If you’re concerned about your chickens escaping or don’t want them flying, clipping their wings is the most common solution. With both wings properly clipped, a chicken will only be able to jump as high as 2-3 feet or so.
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Can Chickens Still Fly After Wings Clipped?
Let’s be real, chickens aren’t great at flying. Due to selective breeding over many years to make them fatter, and better for meat production, they’ve basically become too heavy for any real flight.
However, depending on the breed, most chickens can still get a good few feet off the ground. This is usually enough to get into a neighbor's yard or escape your yard.
By clipping a chicken's primary flight feathers, you can greatly reduce how high they can jump and how high they can fly.
Some owners only clip one wing, and that's usually enough. You can also clip both wings for maximum effect, and this pretty much grounds a chicken.
With two clipped wings, at best they will be able to jump, flap, and make it maybe 2 or 3 feet into the air.
In addition to this, something I've noticed about chickens that have their wings clipped is that they stop trying to fly.
They learn that they're not able to get and stay airborne, and will adjust accordingly.
Related - Can roosters fly?
How to Clip a Chicken's Wings (With Just Scissors)
Clipping a chicken’s wings isn’t difficult and doesn’t require any special tools. If you want to do if yourself (with the help of someone else to hold the chicken) here’s a video showing you what to do:
If you can’t watch it right now, the basic steps are:
Step 1 - Get a good hold of the chicken that is going to have its wings clipped.
Step 2 - Stretch out the chicken’s wing so you can clearly see its primary flight feathers. The primary feathers are the largest feathers that form the tip of their wing.
Step 3 - You will see the next line of feathers coming up about halfway over the primary feathers. This is a good indication of how far down you can cut.
Step 4 - Just simply cut along the top of the secondary feathers snipping away a few inches of their primary feathers. (don't worry, they won't feel a thing).
Step 5 - When you tuck their wings back in, you won't even notice that anything is changed.
Clipping a chicken’s wings, or any bird for that matter works because it removes a large portion of the feathers they use to get some lift.
By removing the tops of these feathers, they’ll just flap without generating any lift and getting off the ground. These feathers do grow back though, so you’ll need to trim them again in the future.
Do You Clip Both Wings on a Chicken?
I've seen people with differing opinions on this. Generally speaking, clipping both wings is a lot more effective at grounding a chicken and clipping one.
But some people think that when you clip only one wing, it confuses and essentially ‘unbalances’ a chicken.
I know some backyard chicken owners that just clip some of the feathers on each wing to combat this.
Essentially leaving their chickens with alternate feathers on each wing, so they can get a little bit of lift and make their way up into a tree easy enough and have good balance.
It really comes down to how much you want to restrict your chickens’ flight. The more grounded you want them, the more of their primary flight feathers you need to cut.
Related - Here's why chickens aren't great at flying.
Is It Cruel to Clip Chicken’s Wings?
I’ve seen it debated whether or not it is cruel to clip a chicken's wings. First of all, it's important to note that they don't feel any pain when you cut their feathers.
Feathers are primarily made of keratin, this is the same material that fingernails are made of. There are no blood vessels, nerve endings, or anything else in their feathers that would lead them to feel pain.
Potential pain or discomfort isn't the only reason some people disagree with clipping wings. It can also cause chickens a little bit of confusion when they try to fly after being clipped.
It’s not as if they were good at flying to start with. But it takes chickens some adjusting when they realize they can’t just burst fly up as high as they previously could.
I’ve read some accounts that chickens ended up injuring themselves trying to fly with clipped wings. So, that’s something you need to be mindful of for sure.
The thing is though if your chickens are a flight risk and there is a dog in the neighbor’s yard or other predators, having their wings clipped is a much safer option.
It’s common practice among all kinds of birds. Personally, I’m fine with it, and like I said, it’s often the best option for their own good.
Hopefully, I've helped explain that clipping a chicken's wings is perfectly safe and painless, and is a good way to reduce their flight abilities.
With two clipped wings, a chicken is pretty grounded. Even the most determined hen will struggle to get higher than 2 feet off the ground.
If you live in an urban setting and want to make sure your hens don’t get into your neighbor’s yard, clipping is the easiest way to do this.
Image credits - Photo by Eric Daoust on Unsplash