A debeak bird

11 Causes of Cannibalism in Poultry Birds, and How to Prevent It

11 Possible Causes of Cannibalism in Poultry Birds, and How to Prevent It.

Cannibalism in poultry birds is more prevalent in birds kept in confinement. It is a very serious welfare crisis.


If not handle promptly could degenerate to the loss of many more poultry birds. And may lead to serious pain, frustration, and even depression for the poultry farmer.


Cannibalism in poultry birds is simply an act whereby a particular poultry bird inflicts serious injury by pecking, tearing, and chopping another poultry bird’s skins, body tissue, flesh, and organ and subsequently consuming it as food.


This behavior commonly occurs in laying hens and cockerel, although it can also occur in domestic turkeys, ducks, quail, pheasants, and other poultry species.


Basically, the major cause of cannibalism in poultry birds can be attributed to the poor management system.


Free range birds have less prone to cannibalism in poultry birds

Free-range birds are less prone to cannibalism in poultry birds


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These include the following points as outlined here:

1#. Poor Housing Design

The design of your poultry house should be considered as a major key factor, and the first step in establishing a successful poultry venture.


Investing very well in the location, construction, and design of your poultry house will give you more advantage in combating cannibalism in poultry birds.


When designing your poultry house the following major key points should be put into consideration.


  • height, width, of the poultry pen
  • lightning system
  • Degree of sunlight penetration, natural shades provided by tall trees, or artificial shades provided by the construction of verandah.
  • Ventilation (both inlet and outlet air), provision industrial poultry exhaust fan system. Although this may depend on the size of your farm.
  • Weather and the climatic condition of your region will certainly influence the design pattern of the poultry house. (Hot humid tropical climate to the cooler temperate regions of the world).


2#. Inadequate Management Practices

Although even birds reared under the free-ranged system of keeping poultry, do experience cannibalism in poultry birds to some certain extent.


The majority of these welfare crises are associated with birds kept in confinement. Cannibalism in poultry birds does emanate from insufficient access to resources which includes:


  • Poor feed quality
  • Inadequate water supply that may lead to dehydration and stress
  • Poor litter condition
  • Inadequate perching or nesting space (poultry birds love natural or near-natural environments to exhibits they’re natural extinct).
  • Dietary deficiencies g. salt


An attacked young cockerel, a victim of cannibalism in poultry birds.


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overcrowding is a bit of a challenge

overcrowding is a bit of a challenge

3#. Overcrowding Is a Recipe for Cannibalism in Poultry Birds

Birds kept in overcrowded conditions will scramble for the available space, feed, and water and are usually made very uncomfortable. These conditions will give room to cannibalistic tendencies


  • 1/4 sq. ft. /bird for first 2 weeks
  • 3/4 sq. ft. /bird for 3-7 weeks
  • 5 sq. ft. /bird from 8 to 15 weeks of age
  • 2 sq. ft. /bird from 16 weeks on


With game birds or larger birds double the above recommendations. With pheasants, allow 27 to 35 sq. ft. /bird after 12 weeks of age.


4#. Avoiding Injuries At All Cost

Poultry birds are usually attracted to the color red. Especially when one of their own is injured the rest birds will concentrate on the injured bird, by pecking, chopping, and tearing the affected part until the particular bird in question is killed.


In preventing cannibalism in poultry birds, when constructing their house all sharp edges should be eliminated, exposed nail surface should be eliminated, ropes and dangling objects should also be eliminated.


Allowing cripple, injured or dead birds to remain in a flock will certainly encourage cannibalism in poultry birds.


Injured birds should be taken and given special care in a separated and secluded pen or location.


Any sharp objects that could lead to injury of any sort should be avoided in the poultry house.


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providing perches will help reduce cannabalism

Providing perches will help reduce attack on birds, it will provide a safe haven and an escape route for the victim of cannibalism

perches for resting


5#. Excessive Heat

The high percentage of cannibalism in poultry birds have been recorded during hot weather condition. Especially in hot humid tropical climates.


It is therefore very important to consider using a poultry exhaust fan for larger operations.


While smaller operations should provide enough cross-ventilation, embrace the use of verandah, and the construction of your poultry house under or close to a big tree for natural shades and ventilation.


Extreme heat and high temperatures have been known to instigate and aggravate cannibalism in poultry birds.


READ ALSO: Why Your Laying Hens Are Eating and Breaking Their Eggs and How to Stop Them


6#. Too Much Bright Light

An excessive bright light could lead to stress 14 to 16 hours of natural daylight is good for poultry production.


Extremely bright light or excessively long periods of light will cause birds to become hostile toward one another.


Light bulbs should not be left on throughout the night, poultry birds should be allowed a period of rest and sleep.


Never light your bird’s house for more than 16 hours per day. Constant light can cause stress to your birds.


7#. Prolong Period of Time without Feed or Water and Inadequate Number of Drinkers and Feeders

Larger operations provide automatic feeders and drinkers with a constant and regulated supply of feed and water to the birds.


But what about medium to small-scale farmers that rely on manual feeding trough and drinkers. Allowing your birds for a prolonged period of time without water or feed could lead to hunger stress.


And water dehydration can instigate pecking and eventually lead to cannibalism.


In order to reduce cannibalism in poultry birds, the poultry farmer should endeavor to provide enough drinkers and feeders with enough space for the birds to move around.


