By Donna Nkatha

Donna Nkatha

Cannibalistic behavior among poultry involves the pecking, ripping and ingestion of tissues, organs or skin of flock mates. Cannibalism occurs in various types of birds such as ducks, chickens, quail, and turkeys. The commonly kept poultry in Africa is chicken. The outbreak of cannibalism can happen in free-range flocks, floor pens, and cages. The detrimental habit causes losses that poultry farmers cannot ignore.


Causes of poultry cannibalism

In the majority of cases, cannibalism is caused by poor management practices of the poultry. However, genetics of the birds also play a huge role in the development of cannibalism among chicken. The poor management habits include excessive heat, poor ventilation, unwarranted light, overcrowding, and unbalanced diet.

From poor management, the birds become stressed causing one bird to initiate the picking of toes, feathers or comb of another bird. When the blood or open wounds of the injured bird becomes visible to other poultry, the habit of cannibalism quickly spreads to the entire flock. Other causes of cannibalism include;

  • The light breed poultry is more prone to cannibalism than the other breeds. The light breeds such as leghorns are flighty and hypersensitive to environmental triggers.
  • Inadequate resources such as feeds, water, and nesting space. Birds that are thirsty and hungry portray increased probability of pecking. Dietary deficiencies such as the absence of salts also promote cannibalism. Moreover changing the diet to a less preferred meal initiates the pecking of birds.
  • Mixing of varying sizes, color, and types of fowl. The curiosity of the varying traits and colors of the birds initiate pecking that ultimately causes cannibalism
  • Allowing injured poultry to remain in the flock. Poultry pick on dead or crippled birds in their cages starting the habit of cannibalism.
  • Large group size that results in strain on the available resources such as space to move around.

Preventive measures against cannibalism

The key strategy in preventing cannibalism among birds is selecting a genetic stock less susceptible to the vicious habit. Farmers should choose heavier breeds that are less susceptible to cannibalism. Secondly, a poultry farmer should put in place the most natural environment and the best care possible. The appropriate management strategies include a safe housing to avoid injuries to the birds, providing adequate feeds that meet the nutrient needs of the birds, temperature control, sufficient feeder space for all birds, and careful lighting control.

It is crucial that a farmer immediately removes any bird that shows signs of cannibalism. Additionally, dead birds and injured birds should be removed from the cages to avert pecking by the flock. Eventually, environment enriching can significantly assist in preventing poultry cannibalism. The flock should be given a chance to free range in a surrounding that resembles the natural environment. A farmer should keep their poultry in a surrounding the birds can move freely searching for food to avoid the chicken redirecting their pecking instinct to flock mates.

Treatment of poultry cannibalism

When cannibalism occurs, it is crucial to stop the habit before spreading to the whole flock. Examples of corrective procedures that a farmer can take to halt cannibalism include:

  • Increasing the feed and water space to allow all the birds to feed adequately.
  • Dimming the lights to lower intensity.
  • Adding enrichments to the poultry feed such as phosphorous and sodium.
  • Installation of perches and nest boxes to enhance the natural environment.
  • Carrying out therapeutic beak trimming of the upper beak to avoid the habit of cannibalism.
  • – Removing all the victims of cannibalism and treating their wounds separately from the unaffected flock.
  • Separating the birds exhibiting the habit of severe feather pecking.

Donna Nkatha is a young farmer and academic writer from Central Imenti Constituency, Meru County. She practices dairy farming, kienyeji chicken rearing, and cultivation of vegetables.


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