Clipping Chicken Wings

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Introduction: Clipping Chicken Wings

About: I've worked for Instructables off and on since 2006 building and documenting just about everything I enjoy doing. I am now the Creative Programs founder and manager for Autodesk and just finished building out…
Chickens can't fly as well as other birds, but they can flap their wings enough to carry them over fences and out of the coop. If you've got backyard free range chickens, clipping their wings is a must so that you chickens don't escape and get lost, or worse, in trouble with an angry dog or some other predator in the area.

Clipping chicken wings is a bit daunting if you've never done it before, but once you've clipped a wing or two, you'll discover that it really isn't as difficult or dangerous as you may have thought.

Materials:
  • Clean pair of sharp scissors
  • Towel (optional)
  • Pliers (optional safety measure)
  • Corn Starch (optional safety measure)
  • Gauze or rag (optional safety measure)

Step 1: Catch a Chicken

The hardest part about clipping chicken wings is catching the chicken. Some chickens are docile and like being touched, others fear humans and run away like their lives depended on it (which I guess they do sometimes).

A few things that seem to help is to corner them in a small space so they have less of an area to get away from you. You can also use a towel and throw it over the chicken. That should slow them down enough long enough to grab them.

Once you grab the chicken, you should gently apply pressure to their wings and pick them up, or you can go for the pro maneuver and snatch them up by their ankles. Watch out for their claws and beaks.

The more regularly you handle your chickens, the easier it will be to catch and hold them. So for some chickens, this may be a non issue, but for first timers, it's a little challenging.

Step 2: Invert and Calm the Chicken

Once we caught the chicken we spent a minute calming it down. Pet it softly, make cooing noises, and, what seemed to work best - invert it. When the chicken is upside down, it goes into a trance and they become much more docile.

Step 3: Expose the Wing

With the chicken upside down, identify which wing you are going to clip. Expose what are called the primary flight feathers by grabbing the chickens wing and gently pulling it away from its body. You can tell the primary flight feathers from other feathers on the chickens wing because they may be a different color, are generally longer, and are the 10 or so feathers closest to the tip of the chickens wing.

Many people find success by clipping just one wing. Others clip both wings. The theory behind clipping just one wing is that the bird will be thrown off balance enough by having just one smaller wing that their flight capabilities will be drastically limited. It seems that chicken owners have not reached consensus yet on this issue.

We cut back the feathers on only the chickens right wings. This way they're all the same, and when we need to cut the wings again in a few months, we can be consistent with what wing we'd like to cut.

Step 4: Cut Back the Primary Flight Feathers

Using a clean pair of sharp scissors, clip around 2/3 of the length of the first 10 or so feathers on the chickens wing. Take a look at the diagram below to see roughly how much of the feather you should be cutting off. You can also use the chickens secondary flight feathers (located in the same position on the wing as the primary flight feathers, just closer to the chicken's body) as a guide.

The idea is to cut off a significant amount of the feathers, while not making a cut so close to the chickens wing that you make them bleed. Chicken feathers have blood veins extending into them about an inch or so. If you cut below this point, the feather is completely dead, the chicken feels nothing, and the wings get clipped successfully.

If you cut above this point (closer to the chickens body/wing) the chicken will begin to bleed through the cut feather and your chicken will be in danger. If that occurs, apply pressure to the tip of the feather with a rag, and get your chicken to a veterinarian. Corn flour or starch applied to the cut feather cuticle can slow the bleeding and help the chicken clot. Additionally, grabbing the base of the feather with a pair of pliers and removing it completely from the chicken wing can also help the chicken clot. This process will hurt your chicken, but in a pinch, it may save its life.

Apparently the veins in the feather itself just don't clot very well.

If you cut the primary feathers carefully, there's no reason why you should ever cause your chickens to be in pain or to bleed during this process.

Step 5: Release the Chicken

Once you've trimmed the chicken's feathers, release the chicken. It might be a little disoriented for a moment, but it should be unharmed.

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    89 Comments

    0
    MarianneM32
    MarianneM32

    4 weeks ago

    Thanks for the article! I have had lots of Ameraucana chickens who seem to have better flight and night-vision than others. My chickens were still able to. fly too straight after one-wing clip, so my farm-raised husband suggested clipping same side of the tail feathers also. This wing/tail combination "haircut " looks a little funny but works. Their flight is too lopsided to get over the fence; I repeat this every 1-2 months.

    0
    MaryP213
    MaryP213

    Question 3 years ago

    I have some white leghorns that get out everyday... I don't have to tell you how well they can fly! Do you think I should go ahead and clip both Wings on my leghorns since I already have them to clip them for the one? Or do you think just clipping one would be sufficient? Thank you!

