There are a lot of decisions to be made when keeping poultry, and whether or not to clip chickens’ wings to prevent the birds from flying is one of the choices that must be made.
There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. Although clipping chicken wings does not cause harm or pain to the bird, it is always my last resort. I believe in allowing animals to retain as much of their natural state as practicable, but chicken wings do sometimes need to be clipped. Whatever your philosophy, here are some points to be considered as you make the decision that works best for you and your flock.
The reason this is a consideration at all is because chickens, of course, fly. They don’t fly very high or well or for more than short bursts at a time, but they do fly. They can clear fences, and that is where they can get into trouble. For many homesteaders, the reason for fencing is as much to keep predators and other dangers out as it is to keep chickens and livestock in. And if the chickens fly over the fence and out of their safe enclosure, the fence cannot do its job to protect them.
There are certain chicken housing methods that make it unnecessary to clip wings.
For example, some enclosures are covered. This not only prevents avian predation and discourages nimble ground predators from climbing up and over the fence but also keeps domestic birds from escaping. If your chickens live in a covered pen, there is no need to consider clipping their wings.
Another reason chickens would not need to have their wings clipped is if they do not have an enclosure at all. If they are truly free-range — let out of the chicken coop at dawn and allowed to spend their days roaming wherever strikes them — there is no practical reason to restrict them from flying. In fact, free-range homestead chickens are better off with both wings completely intact, allowing them to fly up out of danger to tree branches and other high places when threatened.
And, of course, chickens that are kept indoors except for when under direct supervision by humans or trained guard animals do not need to have their wings clipped.
It is significant to note that all chickens do not fly over fences. It is more difficult for some breeds and individuals than it is for others, and some chickens simply choose not to fly. Therefore, if your chickens have not flown out already and are making no attempts to do so, it may not be essential to clip their wings.
In many instances, chickens can be trained not to fly over the fence by simply putting them back in when they get out. Chickens tend to follow the leader, so if one bird flies out, the rest are likely to try it. The earlier you can catch the first few fence-flyers and retrain them, the better.
If your chickens do not fall into any of the above categories — completely enclosed including a roof, not enclosed at all, unable to or uninterested in flying, or trained to stay in the pen — then you may need to consider clipping their wings. If it is critical that your birds do not get out of their pen, because of possible predation, proximity to vehicle traffic, or other potential issues. In those scenarios, clipping is probably the best choice for your flock.
When wings must be clipped, it is crucial to do it correctly. Similar to trimming human fingernails, cutting the outer edges is harmless but cutting into the part where blood is flowing causes pain.
Most sources say to clip only one wing, causing an uneven dynamic which prevents the bird from achieving liftoff. This works well on my homestead.
The key components to clipping chicken wings are to stay calm, be sure to clip only the flight feathers, and don’t remove any more than necessary.
The flight feathers are the ones at the ends of the wings, visible when the wing is spread open. The quills (the rigid tubes down the center) of wing feathers are white or clear. This is an important distinction from other feathers which have dark-colored quills and can bleed heavily if you cut them. It is a good idea to have blood-stop powder on hand in case you accidentally cut a blood feather, but it is a better idea to take great care and be deliberate in cutting one feather at a time to avoid mistakes. Some chicken literature includes instructions to have pliers on hand and pull a feather that starts bleeding, but I have never had that experience with my chickens.
It is important to use sharp scissors, and helpful to have an assistant on hand to assist with handling the chicken is a real bonus. Make minimal conservative cuts when clipping feathers. You always can cut more off more if needed.
I have read that wing-clipping needs to be done every year as they molt and grow in new feathers. That makes sense, but I have not found it to be true with my flock. The habit of staying in the pen having been developed, it tends to stick with them. I toss the occasional outliers back over the fence in the spring when they first consider straying, and they seem to get over the idea.
By carefully evaluating the needs and habits of your poultry when making the choice about clipping their wings, the birds can stay on the right side of the fence and live long healthy lives.
What is your opinion about clipping wings? What do you do? Share your thoughts in the section below: