Clipping Chicken Wings

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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 o...
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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    80 Discussions

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    MarkG374hleeper1

    Reply 8 months 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...

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    hleeper1MarkG374

    Reply 7 months ago

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

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    PennyB2

    3 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?

    1 reply
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    MaryP213

    Question 9 months 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!

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    TonyG184

    Tip 10 months 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.

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    MollyD23

    1 year 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.

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    Pwag

    9 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.

    6 replies
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    xenobiologistaPwag

    Reply 8 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.

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    fintonxenobiologista

    Reply 5 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.

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    CaitlinB28finton

    Reply 1 year ago

    Actually two types of anaesthesia are used on farm. An instant pain relief spray and a 48hr pain relief on lambs at mulesing. Just thought you should know...

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    fintonCaitlinB28

    Reply 1 year ago

    Good to know, thanks Caitlin, and good to hear. Castrating and docking used to be done with a knife, hot iron, or rubber rings, but without anaesthetic.

    It's possibly more of a modern technique, then, or perhaps country-specific: where are you?

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    ClarissaB1xenobiologista

    Reply 2 years ago

    Mine is for the safety of my chickens. I live in a high predator area, I lost 2 chickens, and two guinea hens to a fox last week because they flew out of the coop and decided to free range on their own.. This way they stay in the coop (which is rather large 50'x100') and they stay safe. I wouldn't have clipped their wings otherwise, but it killed me to lose 2 great pet hens, and guineas.

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    PwagPwag

    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    Oh heck, I also read that if you trim just one wing, they'll learn not to fly since when they do with one wing trimmed, they wind up doing a barrel roll and crashing. I haven't had luck with this, but it's worth a try and might be funny after a beer or two.

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    corsair977

    8 years ago on Introduction

    You guys are making a big deal out of nothing.  Clipping a chicken's wings is not that big of a deal.  First of all all you have to do is clip one wing.  That makes a chicken trying to fly non aerodynamic.  you don't have to "pet or invert" the chicken, you simply hold it down and clip the feathers being careful not to get close to the "wick" of the wing. You have to do this about once every two months.

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    Lorellaicorsair977

    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    There is a reason why this website is called "instructables".

    Clipping feathers may not be a big deal if you've done it before but for someone who has never handled a squawking, flapping chicken whilst trying to simultaneously wield a pair of scissors and not damage the bird the process could be seen as daunting.

    If for one have never attempted to clip feathers but should I have need to do so in the future this instructable has provided a good reference point, my thanks to NoahW for providing it.

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    fintoncorsair977

    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    Only need to clip the wings after every moult, once the old clipped feathers have fallen out and the new ones are fully grown. Now my 8 chooks believe that flying above 1 metre is futile, I don't even bother clipping their wings any more.

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    Sheldy123

    3 years ago

    My chickens have gotten into other yards. I always clip them but always fly. Thanks!