Cannibalism appears in several forms. But they all start in the same basic way. One bird is attracted to peck another. This, in turn, attracts others to join him. Many different conditions can cause cannibalism in chickens.
The following conditions, alone or in combination, may lead to cannibalism:
- Chicks are raised in an incubator, not under mothers
- Chicks are kept in a brooder with a cloth floor
- Crowding, especially with rapidly growing chicks filling the available space
- Excessive heat without adequate ventilation
- Bright lights 24/7
- Insufficient roosting space
- Lack of opportunities to exercise
- Frequent disturbances in the click order
- Feeders and drinkers are too few or too close together
- Sudden changes in the palatability of the ration
- The ration is very low in salt or protein
- High in calories and low in fibre
- The ration (eg pellets) is eaten too quickly
- external parasites
- Bleeding injuries or missing feathers
- Too few nests or incorrectly designed
Some breeds and breeds within the breed tend to be more cannibals than others. The breeds with the strongest foraging instincts have the strongest tendency toward cannibalism. Especially when they are confined without opportunities to satisfy their inherent need for forage.
Lightweight, high-strung breeds that scare easily are also likely to develop cannibalistic behavior. They tend to relieve stress by clicking on each other. Territorially aggressive chickens that are constantly engaged in a fight for revenge tend to be cannibals as well.
Prevent cannibalism in the brooder
Since cannibalism often starts in broods, avoid it before it begins. Keep the incubator from getting too hot or crowded. Instead of lights for warmth, use an infrared heating pad. After the first week, you can turn off the lights at night while still providing heat.
Incubate the chicks on a hard floor, not on a piece of cloth. Increase living space as it grows and becomes more active. At the same time increasing ventilation. Save more space when the weather gets warm.
Do not combine significantly different age groups in the brood. The stronger and older birds peck the weaker and younger birds.
Protein requirements change with age and season. And a lack of protein can lead to cannibalism. So be sure to adjust the rations as needed to ensure that the chicks get enough protein.
Provide a feeder large enough to ensure each chick can eat its fill. If the size of your flock requires two or more feeders, space them far enough to avoid crowding and conflict. The same goes for drinkers.
Cannibalism was prohibited in the barn
Avoid constantly introducing new birds to your flock. Constant disruption of the pecking order leads to frequent fighting. The fight easily escalates into cannibalism.
Save plenty of perch space. Perching helps prevent pecking by giving the chickens more places to get away from each other. Discourage bottom clicking by making sure the lowest perch is at least 18 inches above the ground.
Provide suitable areas for dust showers. And in general, establish a rich environment. The goal is to encourage natural exploration, nesting, grooming, and foraging. Chickens busy with normal activities are less likely to engage in cannibal pecking.
Patrol your barn and garden regularly. Look for broken wires or protruding nails that can cause bleeding wounds. Isolate and treat any infected or red-skinned chickens irritated by parasites.
Chickens are less likely to become cannibals when their diet is rich in insoluble fiber sources. Accordingly, include cereals, bran, seeds and dark leafy vegetables in the herd’s diet.
Certain forms of forage discourage cannibalism. For example, crumbs take longer to eat than granules. mash better. Chickens eating the puree spend time searching the particles for their favorite tidbits. Since they take longer to eat, they have less time to peck at each other.
Likewise, use drinkers who encourage tapping. Jeff Smith of the Cackle Hatchery® says, “I recommend drinking nipples, because hens love to peck at the shiny metal tips. This keeps them busy. At the same time, they drink plenty of clean water, which is good for egg production.”
And that’s today’s news from Cackle Coop.
Gil Damero is the author of The Chicken Health Handbook.