So, how do I stop cannibalism (chickens pecking chickens)? The most effective way of stopping this vicious habit is making it part of your management program. Cannibalism among chickens is one of the worst things that every chicken keeper dreads. Once a group of birds adopts this vice, stopping it isn’t as easy as you may think. It takes skills, observation and close monitoring of the suspected birds to stop it. Let’s find out what causes cannibalism and how to overcome it.
This way, you will be able to identify the aggressive birds. Including their victims of the circumstances. Once you identify the problem, you can draw a line between the aggressors and their subjects. From there, it will be easy to control and subsequently stop cannibalism among your chickens.
Cannibalism becomes a huge problem when your chickens are stressed. The stress can be as a result of poor management or anything related to that. One thing you need to know is that within your flock of chickens there is a visible social hierarchy. This social behavior is commonly referred to as the pecking order. Don’t confuse it with the normal mild pecking although this is also part and parcel of this order.
What Causes Cannibalism Among Chickens?
Let’s start by explaining the meaning of cannibalism in chickens. Cannibalism is the act of tearing, pecking and consuming tissue, organs, or skin belonging to flock mates. This behavior is common to birds of all ages regardless of their respective breeds.
Cannibalism is more likely to affect different types of poultry like chickens, turkeys, quail, ducks, and pheasants. The vice can occur anywhere within the living environment of your chickens. Such as cages, aviaries, floor pans, and free-range systems.
Not all birds are born cannibals. As a matter of fact, this is a vice that is acquired or learned from other birds. If left unchecked, it can spread rapidly and affect an entire flock. Why is the case?
Naturally, chickens tend to observe and imitate each other. This implies that if one of them starts displaying aggressive pecking, the rest are likely to follow suit. As a poultry farmer, this behavior can be a devastating setback. This will affect your productivity as well as the existence of your birds. If not monitored closely and stopped in time, the resulting losses can be something not to smile about.
Cannibalism is preventable but not easy to treat. Studies have shown that the underlying causes of this vice are more genetic than imitated from other birds. With proper management practices, this behavior can be brought to a stop.
Major Causes of Cannibalism in Chickens and their Remedies
Causes of Overcrowding
Overcrowding can result in some birds becoming territorial. Consequently, a few or majority can resort to cannibalism or feather pecking behavior. This should tell you that adequate space for your birds is necessary for good reasons.
Limited space is a recipe for disaster and can encourage competition for available resources. This will lead to bad behavior such as cannibalism.
You also need to ensure that your chickens have enough facilities like feeders and waterers that can serve all of them equally.
The housing system for your flock should have enough floor space for all the available birds. Adequate floor space will ensure that every chicken is well accommodated. and provided for, thus eliminating cases of feather pecking, attacking each other, and cases of cannibalism.
Also, more space means that less aggressive birds can escape and evade constant attacks from more dominant birds. So, overcoming the issue of overcrowding can help prevent or minimize cases of cannibalism in your flock.
Overheating due to high temperatures can make your birds uncomfortable and result in pecking one another. You can overcome this problem by simply providing adequate fresh, clean, and cool water as well as enough ventilation to cater for all your birds in the coop.
When your chickens become uncomfortable as a result of overheating, chances are they will become extremely cannibalistic. In this case, make sure that the temperature conditions in your chickens’ housing system are conducive for every bird.
You may start by making a few adjustments of the brooding temperature as chicks mature and keep on adjusting as they age. Young chicks can do better when subjected to temperatures not exceeding 95 degrees Fahrenheit at the beginning of their first week.
As they mature, you can reduce the temperature by 5 degrees Fahrenheit each week up to 70 degrees Fahrenheit. If you don’t check and adjust the temperature accordingly, there are chances that your birds will become cannibalistic.
Do you know that the number of hours your birds are exposed to excessive light? This can cause them to adopt vicious vices such as cannibalism? The intensity of light and how long the birds are exposed to it can influence their behavior in the long run. Your birds may become hostile and aggressive to each other unless a solution is found in time.
It is not advisable to use white bulbs that are more powerful (exceeding 40 watts) on your chickens. Instead, use infrared or red lights if you want to keep your birds warm and comfortable. Also, don’t expose them to excessive light for more than 16 hours per day because constant light is a nuisance and stressful to your birds.
However, you can provide your broilers with 16 hours of light each day then followed by 8 hours of darkness. The light should have an intensity not exceeding 0.5-2 foot-candles. Starting from 0-18 weeks, you may provide the rear laying hens with less than 10-12 hours of light each day.
Once the birds are taken to the laying house, you can increase the duration of light to about 13 hours every day with an increase of 1-2 foot-candles in terms of intensity. From there you may increase the light duration at intervals of 15 minutes until your chickens get 16 hours of light in a single day. This way your birds will adjust slowly to changes in the light intensity and duration, making them more comfortable and productive.
Poor nutrition or lack of proper diet can cause your birds to become hungry and resort to pecking each other. Ensure that your chickens have access to plenty of water and feed throughout the day to keep them satisfied. The scarcity of food and water will enhance the pecking order. As usual, this vice will determine which chickens to eat first and when denying the less aggressive ones the chance to eat and drink water. In the end, your birds may become cannibalistic towards each other.
The unbalanced or poor diet can make your birds aggressive or extra active. For instance, a lack of protein and other essential nutrients will cause your chickens to peck others. For that reason, provide them with a well-balanced diet that is appropriate for their respective ages and purpose of raising them.
Presence of Injured or dead Chickens among Your Flock Chickens are omnivores by nature and can eat about anything they come across. This means they will not spare even their own kind if the opportunity presents itself. The presence of a dead or injured chicken in the flock can attract other chickens given that these birds have an affinity for blood and flesh. For the injured bird, this can be bad news because other mates will start pecking it and causing more harm. You should minimize cases of injuries by removing loose wires and other objects that are likely to harm your birds. Most importantly, the dead, the injured chickens, and victims of cannibalism should be taken away from the flock.
Birds of Different Colors and Age There’s a common saying, “birds of the same feather flock together”. So, mixing birds of different colors, sizes, breeds, and ages will bring disharmony in your flock. Unless the same birds have been raised alongside each other since they were young, you should expect chaos if you keep them together. Doing so will upset the already established social order and increase cases of cannibalism among other vices. But you can prevent such behavior by keeping your birds according to their age, color, size, and breed.
Sudden Changes in management practices or rather an environment can affect your birds negatively. they have been known to trigger stress and aggression in some birds. In this regard, you must make gradual changes in management practices as well as the surrounding. This can be helpful especially when moving your birds from one place to another. Ensure that the new location bears some resemblance to the older ones to make your birds comfortable
Is cannibalism among chickens preventable?
Yes. You can prevent this behavior in many different ways such as keeping your chickens busy, providing them with fresh greens to improve fiber content in their diets, restraining aggressive birds, drawing the birds attention away from their victims and trimming their beaks.
You can also buy blinders or peepers that will help prevent the chickens from plucking other’s sores or feathers.
Can I treat the cannibalism outbreak?
It is possible to treat cannibalism if you can only identify the root cause of this problem. In other words, you may start by correcting any practices that can lead to cannibalism.
Cannibalism is a genetic problem. Other chickens an imitate their mates. Inasmuch as it is a big problem among chicken owners, this vice can be controlled and treated if you identify what is causing it. Make cannibalism control to be one of your management programs to save your flock in time.