Just as people can grow and learn, so can animals. Our laying hens have been enjoying their time here at Sweet Gum Farm, being able to scratch and peck, forage greens, dig in the dirt and have dirt baths, stretch their wings and have plenty of space.
Just last week I was having a discussion with someone about laying hens and was telling her about our poultry netting fence. With this fencing we can let our layers free range safely within the fenced area, protecting them from predators on the ground, and we can move the fence regularly to foster the land’s health as well as the chickens’. She asked what to do if one of the hens can fly over the fence, and I said we hadn’t had that happen. Yes, I must have jinxed us, because this past weekend Mr. Sweet Gum found one of the red sex-linked hens outside the fence. Lulu, the hen with the yellow anklet, had somehow gotten out of the fence but, because it was rapidly approaching darkness, she wanted back inside the fence so she could roost with the flock.
Monday evening I heard a lot of wing-flapping so I looked towards the hens and, sure enough, Lulu had flown the coop, so to speak. I tried to catch her as she led me on a merry chase. Eventually Mr. Sweet Gum managed to get her back into the pen and back to safety. Apparently Lulu didn’t think much about the fact that the dogs might have seen her as dinner.
While we are glad that Lulu has been able to stretch her wings -haha– and explore her skills, her flying over the fence presented a serious danger to her safety so we had to decide what to do to prevent it from happening again. Sure, Mr. Sweet Gum built the chicken tractor so the chickens could stay safe inside it and be moved daily to fresh pasture, but they have so enjoyed being able to free range and we didn’t want to take that away from all of them just because Lulu learned a new skill. Reading about the topic taught me that clipping a chicken’s wings is not the permanent maiming that I was concerned it might be; in fact, trimming the primary flight feathers is painless for the chicken and simple. We watched a lot of videos on the topic; this was one of the many good ones:
This article was good as well for us as beginners: https://www.permaculture.co.uk/readers-solutions/how-clip-chickens-wings-beginners
In short, by following a few simple guidelines, trimming the primary flight feathers of only one wing results in a chicken who can’t take flight because she is lopsided and is similar to trimming our nails or cutting our hair.
Ah, but watching it done on a video and doing it are two different things, right? So how did it go and what was Lulu’s reaction? She was calm throughout, although the repeated unusual sensation of having her wing trimmed made her begin to fidget by the 8th cut. She never made a sound and, once released, she resumed the business of being a chicken without apparent distress and no fuss. When she walks around, you can’t even tell she had a trim. It’s only if she extends her wings and shows her feathers that you can tell. Who knows? The other ladies may think it’s all the rage and want a trim too. 😉