Why It Happens and How Can You Prevent It

Something that always raises my blood pressure is when someone tells me how animals have always been kind to each other – that humans are the only species with the ability to be violent or mean.

If you’ve ever raised chickens, you know this is a lie.

Don’t get me wrong – chickens can be sweet, cuddly and very pleasant to raise.

However, a rooster may also have an average streak that is half a mile wide. It can also be extremely violent and aggressive.

Chicken cannibalism isn’t something people like to talk about, but if you’re going to raise chickens (especially in large numbers), it’s a sad reality. Remember, chickens are omnivores, and they don’t care whether dinner comes in the form of a bug – or any other chicken.

To prevent this and deal with it in your flock, you need to be prepared to address it directly.

Here are some causes and possible solutions to chicken cannibalism. Fortunately, by taking the right steps now, you can prevent this from becoming a problem in the future.

What is Chicken Cannibalism?

Chicken cannibalism is just as the name suggests. This occurs when one or more chickens, usually stressed by poor management practice, resort to picking at another bird’s comb, feathers, vents, or toes.

As soon as blood or open wounds appear, cannibalistic behavior quickly spreads throughout the herd.

If you are able to notice cannibalism and intervene soon after it begins, you can often keep things under control and rescue the attacked bird.

However, the left United NationsIf checked, it can quickly kill a bird and become a bigger issue, with more birds being attacked by chickens, who now have a taste for blood.

due to chicken cannibalism

There are some common causes of chicken cannibalism that you should be aware of if you want to prevent it in your flock.

1. Overcrowding

Overcrowding is probably the number one cause of chicken cannibalism. When birds do not have enough room to roam, they become irritable, cranky and bored. This leads to feather pecking behavior that often turns into full-blown cannibalism.

Overcrowding is problematic in another way too – the chickens being bullied don’t have enough room to escape.

2. Fodder and Water Issues

It may seem obvious that chickens can cannibalize each other by not providing enough food and water. Eventually, this creates the illusion that they need to go into a state of starvation and fight for their food.

However, it is not only the absence of food or water that can lead to cannibalism, but also uneven distribution. Pecking order is the top determinant of which birds to eat and when, and if there is not enough room at the feeder, some chickens are inevitably going to starve.

Diets that are not balanced enough can cause chickens to become cannibals. In particular, feed that is low in protein and other nutrients, such as fiber and methionine, can cause birds to turn on each other.

3. Heat and Light

When birds are too hot, they can become cannibals. This is a phenomenon that is experienced not only in chickens but also in other animals. Even humans become more aggressive when they get hot.

Chickens can become aggressive towards each other due to white light. White light is brighter and more intense than other colors. Even if you’re using a red light, it’s important to remember that chickens don’t need 24 hours of light. Constant lighting can be extremely stressful for chickens and can lead to bullying behavior.

4. Sudden change (any kind)

Chickens don’t handle change well. Whether it is moving birds to a new location or relocating feeders and waterers, it is important that any changes that occur are small and gradual, rather than sudden.

5. Mixture of different races and eras

While it is acceptable to mix flocks of different ages and breeds most of the time, you need to be careful about how you do it. Keeping different types of birds can be problematic, especially if they are of very different sizes.

Often, curiosity (which begins quite innocently) leads to the beak, which then leads to eating.

6. Crippled Animals

One mistake that many novice chicken keepers make is keeping dead or crippled birds in the shed. Sometimes this is done with genuine confidence that the injured pimple will heal on its own. Other times, you may not notice an injured or dead animal until it is too late.

Either way, leaving such an animal in a pen can be dangerous because it only invites more pecking and encourages cannibalistic behavior.

7. Slow Winged Birds

As I mentioned earlier, you need to be careful in mixing chickens of different breeds, ages and sizes. You also need to be careful with mixing slow-feathered chickens into a mixed flock. Birds that are slow to feather have their immature, more tender feathers exposed long enough to make them vulnerable to pecking (and of course, cannibalism).

8. Insufficient Nesting Space

Too few nesting boxes can be problematic, causing chickens to turn on each other in a cannibalistic way. As you know, it can also lead to egg eating behavior.

You also need to make sure that you do not place any bright lights near the nesting areas, as this can also lead to cannibalism.

9. Introducing New Animals

Whenever you add or remove chickens to your flock, you are disrupting the pecking sequence. You may not see it, but this disruption can be serious.

10. Prolapse

Last but not least, the vent area is the most common place where chickens will start pecking each other (which eventually leads to cannibalism). This behavior is often triggered by a simple prolapse.

