We’ve never done this before, so the plan is to clip the chickens’ wings at night, 8pm, when they are deeply sleepy and easier to handle. Then tomorrow morning, Kimber and all the chicks will wake up free to come and go all day and forage in the lower pasture and experience full chicken lives. No more worries about flying away.
After dinner, we watch about a dozen You Tube videos on the procedure and study diagrams. It seems straight-forward enough, especially with the two of us, both college graduates, one to hold the chicken, one to clip.
We discuss the issue of clipping one wing or both as if it’s circumcision, and decide to clip both. Just clipping one will prevent flight, but the bird’s flapping is less awkward and the symmetry more pleasing if you do both.
A coyote yaps and howls up just above the goat barn, and we stop our discussion to listen.
The Bearded One has spent hours this past week, patching the fence line and installing poultry wire along the outside to keep out digging predators. Tonight is the night to clip.
The moon is just two nights off of full, it’s finally 8pm, and Ruby accompanies us up the hill to the chicken coop with our flashlight and scissors. The Bearded One also has a nifty new light he clips to the bill of his cap, and, after hearing the coyote, he is really belting out the usual Tom Jones’ “She’s a Lady” number into the dark woods to scare all the critters away.
The clipping goes surprisingly fast, once we turn on the big light. The chickens are still manageable and don’t think it’s morning. The Bearded One catches each victim, then sits in a chair and holds the chicken while I stretch out the wing and clip the 10 front flight feathers along the line where the secondary feathers start.
Maybe it’s the shadowy light, but all Kimber’s chicks look alike to the Bearded One. “This is Stevie,” he says of the first chicken he fetches. “No,” I say, “it’s Steve!” Later he says, “This is Kimber,” but it’s not. It’s Tux. Or maybe Dusty. Half the chicks are Kimber clones now. The chicks are all 4 months old. Just two more months and the pullets will begin laying, if they have supplemental light, and the roosters, Tux and Steve, will go to auction.
The next morning, the Bearded One is limping. His foot feels like it is broken, he says, and I suspect sympathetic pain — although the chickens experienced no pain and went right back to sleep after their clipping. He says it was the fence work. There’s lots of irregular ground on the hillside. I cook him and the chickens oatmeal with blueberries.
Then the time of the free-range has come. We take Ruby and Garfield and make them stay behind the fence. I stand to greet the chickens with the plates of oatmeal, which they love. “Let ‘em loose!” I say and the Bearded One limps over to the aviary doors.
They have absolutely no interest in leaving the aviary. We cluck and hoot. We assure them that the cat and dog are under control. Still, they will not be called forth. I try to herd them out, and they circle back around the coop. It’s the only place Kimber’s chicks have ever lived.
Over the course of an hour, they gradually emerge. Steve is first, but Kimber is still calling all the shots. No bird flaps around or tries to escape over the fence. Where their wings are clipped is virtually unnoticeable.
The Five — Leah, Anna, Danielle, Jane and Cheetah — come after all of Kimber’s chicks have left the building. Cheetah, the biggest of all the chickens, is also the biggest baby, and is the very very last.
Eventually, they scratch and peck their way to the top of the chute, as we call the narrow passage to the lower pasture.
Garfield plays at attack, just as we hoped.
He leaps and the Bearded One limps over and tells him “NO!”
Ruby is theoretically more of a real threat, and we theatrically control her comings and goings. She watches Garfield’s lesson from outside the fence.
Then, to my shock, after about half an hour of great new eats and freedom that none of them has ever known, Kimber calls everyone back into the aviary…
…and begins a communal dust bath. Good job, she clucks to us. Close the door on your way out.