Did you know that trimming flight feathers on your backyard flock is a good idea? It’s simple to learn and fairly easy to do. Plus it can help keep your birds from escaping and getting hurt while roaming loose.
One night the kids and I were sitting at the table having a bedtime snack when all of the sudden there was a loud thumping right outside the window. It only took a few seconds after my initial scare to realize it was one of the hens, frantically trying to get into the light. Candi, our Golden Laced Wyandotte had hopped the fence around the goat and chicken yard. She made her way through the back, up the side yard, and around to the front dining room window. She stood there with no idea how to get back to her coop in the dark.
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Before taking her back out to the coop I made sure I trimmed her flight feathers to make sure she didn’t show up at our window again tomorrow night. If we lived in a more rural environment I would most likely NOT trim flight feathers. Keeping the flight feathers intact allows your birds to more easily escape potential predators. However, in our small urban yard the risk of hopping the fence and getting hit by a car is more likely than being chased by a fox or a dog.
How To Trim Your Hen’s Feathers
Trimming flight feathers is very easy. The hardest part of learning how is keeping the chicken still long enough to see what you’re doing the first few times. If your birds are skittish it might be helpful to have someone else hold the chicken for you. This hen was docile enough that I could take pictures with one hand while holding with the other.
First gently extend one wing until you can see the flight feathers. They will be tucked underneath the outer feathers. You can tell the difference because flight feathers will be darker and stronger. Second, trim them with very sharp scissors to the same length as the outer feathers. I’ve used dull kid scissors when I couldn’t find mine, but I don’t recommend it. Not only does it take longer, but you are more likely to pull or twist on the feather which is uncomfortable for your bird.
If you want you can do just one side. I almost always trim both sides though, because the first time I just did one wing my hen tried to fly. She started spinning in a circle and smacked into the side of the house! I felt really bad, so now I always do both wings unless the bird is overly stressed. I have an Andalusian that panics, so she only gets one wing.
Trimming Flight Feathers On Hard To Catch Birds
If you have a hard time catching your hens try trimming flight feathers just after the birds roost for the night. They should be calmer and more docile. Once they fold their wings back up you can’t even tell the flight feathers have been trimmed!
Do you trim flight feathers? One wing or both wings? Any tips I forgot to mention?
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Thursday 17th of December 2020
I cut our chickens' wings for the first time today. After the first chicken it went well. For me. The girls were distressed and the boys were angry, but all calmed down quickly. One hint you didn't mention - spread the wing out enough so that you are trying to cut the firm spine of only one flight feather at a time. And having strong, sharp scissors is a must, especially if, like me, you don't have great hand strength. I started at the edge of the wing closest to the chest and cut up/back, just beyond the end of the short feathers on top. The younger hens had the easiest feathers to cut, while our oldest hen and the roosters were much harder. I wish I had started with a younger hen since I was new to this. Instead I started with the oldest hen because she is the most difficult to catch. Maybe some breeds of chickens have flight feathers that are easier to cut than ours. We live in central Mexico now and have generic Mexican "ranchero" chickens we got from my husband's family members. They are big, sturdy birds that lay beautiful, large, brown eggs and put on enough meat to make a big pot of soup. Sort of multi-purpose chickens. When we realized they could fly over an 8 foot high fence it was time to cut wings! Thanks for the great advice.
Friday 18th of December 2020
They sound like a great flock. Thanks for sharing your tips!
Thursday 10th of September 2020
Do NOT trim Both wings!
The idea is to make it difficult to impossible for your hens to fly.
One wing trimmed leaves them unbalanced in attempting to fly. So they don’t.
Trimming both wings rebalances them. Result is they Can fly almost as easily as if you hadn’t bothered.
The rest of the wing trimming advice is ok, but ONE wing only.
Thursday 10th of September 2020
Yes, I've done it both ways, and for my birds they can't get enough lift even with both wings cut. I'm sure flightier birds do better with just one wing.
Monday 21st of March 2016
Yes, we trim the flight feathers on our girls. We only do one side, so they can still get away if need be, but can't fly over a fence. Unfortunately, all of our chickens got eaten by a very determined bobcat one night. Grrrr!
Kathryn @ Farming My Backyard
Monday 21st of March 2016
Oh no! I'm sure the bobcat was happy, but sad for you and the chickens!
Sunday 18th of May 2014
Do you mail order your chickens or have a local place? I would love recommendations for mail order if you have some. If we end up moving, that is the first thing I want to get.
Monday 19th of May 2014
I've always bought my chicks locally, but I've heard that Hoovers and McMurray are good. Here's a directory of hatcheries you could look through too.
Friday 2nd of May 2014
Very good explanation! :-) I would normally never consider clipping the wings as we live in the country and there are lots of predators, but I'm considering it for the buff orpingtons, and possibly one Easter Egger to see if it helps. They are currently 1-week old and already trying to jump out of their brooder and fly around the room. I had put logs and small branches into the brooder (an old stock tank in the milk house) and they are climbing onto the logs, attempting flight, and landing on their noses after a short time.
How quickly do the clipped feathers grow back??
Tuesday 6th of May 2014
You can always give it a try and see if it helps. I usually put a lid on my brooder when they start hopping out.
It lasts until they molt. Older birds that's about once a year, but I'm not sure how long it would last on a 1 week old bird!