How and When to Cut your Chicken Flight Feathers

For those of you with an open top run, the problem of maintaining flightless birds may suddenly rear it’s head when you find yourself confronted with an escaped chicken. Chickens do not fly very high, but with flight feathers they can get over a decent sized fence and leave themselves open to predators.

To remedy this you need to reduce tier flight capability by cutting their primary feathers on ONE wing.

Check your chicken’s wings, if it looks like the diagram below it’s time to cut the feathers.


flight feathers










  1. Before you start cutting, check the feathers to make sure they are not still growing. There will be blood in the feathers if this is the case. Do NOT cut growing feathers.
  2. DO NOT pull out the feathers – the chicken will naturally grow new ones. Cutting the feathers allow them to stay flightless for longer and not cause any harm to the chicken.
  3. Extend the chicken wing outwards to view the primary flight feathers (the first ten feathers from the end of the wing as shown to be cut in the diagram above).
  4. Cut around 50% of the feather length off with scissors or nail clippers on ONE wing only. Cutting both wings will defeat the purpose of this. The idea is to unbalance the bird to prevent flight.
  5. If you find this doesn’t solve the problem (your bird is particularly adept at flight) cut the feather back more so that the cut is closer to the feathers above.
  6. The feathers will be replaced after a malt which is typically once a year so you will need to redo this every so often.
  7. Cutting flight feathers prevents the chickens from not only escaping but also from getting into trouble with a predator.

Warning: Acorns as Chicken Feed

Having just got two big healthy chickens my partner and I have been looking at low cost ways to supplement their pellet feed. This means compiling big lists of poisonous foods and foods that are okay. It’s actually quite complicated and lots of foods that are okay for us are actually poisonous for chickens including nettles and parsley! We now make it a habit of researching any spare scraps we have properly before giving them to the chickens to ensure we are not harming them in any way. I will post a growing list of foods that are poisonous to chickens shortly that I will update as I learn more.

Now I am pretty thorough when it comes to my research, I do not do anything by half. Not everyone is as keen on this side of things and tends to jump on ideas as soon as they see them however. My partner Alan saw a long and well established blog called Living the Frugal Life where the author had become quite excited about feeding his chickens Acorns in abundant amounts to cut down feeding costs. The problem was that he mentioned at no point how to remove their TOXINS and actually feeds his chickens raw crushed acorns. This sent alarm bells ringing in my head as I was sure I had seen somewhere previously that Acorns were poisonous to Poultry because of the Tanins in them – the same reason they are toxic to us. Now chickens have delicate and simple digestive systems, if pretty much nearly everything is toxic to them, surely Acorns would not be so good for them either? I found a few lesser blogs that claimed they were okay and a few that also claimed it was poisonous. Who was right?

It was then I came across this blog post: Acorns: Toxic Feed for Poultry which is not only an experienced homesteading blog it also contains the facts and maths behind Acorn Toxicity!

Now which blog post am I going to trust? The one that simply says ” I did it and they haven’t died” or the one that says “scientific studies show not to and here is my source of information”.

If I could, I would quote the entire blog post from Woodridge Homestead. It’s basically a pure block of useful knowledge. But let’s glean the facts we need to know out of this:

  • Acorns have KNOWN TOXIC and ANTI NUTRITIONAL effects on certain animals including POULTRY.
  • Studies with poultry and other animals have been conducted and all of these animals show negative side-effects with Acorns used as feed.
  • Chickens show weight loss, egg production changes, and other adverse effects, including DEATH.
  • Tannins in Acorns negatively affect FEED INTAKE, DIGESTION and PRODUCTION.
  • Tannins (<5%) cause DEPRESSED GROWTH RATES, LOW PROTEIN UTILIZATION, DAMAGE to the DIGESTIVE TRACT, alteration to the excretion of certain cations and increased EXCRETION of PROTEINS and essential AMINO ACIDS.
  • Chickens react to as little as 0.5% tannins causing SLOW GROWTH AND LESS EGG PRODUCTION. Level from as low as 3% can cause DEATH.

“Generally, tannins induce a negative response when consumed. These effects can be instantaneous like astringency or a bitter or unpleasant taste or can have a delayed response related to antinutritional/toxic effects … Tannins negatively affect an animal’s feed intake, feed digestibility, and efficiency of production. These effects vary depending on the content and type of tannin ingested and on the animal’s tolerance, which in turn is dependent on characteristics such as type of digestive tract, feeding behavior, body size, and detoxification mechanisms.


Cornell University’s Dept of Animal Science

It was after reading this I also noticed the guy on Living the Frugal Life had even HINTED that his hens were not LAYING as they should:

“I would bet they’re pretty well on their way to a complete laying hen diet.”

The more I looked at his post the more anger I felt. It was basically guesswork and irresponsibility. Not only is he feeding his chickens a toxic substance he is telling other people to do so: and they are listening. His chickens hadn’t died yet so he figures that’s okay, never mind their long term health and wellbeing, his responsibility to his readers or finding out the facts.

What we Recommend

If you want to give your chickens Acorns you can but you MUST remove the Tannins first just like you would for human consumption and do not use them as sole or main feed crop, they are a special treat for your chickens and do not hold nutritional value.

To remove the tannins you can cook the acorns through thoroughly or run them through running water such as in a stream for several weeks. We suggest cooking is easier, faster and more reliable.

It goes to show you how untrustworthy a lot of information online is, always triple check or quadruple check your facts before making any decisions! This goes for anything and everything but especially for food stuffs!