How to Safely Clip Wings

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Alby(RH)(Web)Last week a friend called me and asked if I would help her move her turkeys from the barn into their new pen and “Oh yeah, do you know how to clip their wings?” I’m pretty sure she knew the answer before she asked. What I believe she was really saying was, “while you are here, would you clip their wings for me?” Of course I said I could and that I would. I thought it might be a good opportunity to share the information on how to trim flight feathers. The following video demonstrates the technique on adult turkeys, but this really could be used for wing trimming on any domestic bird species.

So why clip their wings? Well, turkeys can fly pretty well. Even the heavier domestic breeds they can get up on barn roofs and fences. And if they can get ON fences, then they can get over them. Keeping them contained not only keeps your livestock from running amuck, but it protects them from getting to places where they might get hurt, like on roads or to neighbors that have non bird-friendly dogs. I would like to stress though, that this is not wing pinioning (where they break the wing), this is simply cutting the Primary Regime (flight) feathers. You can click on the diagram to see a larger version. This is not a permanent condition and will have to be repeated after every molt, but in my opinion, it is far more humane. Clipping their wings will not hurt them if it is done properly, in fact it is no more traumatic that trimming your fingernails.

You will only need a couple of things before you start. You will need a good pair of shears. The shafts of turkey feathers may be hollow, but they are made of pretty heavy stuff. I would also recommend that you have styptic powder on hand in case you accidentally clip a feather that is in a growth state. Growing feathers have blood in the shafts and if you cut them, the bleeding might be hard to stop. In the video, you will see how one person can hold a mature turkey AND clip the flight feathers. Not everyone will feel comfortable doing both, so it might be a good idea to find a buddy to hold the bird for you while you do the trimming.

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