Prolapse occurs when the uterus stretches and ruptures, taking a long time after the egg has been laid to return to the body. This is common in young chickens who start laying in layers too early as well as with a lot of weight.

How to stop cannibalism in the herd

Now that you know what causes cannibalism, here’s how to avoid it.

1. Address living conditions

First, take a look at the conditions you are providing for your animals. At a minimum, adult chickens need 2 square feet per bird in the coop and more in the haul.

You can get away with less space for chicks or bantams but buying game birds or heavy meat birds will require a lot more space. I always double up on the recommendations just to be on the safe side.

Adjust the temperature whenever possible. Young chickens should be kept at a temperature of 95 degrees Fahrenheit for the first week, but it is important that you gradually lower the temperature each week thereafter. Eventually, you should get the temperature around 70°F. This should be a gradual change at a rate of about 5°F per week.

When you warm up the brooder, measure the temperature only at the height the bird is standing directly under the heat source. Contrary to some people’s belief, you don’t need to heat the entire brooder.

Similarly, check on the light. Avoid white light bulbs, especially bulbs larger than 40-watts. Do not light continuously.

2. Feed and fix water

Make sure there are plenty of feeders and waterers to go around. If there is not enough space, this will lead to aggression.

Make sure the chicken feed you are using contains all the important nutrients needed for chickens. In particular, check out methionine (a nutrient that is often lacking in the diets of so-called “vegetarian” chickens).

3. Be Careful When Introducing New Chickens

If you can, raise a flock composed of chickens of the same age, size, and breed. Avoid chickens that have crest, beard, or feathered animals that do not have these traits.

If you must mix breeds, make sure there are several of each type to provide some protection against bullying. Introduce new chickens slowly and carefully.

A good way to do this is to divide the pen by a wire wall for a week so the chickens can get used to each other. You can also introduce new birds when everyone is on the roost for the night. It’s a polite introduction that can stop bullying.

4. Upgrade the Nesting Box

Make sure there is at least 1 nesting box for every 4 chickens. These areas should be dark and secluded.

5. Be alert to problems

Inspect your chickens often. You may not notice a problem with bullying until it reaches its peak. Interacting with your herd regularly will give you a good idea of ​​herd dynamics so you can prevent problems.

6. Prevent Prolapse

Provide your chickens with a healthy diet and plenty of exercise so they don’t become overweight. Treat the prolapse when it occurs (streaks of blood on the eggshell are a good sign that it is happening). You may need to isolate chickens with excessive or recurring prolapse issues.

7. Let Them Burn Their Energy

Allowing your chickens to free-range will serve two purposes. First, it will provide them with more space. Second, it will keep them busy and distracted, giving them time to peck for insects, greens and other food instead of eating other chickens.

8. Provide Distraction

Hang things like shiny, colorful accessories in the coop. You don’t have to go out and buy expensive chicken toys, but giving your chickens some distractions (especially in winter) is a good way to stop pecking behavior.

9. Trim Beak

Finally, know that in problematic flocks you may have to take drastic measures.

Beak trimming is a controversial practice, but it is essential for commercial growers and owners of chickens who, for whatever reason, cannot kick this behavior.

This involves removing about a third of the beak tip, which makes it difficult for your birds to harm each other. If you decide to do this, make sure you do your research and have the actual trimming done by an experienced person. This could be dangerous.

Addressing incidents of cannibalism among your chickens

Cannibalism can be caused by a long list of factors, so if your flock has this problem, it may take you some time to figure out the cause.

This should be your first step (beyond removing any injured or dead birds, of course). Find out what went wrong and try to fix it.

Then, take steps to prevent those situations in the future, lowering the temperature of the pen and darkening the brooder or coop with a red bulb. Even if you don’t apply it as a long-term fix, it will help calm the pimples in the meantime.

If you know that it is specific chickens that are doing all the bullying and cannibalism, you may need to remove them from the flock.

In the end, the first thing to do should be to treat injured birds – but it should be mentioned again because it is so important. Apply ointment to any injured area. Ideally, you should be using something like Blue Cote, which will not only disinfect and begin to heal the injury but also turn it a different color.

Remember, red, bloody areas tend to attract more beaks. Turning it blue with a spray such as Blue Cote can help prevent future bruising. If it’s a minor injury, it may make more sense to spray the wound and let the chicken swarm. Although badly injured chickens must be removed from the flock to recover, this disrupts the pecking sequence and should be avoided if not 100% necessary.

Keep your chickens safe!

Preventing pecking behavior and cannibalism is essential if you want to have a healthy, productive flock.

While this is something no chicken keeper will ever want to deal with, you can stop chicken cannibalism in its tracks and get back to normal by following the tips above.

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