June4 , 2023

Cannibalism in Poultry: Signs, Causes and Solutions



Cannibalism in Poultry: Signs, Causes and Solutions

Cannibalism in poultry is one of the problems that poultry keepers sometimes encounter. This problem can end up causing great productive and economic losses if it is not dealt with in time; since one of the main consequences is mortality among birds. If you want to know more about cannibalism in poultry and especially in laying hens, continue reading this article.


A natural thing about poultry birds especially chickens is that they love to peck at almost everything they see. However, it is quite unfortunate that they also peck at each other. In fact, they could do this until blood comes out.


Cannibalism in poultry is abnormal behavior and involves a chicken pecking at the skin or completely removing the feathers of other birds. They may also peck at the cloaca of other birds after they have started laying eggs. This behavior is generally related to the hormonal shifts in the animal.

The pecking of the cloaca and the skin in various parts of the bird’s body leads to blood loss, protrusion of the body’s viscera and even death. Therefore, it is important to take action when pecking is noticed in a flock.


Read also: 15 management tips for better poultry performance potential

Learn More

How Cannibalism Starts in Chickens

The early signs you will see when pecking has set in include, continuous picking of toes in chicks; in growing birds, you will observe chickens pecking at maturing feathers, while in older birds, you will observe vent or head pecking. It is not easy to differentiate between random pecking and pecking that will result in cannibalism. This is why it is important to pay more and closer attention to all your birds. Normal flock behavior usually involves forming a pecking order. You may want to ask: can pecking habit spread? The answer is YES. Pecking can spread widely as a harmful behavior in a flock. It usually begins innocently in chickens of all categories and it rapidly progresses into a more serious event if prompt intervention and management changes are not put into place before it results in cannibalism.

Causes of Cannibalism

There are different factors that influence birds to develop cannibalistic behavior. They are:


The overpopulation of poultry birds in a limited space causes the birds to develop cannibalistic behavior, since birds tend to become stressed due to the lack of space to cope.

Food and water shortage

If the chickens do not have adequate feed and water, they will have to compete over the inadequate supplies, leading to pecking among them. Also, if the birds are always hungry, they will look for ways to satisfy their nutritional needs, resulting in a higher incidence of cannibalism.

Imbalanced diet

A high energy supply and low fiber causes birds to become aggressive and hyperactive. Also, the shortage of proteins and other nutrients such as methionine and salt makes chickens want to eat feathers and blood.

Read also: Benefits of Poultry farming business

Excessive heat

Excess heat or very high temperatures cause chickens to become extremely cannibalistic. This is because the very high temperature makes the birds feel annoying and irritable.

Excess light

Prolonged periods of light or very bright lighting cause chickens to become hostile to each other, causing cannibalism.

Birds with parasites

Both external and internal parasites can stimulate chickens to peck and hurt their skin, resulting in the frenzy of cannibalism. We recommend you to know some of the most effective deworming products for chickens on the market.

Keeping healthy and sick birds together in the same pen

Healthy chickens often peck at sick birds, either out of curiosity or the instinct for self preservation, which leads to cannibalism.

Read also: Basic do’s and don’ts of chicken keeping

10 Proven Solutions to Cannibalism

Provide ample space for birds

Allow the chickens enough room to run around freely. The recommended floor spaces are as follows:

Provide enough feed and water

Make sure that all your chickens have access to enough feed and water always, so that they are completely satisfied and do not have to resort to pecking.

Provide a balanced diet

A diet that covers the nutritional requirements of the birds will prevent them from becoming cannibals. Be sure to provide your birds with a well-balanced diet for each stage of their development.

Provide greens

We recommend that you supply your birds with a good amount of green, clover or any other herb, as these foods are rich in fiber and makes the chickens’ crop keep full and satisfied.

Salt solution

Deficiency of sulphur and salt in the feeds of birds could trigger pecking habit in a flock by increasing the birds’ appetite for blood (blood contain salt and sulphur). The addition of one tablespoon of salt to one litre of water, and the solution should be given as the only drink for half a day. It is then replaced with the regular drinking water. If this does not check the cannibalism within a day or two, it is repeated after a period of three days. If the trouble is due to a lack of salt, it will correct the situation.

The right temperature

Make sure that the space where your birds live is cool, so that the chickens feel comfortable and don’t get stressed. Maintain a temperature of 35°C for the chicks during the first week, then reduce the temperature to 2.7°C per week, until finally reaching 21°C.

Maintain adequate light intensity

Avoid using white light bulbs over 40 watts during chick growth. If you require powerful light bulbs to provide heat, use infrared lamps. For birds 12 weeks of age and older, we recommend 15 or 25 watt lamps in the drinking and feeding areas. Avoid lighting the environment for more than 16 hours a day.

Deworm the birds

Try to regularly medicate your birds against parasites, since as we have mentioned, parasitized birds usually resort to cannibalism.

Remove sick or injured birds from the house

If you notice that any of your chickens is mutilated or injured, it is best to separate it from the rest of the healthy birds to prevent others from pecking at it. Likewise, if you notice that some of your chickens have developed the behavior of pecking, you should also separate it from the rest of the birds, since the chickens have a natural tendency to imitate the others around them. So if one of the birds starts the pecking, others will start doing the same and cannibalism will spread rapidly among them.

Read also: 9 important benefits of setting up a poultry farm

Debeak the birds

This is very simple but could be laborious. Beak trimming or clipping could be the solution for a large flock) while for small flocks, preventive measures are recommended.

by Akinbobola A.

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