Chicken Cannibalism!

We caught our Rhode Island Red pecking at the base of our Araucana’s tail this weekend. Fortunately we stopped this act of cannibalism before it got past a small wound and a few missing feathers and we’ve been able to isolate the victim from the perp until she recovers. Cannibalism is common amongst chickens and there are a number of theories as to why it happens including dietary inadequacies, genetics and simple chicken boredom. The most plausible theory in our opinion is that cannibalism results from insufficient opportunity to forage.

Simply letting our flock out of their run to free-range throughout the backyard seems to have taken care of the problem. Sure we may lose a hen or two to hawks and cats, but that seems a better fate than being eaten alive by one of your own kind. We’ve also switched to a higher protein feed to see if that will help as there is a minority opinion in poultry farming that chickens resort to cannibalism as a result of protein deficiencies.

Most commercial poultry farms take care of cannibalism by cutting off beaks when the chicks are around 4 to 6 weeks old. We believe beak trimming along with the associated practice cramming chickens in “battery cages”, as pictured above, to be inhumane. For more on the behavior of corporate agriculture read about the Humane Society’s Factory Farming Campaign or better yet start your own backyard flock.

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  1. In the visually stunning movie Baraka (see it in a theater if you ever get a chance – it’s been out for years, but occasionally gets screened) there’s a brief scene where factory-chicken workers singe each little chick’s beak against a piece of hot iron (to blunt the beak and prevent cannibalism I guess), then toss each chick into a giant stainless steel funnel where they go spiraling round and round and down and down until they disappear through the center hole. It’s a powerful image that’s simultaneously horrifying and funny. Mostly horrifying. Thankfully, the camera doesn’t linger long in the chicken factory.

  2. Apparently, also using a gallon of fresh water with a tablespoonful of salt dissolved in (place in coop/pen in the morning) and then replacing it with fresh in the afternoon (and repeating 3 days later) works to cure cannibalism.

    [[[Hey, Kenm, what on earth does that have to do with the issues at hand??]]]

  3. I have 100 road I. R. and i have that same problem and even had 1 die because of it. They cant go out side because of it being winter, what are some other thing i could feed them? Or do to help stop this?

  4. Anonymous,

    I’m no chicken expert, but from my experience more room is the best answer (but that sounds tricky in your case–can you increase the size of the coop or decrease the number of chickens?). Open pasture is best. Diet may also be a factor–I add a product called Avia 2000 to their drinking water but I can’t tell you if it works. Different feed might also be an option.

  5. The cure:
    12-14 oz copper sulfate ( bluestone)
    1 pint vinegar
    3 quarts water
    Mix completely.
    mix one tablespoon of this blue mixture per gallon of drinking water, for one morning. Discontinue use after one morning. To avoid reoccurance store food in dry separate location and try to keep humidity in coop low.

    The red paste is a waste of time. This really works.

  6. Had the same problem with my flock, solved it by increasing methionine levels in the feed as well as salt. stopped my problem in its tracks

  7. I have written a blog on poultry cannibalism, having seen the problem devastated a lot of farmers worlwide. Top 3 causes are 1. Genetic predisposition caused by errant breeders, 2. Missing nutrition, 3. Mismanagement. Pls see my article on this on Hopefully I was able to present a different angle on this matter. Thanks.

  8. In the late 1940’s even aluminum blinders that looked like spectacles were used, but most people used de-beaking to achieve relief from cannibalism.

  9. Pingback: To each hen her own egg | Root Simple

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