    0
    ws26137
    ws26137

    Answer 8 months ago

    Only do one because it takes away balance

    0
    PennyB2
    PennyB2

    6 years ago

    Help! I clipped my hens' wings (Only one). It's been less than a month and they are starting to fly again. What do I do?

    0
    ws26137
    ws26137

    Reply 8 months ago

    This time clip more that one feather, don’t be scared it’s just like taking your kid to the hair salon.

    0
    MarkG374
    MarkG374

    Reply 3 years ago

    Clip em again...

    0
    DebbieH171
    DebbieH171

    Question 2 years ago

    Thank you for your advice. I did do it today to my chicken. My question is how long do I need to wait before I do it again if I did do it today? Thank you

    0
    ws26137
    ws26137

    Answer 8 months ago

    You just do it when necessary. We just check the every month or so. You can do this about every 6 months.

    0
    hleeper1
    hleeper1

    4 years ago

    dont hurt them this is an unnecessary process.

    0
    ws26137
    ws26137

    Reply 8 months ago

    It is necessary for people and farms that need their chickens to stay in a fence. This is not injuring the chickens, they can’t feel a thing! If these chickens get out it could SERIOUSLY injure them. I have had chickens for my whole life, trust me. Would you rather have a dead chicken that can fly for a happy and healthy chicken that can’t fly?

    0
    MarkG374
    MarkG374

    Reply 3 years ago

    Tell that to my dead chicken or the one too afraid to leave the coop now. My other girls will be safer thanks to this process since they cannot leave the fenced-in area any longer...

    0
    hleeper1
    hleeper1

    Reply 3 years ago

    maybe you should take better care of your chickens instead of being laziy and clipping their wings

    0
    KariJ13
    KariJ13

    Reply 2 years ago

    I know... Some people are cruel! My mom used to cut my fingernails when I was a child - she's so lazy!! She said it was to keep them from getting too long, breaking and then hurting, she said it was to keep me from harm, but I know she was really cutting them because she's always been lazy

    0
    ITAMRocks
    ITAMRocks

    2 years ago on Step 1

    Never hold a chicken upside down by the feet, you can cause serious internal organ damage

    0
    ws26137
    ws26137

    Reply 8 months ago

    The chicken is not being harmed by being hung upside down.

    0
    TonyG184
    TonyG184

    Tip 3 years ago on Introduction

    I have been clipping feathers since I was 10 years old. Never had a chicken bleeding from this. Just make sure you do not go too close to the actual wing. Muchas less cruel than your neighbor's dog shredding the chicken to pieces because the chicken flew the wrong way.

    0
    MollyD23
    MollyD23

    4 years ago

    Pinioning a wing and clipping flight feathers are not the same thing.

    Pinioning involves surgically removing, or amputating, an entire joint of the wing. I've heard it compared to declawing a cat, though I think it is more like removing the joint if a finger. It is as painful as surgery is, and is banned in many countries.

    Clipping flight feathers is more like clipping fingernails. And just like clipping your your own quick or cuticle, feathers will bleed if you clip too close to the vein. But if you're comfortable cutting your dog's nails, you will be fine clipping flight feathers. No one has banned clipping flight feathers.

    Remember, though, that chickens fly to get away from predators. If your chickens free range, they need to be able to fly. If you are clipping wings to keep your chickens out of your garden, it might be safer for your chickens to make your fence higher. However, it may be more dangerous for your birds to be escaping their enclosure, so feather clipping is entirely appropriate. It will not physically hurt your birds.

    0
    Pwag
    Pwag

    12 years ago on Introduction

    What's the filing cabinet for? There's away to do this when they are chicks, that keeps the primaries from growing in, it involves removing the tips of their wings entirely. I've never had the guts to do it, as I don't to risk losing a chicken. An easier way (but less amusing to the neighbors) of capturing them, is to do this at dawn (gross) or at dusk (easier) when they are tucked in for the night. Chickens have crazy poor night vision and their usually rather docile. If you hit them with a flashlight (not really hit them, but shine it in their eyes) it's easy to just reach out and pick em up.

    0
    xenobiologista
    xenobiologista

    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    Just want to point out that some people consider pinioning to be cruel - along the lines of mulesing sheep or docking dogs' tails, it's something that's done for the convenience of humans. I don't have enough experience with chickens to be convinced either way so I'll reserve judgement.

    0
    finton
    finton

    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    I agree xenobiologista. "Pinioning" by removing the wingtip is a cruel as any other form of docking: can anyone honestly tell me that docking farm animals is regularly done with anaesthetic? I didn't think so. Dogs are more likely to be tail-docked with anaesthesia. As Pwag says at 3:24 PM, once young chickens have learnt that they "can't" fly with a trimmed wing, they tend not to - similar to why an adult elephant can be held by only a foot-chain and a peg, but can actually drag a huge log: it's all in the mind.