When feeds/water is provided in the right quantity. Feather eating, pecking, and cannibalism will be eliminated.


Lack of feed/water for a longer time usually results in boredom and stress in poultry birds this should be avoided at all cost.


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8#. Standard Balanced Diets (Manufactured feeds)

Feed lacking protein and other nutrients, particularly Methionine, will also cause birds to start eating feathers and pecking each other especially laying hens.


The best way to avoid this problem is to provide standard balanced diets for your birds that are suitable for their age and type.


Never comprise your poultry birds feed if you want to achieve a good result. A lot of farmers tend to mix their poultry feeds with a lot of maize in their quest to reduce the cost of production.


High energy with fewer fibers usually aggravates pecking and high activity in poultry birds.


You may like to READ this: How to Reduce the Cost of Feeding Your Chickens by Utilizing the Available Resources at Your Disposal


9#. To Avoid Cannibalism in Poultry Birds Never Raise Different Types, Sizes, and Colors of Poultry Birds Together

“Don’t be a jack of all trades and master of none”. If you must raise different species of poultry birds, then you must provide different poultry houses or pens that would accommodate your different types of birds.


Mixing different ages and sizes of poultry birds with different traits and characteristics will certainly promote pecking by disrupting the flock’s normal pecking order.


Birds may start pecking due to curiosity e.g. toe pecking in the first few weeks is often encouraged due to the different colors or traits of the various birds in the same poultry house.


A debeak bird, in cannibalism in poultry birds

A debeak bird


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10#. The Introduction of a New Birds into an Existing Flock of Birds

The introduction of a new or different bird into your flock can spark pecking and cannibalism in poultry birds.


If you must do it, it should be done in the night, and you have to be around to supervise the situation before it gets out of hand.


Provide adequate space and perches in your poultry house. This will help the new visitor to escape to safety pending when he will be accepted by the rest of the flock. These may take more than a week or so.


11#. Prolapse Pecking

Prolapse can occur in very young or fat laying hens. Prolapse is when the uterus stretches and tears and takes longer to properly return into the body cavity after the egg is laid.


This condition is more prevalent among layers that are overweight or laying hens that start laying too soon.


This condition can also occur as a result of a change of feed or unbalanced diets. The sight of blood will encourage other birds to start pecking.


If not handle immediately it will degenerate to cannibalism in your poultry birds. The best thing to do is to isolate the affected birds immediately to safety until the prolapse is treated and brought under control.


READ: How to Achieve Optimal Poultry Production with Good Deep Litter Management practice


How to Prevent Cannibalism in Poultry Birds

Raising poultry under the free-range system of farming is one of the best ways to reduce pecking and cannibalism in poultry birds.


The birds are allowed to peck and feed on green leaves and vegetation, hunt on grasshoppers, ants, worms, and insects.


This will divert their attention from each other, by keeping them busy with themselves.


Birds that have access to the natural environment often dust bath, sunbath, and preen themselves these are exercises that keep them busy and away from other birds’ troubles.


What if you don’t have a large expanse of land for a free-range system of raising birds. It means your birds will be raised in confinement.


Whether you use a deep litter system or battery cage, poultry pen, or coop the following tips will help you eliminate or reduce cannibalism in poultry birds to the barest minimum:


  • Depending on your climatic condition your poultry house should be constructed with open sides for cross ventilation.
  • Provide enough space and perches for your birds to serve as a safe haven and escape route from other aggressive birds.
  • Make provision for enough drinkers and feeders to avoid undue competition.
  • Avoid prolonged periods of time without feed or water. Birds should be given adequate feed for the day.
  • Larger operations should provide poultry exhaust fan for good ventilation
  • Too much bright light should be avoided, embrace the use of verandah to reduce the direct impact of sunlight.
  • Never compromise the quality of your poultry feed. Always stuck in birds you can manage and feed properly.
  • Provide adequate and quality litter that will help the birds to dust baths, thus keeping them busy.
  • Any injured birds or birds suffering from prolapse should be removed immediately from the flock to a separate pen for treatment.
  • Matured birds should be fed balanced diets in mash form, mash tends to keep birds busier for a longer time than pelletized feed.
  • Avoid keeping different categories or species of poultry birds with different varying colors in the same poultry house.
  • Extremely underweight or smaller birds should be sampled out and kept in a separate pen for special care and feeding to help them gain the desired weight.


In Conclusion

Cannibalism in poultry birds is a serious welfare crisis that can start at any time during the rearing process.


The good news is, it can be prevented by providing adequate poultry housing (spacious and well ventilated).


And taking care of any environmental stressors or triggers (extreme temperature, bright light, etc.) that might instigate and aggravate this condition.


If you can’t raise your birds in a free-range system then strive to provide a near-natural environment for your poultry birds (good perches, dry litter material for dustbathing, etc.).


Finally, adequate feeds and water should be made available at all times (standard balanced diets) to prevent hunger stress, and dehydration.


Be always on the lookout for sick, injured birds or birds suffering from prolapsed. Quickly isolate them to a safer pen for prompt treatment.


Raising poultry birds comes with a lot of challenges and excitement, the more you overcome every challenge the better and more efficient you are in raising healthy beautiful birds.


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Good luck.


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