clipping is often done to prevent your chickens from escaping, but it’s not always necessary.
Let’s find out how and when to clip a chicken’s wing feathers.
How To Clip A Chicken’s Wing Feathers?
To clip a chicken’s feathers, hold the chicken gently but firmly. Identify the primary flight feathers and trim the longest ones on one side. It’s not necessary to clip both sides, but remember not to cut too short. This helps limit their flight.
Shortly put, it’s not difficult to clip a chicken’s wing feathers, but if you need a more detailed description, we’re happy to provide it for you. If you don’t need to know all the extra details, click here and go straight to the do’s and don’ts.
Step-by-Step Chicken Wing Clipping
Before you go to your chickens in the backyard, make sure to bring some scissors. This can be any kind of kitchen scissors, but preferably a large, sharp, and firm model to achieve a smooth cut.
A second person to hold the chicken while you clip the wing is advised, both for your safety and the chickens’.
Now let’s go over the steps one by one to safely clip a chicken’s wing feathers. You can find a short video on how to clip the wing feathers here:
Time needed: 10 minutes
- Catch your chicken
Of course, the third thing you need next to a pair of scissors and helping hands is your chicken. Catching a chicken can get complicated depending on your chicken’s personality. If you’re having trouble catching your chicken, go to our ‘How to Catch a Chicken‘ article to get you started. But remember never to hurt or scare your flock too much.
- Make the process as stress-free and short as possible
The last thing you want is a nervous chicken when clipping its wings. Make sure to try and calm your chicken down, but also make the process as fast and straightforward as possible. The sooner she’s back with the others, the better.
- Expose the chicken’s wing
Gently grab one of the chicken’s wings and carefully pull it away from the body, thereby extending it. This way, you can quickly identify which feathers you need to cut away.
- Find the primary flight feathers
You only need to clip the primary flight feathers. Those are the 10 long, narrow feathers a chicken uses to fly, flap, and lift off. If these are cut, they lose the ability to fly. For more information about feathers, please consult our ‘Chicken Feathers Guide‘.
- Clip the primary flight feathers
With your partner firmly holding the chicken, carefully use the scissors to cut away no more than fifty percent of the primary feathers’ length. Cut the feathers just beneath the covert feathers to ensure you don’t clip too much. Make sure the primary flight feathers are still longer than the coverts.
- Only clip one wing
In most cases, clipping one wing will already make it impossible for your chicken to fly or flap over the fencing. And the (non-clipped) other wing will allow them to retain their balance.
- Observe and release
Check for any problems that may have occurred, like bloody feathers. After that, gently let go of the chicken so she can join the rest. Your chicken will experience some light disorientation at first, but will return to her usual self in no time.
What Not to Do When Clipping A Chicken’s Wings
While clipping a chicken’s wing feathers seems simple enough, there are a couple of things you must remember when doing so.
- Do not cut too much of the primary feathers. Cut them right beneath the coverts; do not make them shorter.
- Only clip the wing feathers of adult, fully-grown chickens. You’ll need to wait until their plumage is fully developed to prevent accidentally cutting a pin feather.
- Do not clip their wings during or right after molting.
- Do not clip your chicken’s wing if you plan to participate in poultry shows, as they will be disqualified.
Blood veins extend an inch into a chicken’s feather, so when clipping more than half of the primary feathers’ length, you’ll likely cut into the blood vein area. When that happens, bleeding will occur, which does not clot very well.
A complete removal of the feather is necessary to solve this issue.
Additionally, don’t clip a chicken’s wings when they’re still young and developing their feathers or during or right after molting. The likelihood of you clipping a pin feather is high during those times, and it will cause unnecessary pain to your chickens.
When to Clip a Chicken’s Wings?
Clip a chicken’s wing feathers not earlier than the age of 1 and after their first molt. Adult chickens can be wing-clipped yearly, a few weeks post-molt. Wait for clipping their wing feathers until after they have reached adulthood or have fully grown plumage.
The best way to determine whether or not the chicken’s feathers are ready for clipping is to check the color of their quills. If their quills are white or clear, the feathers are fully grown.
Feathers with a dark quill are still growing and not yet ready for clipping. These feathers are still full of blood, which is nourishing their growth. As such, many call them blood feathers, while others refer to them as pin feathers.
How High Can a Chicken Fly With Clipped Wings?
Clipping a chicken’s wing feathers curtails its flying capacity by affecting lift and balance. While they may still be able to flap up to two or three feet off the ground, flying higher is impossible due to their reduced wing functionality.
Clipping a chicken’s wings helps it stay closer to the ground, not remove its complete ability to fly.
Now that you know how high your chickens can still get in the air, you must readjust the chicken coops and perches accordingly. You don’t want your chickens to have difficulty returning to their regular routine or reaching their resting areas.
Is Clipping a Chicken’s Wing Feathers Necessary?
The necessity of clipping a chicken’s wing feathers depends on the breed and surroundings. For flighty breeds in a risky environment, wing clipping can be practical. Lighter, smaller chickens, like Seramas, are more likely to escape and benefit from wing clipping.
There are chicken breeds that are less likely to flap over the fence. These breeds include Orpingtons, Silkies, Faverolles, and Australorps. When raising these chickens and similar breeds, wing clipping is mostly unnecessary as they usually remain on the ground.
We suggest to wait and see whether your flock is interested in escaping the run area or not. Some can easily flap over the fencing, but won’t because they have plenty of space or have no interest in discovering their surroundings.
If your chickens never escape the run there is no need to clip their wings.
Clipping a chicken’s wing feathers can be a necessary process when raising chickens. Some are more likely to escape the run or flap over fencing and get themselves into trouble. Wing clipping allows these chickens to stay away from danger and stay within a safe enclosure at all times.