You may have heard of the amazing escapades of pigs, goats, and cattle that get tired of their pens and pastures and decide to check out the grass on the other side of the fence. Fortunately, the advent of electric fencing has made these animals much easier to contain.
But chickens are another story. Electric fencing keeps predators out of the chicken pen…but what about keeping the chickens in? Portable fences for chickens are designed so that the little birds can’t squeeze through the netting, but there’s still one difficulty. Chickens can fly.
And once they’ve flown the coop the first time, they will do it a second time…and a third time…and a fourth time…and a fifth time….
Prevention is always the best cure, and in this case the ideal prevention is to keep your chickens happy. Make sure they always have enough feed and scratch grains to keep them from going hungry, and enough fresh pasture to keep them busy. A chicken’s life revolves around looking for things to eat, so if it can’t find anything in its pen, it will look elsewhere.
But some chickens go through spells of wanderlust for no apparent reason. These must be dealt with, not only because they are easy prey for the first coyote that passes by, but also because they set a bad example for the rest of the flock. One day you’ll have one chicken out; the next day there will be two or three.
Here is a painless, bloodless solution to the problem. If you clip the offender’s flight feathers short enough on one wing, it will lose its balance and fly very poorly, usually in a circle with a crash landing at the end. But since you are only cutting feathers, it doesn’t hurt the chicken in the least (except maybe its feelings). And it’s super easy.
You Will Need
- A pair of sturdy shears
- A helper
- Have your assistant hold the chicken so that you are free to operate the shears.
- Gently unfold one of the chicken’s wings and identify the primary and secondary flight feathers.
- Clip both the primary and secondary flight feathers as closely as you dare. The shorter the better, but you don’t want to hurt the chicken. You can always go back and trim a little more off later if you need to.
Only trim the feathers on one wing. If you trim both wings, the chicken is balanced again and will still manage to fly. For the same reason, this haircut is pretty much useless on sparsely feathered chickens.
Don’t forget that once a chicken can’t fly, it is particularly vulnerable to predators. Do not allow flightless hens to roam. Keep them safely in their pen. After all, that is where you wanted them to be in the first place, right?
Finally, remember that this is not a permanent solution. The feathers will eventually grow back, and in a few cases the chicken will even master the art of flying with a stubby wing. The idea is to keep it on the ground just long enough that it forgets its daily escape routine. Keep it happy and well fed in the meantime, and hopefully by the time it is able to fly, the idea won’t even occur to it. Remember, prevention is the best cure.