Clipping Wings so Hens Can’t Fly

Monday, March 16, 2015

ClipWingsWith a reduced flock of hens in the barn I found myself craving some new additions a few weeks ago. As the feeling intensified the urge to buy more hens also grew. But, with a kid gone off to university, scholarship application deadlines looming and a hectic work schedule brooding a new batch of chicks was just not in the cards for our little farm, at least not this spring.

I was in our local hardware store lamenting my plight when the owner and friend suggested I call his friend who raised a variety of breeds. Armed with that knowledge nothing was going to stop me from adding to my flock. So, a few days later I called John and asked about breeds and age. Low and behold he had several hens for sale that had just started lying. Perfect, I thought. No brooding. No increase to my electric bill and instant egg production. I have to admit the birds were a bit more than I like to pay, $20 each, but when I took into consideration the time and money in chick starter it seemed like a fair trade. So we made arrangements to meet that weekend to hand off the hens.

I bought 2 Cuckoo Marans and 2 Americana’s. The Maran’s lay dark, almost chocolate brown eggs and the Americana’s lay bluish green eggs. Now with the others who lay a light brown egg we get a veritable rainbow of egg colors.

Perfect scenario, right? WRONG. The new additions had been raised on a large cattle ranch to the north of town, out in the calm and quiet of the range and hills. They were not use to the local commotion of my semi-rural street, with truck and motorcycles zipping down the street. They were nervous and flighty. I kept them in the coop for a week to get them acclimated to their new surroundings. But, that clearly was not enough time because the first day I let them out three got spooked and flew over the fence and into the commercial tree nursery that borders the east side of our property.

Of course I yelled for back up and Brianne came running. Not the school holiday she was hoping for, but pretty normal for us. After assessing the situation I grabbed the large fishing net, handed it to Brianne who immediately looked at me with this stunned, but knowing face, “you want me to climb the fence and net the hens? “Yep”, I said, “that’s the plan”. Shaking her head she shimmied over the fence and proceeded to corral the wayward hens. As she stalked through the low lying shrubs I sprinkled scratch feed near an opening in the bushes. Seemed like the perfect place to corner the new hens. Things went fairly well with the first two birds. In short order they were caught and put back into the coop for another week or so of acclimating. But, the third hen posed more of a challenge. After a few hours of trying to corner, corral, trap, cajole, tempt and sometimes outright pounce on the damn thing we gave up and figured she would either be lost to a night-time predator or fly back over the fence to be with the rest of the flock.

I was not happy at losing a $20 bird, but I also had no more time to chase her all over the open space of the nursery with no hope of catching her by hand. Nature would have to take its course, for good or bad. And, so it did.

A few days went by before the rather tuft up hen, tired of the outside world and the dangers that lay there flew back over the fence almost right in front of me. I stood there in amazement as she sauntered over to the coop and squawked and paced to be with the rest of the brood. She didn’t even flinch when I walked into the barn and unlatched the gate to the coop. She jumped through the doorway running for water and feed like she hadn’t eaten in days.

Not to assume she had learned her lesson I decided to clip the wings of all our newcomers so there would be no more escapees.

Clipping chicken wings is a fairly simple process that doesn’t cause the birds any pain or discomfort, if you do it right. Here are the steps.

  1. Have a pair of sharp scissors handy.
  2. Catch the bird you want to clip and hold her close and snug to your body with your hand underneath her for support, but don’t squash her.
  3. Splay the wing out so you can see the different layers of feathers.
  4. Locate the primary feathers. They will be long and near the end of the wing. There are about 10 of them. Check to see if the feather is immature with blood flow in the shaft or mature with a hallow shaft. If immature, cut above the blood flow.
  5. Clip across the primary feathers about half way down the length of the feather. Don’t get too close or you may cut the flesh. Check underneath every few feathers to make sure you are on the right track.

It’s that easy.






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