Cannibalism in Chickens: The Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

By:SB Group

Cannibalism in chickens is one of the serious issues in the poultry industry. When chickens get stressed, they start to peck one another, resulting in huge weight loss in chickens. Consequently, it leads to financial loss in the poultry industry.

Cannibalism in chickens is abnormal aggressive behavior in which the chicken starts pecking and tearing the skins, removing the feathers of other birds. Some chickens also involve pecking at the skin on the head and toes.

Cannibal occurs due to overcrowding, imbalance in food and diet, excessive light, and heat. The cannibalism in chicken consequences spread of infectious diseases among the chicken. 

Cannibalism in chickens is the result of a long-term dominance relationship among the chicken. But in fact, cannibalism differs from dominance as cannibalism causes physical harm. 

This article guides everything about cannibalism in chicken, causes, symptoms, and mitigating measures.

Causes of Cannibalism in Chickens

1. Overcrowding

Overcrowding in the limited areas leads to competition between the chicken searching for food. It increases the stress in chickens due to insufficient space. Therefore, it leads to cannibalism.

2. Excessive Heat

Excessive heat can irritate the chicken, making them more aggressive in behavior and start pecking each other.

3. Excessive light

Excessive light for longer duration makes chickens aggressive toward each other. So, use a low-watt bulb in the chicken farm for the best result. A higher watt bulb needs to be in practice on increasing the size of the bread.

4. Shortage of food and Water

This is one of the major causes of cannibalism in chickens. If there is a shortage of food and water, the birds have to fight for food and start pecking. As a result, there is always competition among them for the limited food supply.  Hence special care is necessary regarding food and water.

5. Imbalance diet

High energy food with a low diet causes chickens to become more hostile. Shortage of proteins, methionine, and salt makes them aggressive and starts pecking.

6. Parasites and Diseases

Chicken contaminated with parasites suffers from many diseases. Therefore ill chicken themselves starts pecking. Healthy chicken also follows this aggressive behavior and starts pecking ill. There is a high risk of transferring diseases in the whole flock.

7. Sudden changes in the environment

Once a chicken fits into a certain environment, sudden change shows cannibalistic behavior.

8. Introduction of new chicken into the flock

Chicken shows hostile behavior each time in addition to new chicken in the flock. It is due to growing stress due to sudden changes in the environment.

9. Dead and Injured Chickens

Keeping dead and injured chickens in the same flock makes them stressed and starts pecking.

10. Shortage of nesting boxes

The chicken feels discomfort while laying eggs due to a shortage of nest boxes. Therefore, they start showing aggressive behavior, among others leading to cannibalism.

Symptoms of cannibalism in chicken

The chicken starts pecking the toes at the beginning. Later they start biting mature feathers. There is a huge difficulty differentiating normal pecking and cannibalism aggressive behavior. Sometimes chickens start pecking each other due to changes in the environment.

Thus it is better to give special attention to your birds during the mature stage. During the critical stage, pecking spreads into the whole flock. It starts slowly but later on, everything goes rapidly, and it becomes hard to control the situation. 

Preventive measures

There is well said that “prevention is better than cure.” Here are some preventive measures:

  1. Overcrowding is one of the major causes of cannibalism in the poultry industry. As a result, spacing or room design requires special attention.
    1. 1/4 sq. ft./bird for first two weeks
    2. 1/2 sq. ft./bird for 3-8 weeks
    3. One sq. ft./bird from 8 to 16 weeks of age
    4. 1.5 sq. ft./bird from 16 weeks on
  2. Design the housing with comfortable flooring for chickens to lay eggs safely. 
  3. Keep the housing system always clean. It somehow reduces aggressive behavior and also prevents infectious diseases outbreak.  
  4. Allow chickens to run outside rather than keeping them always in a closed environment, which burns their aggressive energy.
  5. Select the appropriate nutrients according to their age and type with proper food rotation.
  6. Stop using high-intensity light; instead, use dim light.
  7. Provide chickens with fresh grass, weeds, and greenery leaves every day.
  8. Remove all your older cages and enclosures before it causes injury leading to cannibalism.
  9. Provide dark nest box for safe laying of eggs.
  10. Select the flock carefully practice beak trimming if necessary.

Control of cannibalism outbreak

Though the outbreak starts slowly at the beginning, however, later on, the situation goes rapidly. So taking essential measures is needed to stop this outbreak. Here are some necessary measures for controlling the outbreak:

  1. Place the chickens into the separate room doing the severe pecking of feathers and skins.
  2. Remove all dead and injured birds. Take care of them in the special rooms; this lowers the spreading rates in the flock.
  3. Lower down the excessive temperature and light. Try dim light with lower light intensity ranging from 5-10 lux.
  4. Supply essential nutrients and water to the chickens. It lowers competition in search of food and water.
  5. The pecking of feathers reduces while keeping chickens in a small group rather than in a large group. So make small groups and keep them in separate housing.
  6. If it remains uncontrollable, try light beak trimming.

Beak Trimming

Beak trimming is performed during the early stage of chickens as a preventive measure from cannibalism. It is the method of removing a light fraction of the tip of the beak. It controls the pecking feather problems in chickens and is one of the common methods for controlling cannibalism in the poultry industry.

However, it can bring light to chronic pain, reduce sensory activities and create difficulties feeding chickens. Consequently, it is required to carry out with proper care and instruction.

Hot blade machines and infrared light treatments are commonly used methods for beak trimming in the poultry industry.