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What is Chicken Cannibalism? Tips To Protect Your Flock

What is Chicken Cannibalism? Tips To Protect Your Flock

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Have you been asking yourself what is chicken cannibalism? Well, you have come to the right place. Keep reading to learn more.

This article will discuss everything you need to know about chicken cannibalism. We will discuss the causes and how you can prevent poultry cannibalism.

What Is Chicken Cannibalism?

As the name implies, chicken cannibalism is when one or more chickens in a flock resort to tearing, pecking, or consuming the tissues, organs, or skin of other flock members.

The behavior mostly occurs when poor management practices stress the bird.

The behavior spreads rapidly throughout the flock when blood or open wounds become visible.

If left unchecked, it can become a disaster and lead to the death of many birds in the flock. Fortunately, you can prevent or stop this habit if you notice it earlier and intervene. 

Causes Of Chicken Cannibalism

There are several causes of chicken cannibalism that you should address to keep your flock safe. Here are some of them.


Overcrowding is the leading cause of cannibalism among chickens. When your chickens lack plenty of space to roam around, they will become cranky, irritable, and bored.

As a result, they might develop feather pecking behaviors that eventually turn into full-blown cannibalism.

If your coop is overcrowded, birds that are victims of bullying will not find enough space to escape. 

You must ensure that each bird in your coop has enough space to drink and eat.

Failing to do so will encourage cannibalism and make dominant chickens keep others away from water and feed.

Your coop should also have adequate floor space, several perches, and nesting boxes.


High temperatures can cause your chickens to become uncomfortable and prone to pecking.

You should ensure your birds do not overheat by offering them plenty of cool water and good ventilation for the age and type of chickens in your flock.


The intensity of light and the number of hours you light your coop can influence cannibalistic behaviors among your backyard flock.

White lights will cause your birds to become aggressive and hostile toward one another.

They tend to be more intense and much brighter than other colors.

You should remember that chickens do not need light 24 hours a day, as constant lighting can cause stress and lead to bullying behaviors in the flock.

If you want more powerful bulbs to produce heat, you can use red or infrared bulbs.

Feed And Water Issues

If you do not provide enough food and water to your birds, they will likely develop cannibalistic behaviors.

They will start fighting for food and water. However, not just the absence of water and food in your coop can lead to the behavior but also unequal distribution. 

The top determinant of when chickens get to eat and which chickens get to eat is the pecking order.

Therefore, if there is less food, some birds will likely go hungry. Also, unbalanced diets can cause cannibalism in chickens.

A chicken feed low in protein and other crucial nutrients, such as methionine and fiber, can make your chickens turn to each other.

Abrupt Changes In The Flock

Chickens do not handle abrupt changes of any kind well. Whether moving the location of waterers and feeders or moving your birds to a new location, you should ensure that the changes are small and gradual. 

Leaving Dead Or Injured Birds In The Flock

One mistake some chicken keepers make is allowing injured or dead chickens to remain in the coop.

Since chickens are attracted to blood, they can develop cannibalistic behaviors if one bird is injured and one or more birds start pecking on the wound.

Using loose wire on pens and cages can puncture the skin of your birds and cause bleeding.

Therefore, you should prevent injuries in your coop. In addition, you should quickly remove from the flock dead birds, victims of cannibalism, injured birds, and cannibalistic birds.

Mixing Chickens Of Different Ages And Breeds

Although mixing chickens of different breeds and ages is acceptable, you should be careful about how you do it.

Combining chickens of different breeds, ages, sizes, or colors that have never been raised together can upset their social order and increase the chances of cannibalism.

Mixing chickens with different traits can also promote cannibalism.

Slow-Feathered Chickens

You should avoid adding slow-feathered birds into a mixed flock. Backyard chickens that are slow to feather have their immature and tender feathers exposed for a long time.

This leaves them vulnerable to pecking and victims of cannibalism. 

Introduction Of New Birds

You will be interfering with the pecking order when you remove or add new birds to your backyard flock.

While you may not easily notice it, the disruption can be severe. It can lead to various cannibalistic behaviors, such as pecking.

Inadequate Nesting Space

Inadequate nesting space can be a big problem, especially if you raise several hens in your backyard.

It can make your birds turn to one another in a cannibalistic way. Besides, having too few nesting boxes in your coop can lead to egg-eating behaviors.


The vent area of your birds is the most common place where they will begin pecking at one another.

This behavior that often starts with a simple prolapse can eventually lead to cannibalism. 

Prolapse occurs when the uterus of the chicken stretches and tears, taking too long to return to the body after a hen lays an egg.

The condition is common in extremely overweight layers and young birds that started laying too soon.

How To Prevent Chicken Cannibalism

Now that we know the causes of chicken cannibalism, here is how you can prevent it.

Address the Living Conditions of Your Chickens

You should take a look at the conditions your birds are living in. Your birds will need plenty of space to move around.

You must also ensure that your coop is not overcrowded. For instance, adult birds will require a minimum space of 2 square feet per chicken inside the coop and more than that in the chicken coop run.

While bantams and chicks will not require a lot of space, heavy meat birds and game birds will require plenty of space. To be on the safe side, you can double the recommendations.

You will also need to adjust the coop temperatures whenever possible. Your young birds should be brooded at 95°F for the first one or two weeks.

As they age, you can gradually decrease the temperatures by 5°F every week until to reach 70°F. Also, be sure to check on the light and avoid white bulbs.

Be Careful When Introducing New Chickens

If possible, consider raising a backyard flock composed solely of birds of the same breed, size, and age.

You should avoid keeping birds with feathered legs, beards, and crests with those without these traits. 

If you want to mix chicken breeds, make sure you have several of each type in your coop to offer protection against bullying.

Also, ensure new chickens in your flock are introduced carefully and gradually. 

You can achieve this by splitting your pen with a wire wall for a week or two so the birds get used to one another.

Also, you can try to introduce new birds when other birds are on the roost at night. A gradual introduction will prevent bullying and cannibalism.

Provide Enough Feed And Water

You must make sure that there are enough waterers and feeders in your coop. A lack of waterers and feeders can lead to aggression and cannibalistic behaviors.

In addition, you should provide your birds with plenty of feed that contains all essential nutrients like protein and methionine.

Upgrade The Nesting Boxes

You should make sure that there are enough nesting boxes for your birds. One nesting box for three hens can work. The area should be dark and secluded. 

Prevent Prolapse

You can prevent prolapse by providing your chickens with a healthy diet and exercise to avoid becoming overweight.

Also, you should treat prolapse as soon as it occurs. Hens with recurring or extreme prolapse issues should be isolated.

Trim Beaks

Beak trimming is a controversial practice in the poultry world. However, we can sometimes take drastic measures in problematic chicken flocks.

If your birds are not kicking this behavior, you can trim their beaks. 

The practice involves removing a third of a chicken’s beak tip. It makes it difficult for chickens to attack and harm each other.

Since trimming can also be dangerous, you must ensure that it is done by someone with experience.


If you were wondering whether chickens can eat other chickens, you are already answered.

There are several causes of cannibalism in chickens, such as overcrowding, prolapse, and introducing new birds to the flock.

Preventing cannibalism and pecking behaviors will ensure your flock is safe and more productive.

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