Cannibalism in chickens is the habit of chickens pecking one another. I have not seen a chicken eat another chicken, but they will kill each other for some reason. Once a chicken gets a blood spot on it, other chickens will peck at that spot reflexively until they eventually kill that unfortunate chicken.
So cannibalism in chickens isn’t actual cannibalism in the sense that they eat each other completely. It is more a brutality that they exhibit reflexively while partial eating of another chicken can happen.
You’ve probably heard the term “pecking order” and chuckled at the pun. But what happens when the pecking goes too far? We’re talking about cannibalism in chickens. In this article, we’ll explore what cannibalism in chickens is, why it occurs, and how to identify it. So, let’s get cracking!
What Is Cannibalism in Chickens?
Cannibalism in chickens is the act of one chicken pecking at, injuring, or consuming parts of another chicken. It’s a disturbing behavior that can escalate quickly if not addressed. There are different types of cannibalistic behavior, such as:
Feather Picking: Chickens peck at each other’s feathers, often pulling them out. This happens quite often as an expression of frustration among younger chickens that have recently feathered and are bored.
This boredom can result from being raised on a floor where pecking and scratching are impossible. Think mesh screen, etc. Overcrowding can also cause feather picking.
Often, bare spots will be found at the neck, back, breast, or below the vent. Excess picking can lead to bleeding, which will exacerbate the problem.
Vent Picking: Chickens peck at the vent area, which can lead to severe injuries. This can happen when a layer’s vent gets turned inside out (everted) or prolapsed. The brightness of this protruding part will draw the unwanted attention of other chickens that will peck at the vent until disaster occurs.
Another occurrence of vent picking can happen when chickens peck others on a roost that is too low. Keep your roosts at 18″ or higher.
Head Picking can occur during a hard molt when bright skin is exposed on or near the head area. If you see this happening, move the offender(s) until the molt ends.
Tail Pulling is often the result of overcrowding.
While the concept of cannibalism in animals isn’t new, it’s a topic that many chicken owners might not be fully aware of.
Why Does Cannibalism Occur?
Understanding why cannibalism happens can help you prevent it. Here are some common triggers:
Chickens need space to roam. Overcrowding can lead to stress, which in turn can trigger cannibalistic behavior.
This begins in the brooder, where tiny chicks have plenty of space… until they don’t. Chicks grow so quickly that a brooder that seemed spacious initially soon becomes overcrowded as chicks quadruple in size.
In the coop, chickens need about four square feet per chicken to be happy.
A lack of essential nutrients like protein can make chickens turn on each other. Make sure their diet is balanced and rich in essential nutrients. More protein is needed during molting, and anytime a chicken is convalescing for any reason.
Feeding crumbles or mash to your chickens instead of pellets causes chickens to take more time to eat. This can help distract from pecking each other, thus reducing chicken cannibalism.
Yes, chickens get stressed too! Changes in their environment, loud noises, or even a new addition to the flock can stress them out, leading to cannibalism.
Constantly adding new additions to the flock also results in re-establishing the pecking order, leading to stress.
Some experts believe that boredom or lack of stimulation can also lead to this behavior. Chickens are curious creatures, and a lack of mental stimulation can make them turn on each other.
Add dust baths, toys, obstacles, and more roosts to your chicken’s living and recreational areas to keep them mentally occupied.
Signs and Symptoms
If you’re worried about cannibalism in your flock, here are some signs to look out for:
- Physical Signs: Missing feathers, wounds, or bleeding are obvious indicators.
- Behavioral Changes: Watch for chickens that are isolating themselves or seem unusually aggressive.
Recognizing these signs early can help you take preventive measures before things get out of hand.
The impact of Cannibalism
Cannibalism in a flock isn’t just a problem for the affected birds; it can have a ripple effect that impacts the entire flock and even you, the owner.
Effects on the Flock
- Reduced Egg Production: Stressed or injured hens are less likely to lay eggs.
- Fatalities: In severe cases, cannibalism can lead to death, reducing the size of your flock.
Emotional Impact on the Owner
Let’s be honest; no one wants to see their pets hurting each other. It can be emotionally taxing to deal with such a situation.
How to Prevent Chicken Cannibalism
Prevention is always better than cure. Here are some ways to prevent cannibalism in your flock:
- Make sure your chickens are getting a balanced diet rich in essential nutrients.
- Switch to mash or crumble.
- Add more insoluble fiber like grains, bran, seeds, and leafy greens.
- Provide ample space for your chickens to roam.
- Ensure good ventilation in the coop.
- Reduce bright lighting by adding red bulbs or red tints to sunlit windows.
- Ensure that nesting boxes are dark enough for laying hens to be safe from pecking.
- Introduce toys or other distractions to keep your chickens mentally stimulated.
What to Do If Cannibalism Occurs
If you’ve noticed cannibalistic behavior in your flock, here’s what you can do:
- Isolate the affected birds to prevent further injury. These can be weak, young, sick, or injured chickens that naturally attract bullies.
- Clean and treat any wounds.
- Isolate until injured birds regain their strength.
- Consult a vet for severe cases.
Of course, the best treatment is prevention.
Cannibalism in chickens is a serious issue that requires immediate attention. Being vigilant and proactive can go a long way in preventing this disturbing behavior. Remember, a happy flock is a healthy flock!
For those who want to learn more about this topic, here are some resources: