Cannibalism in poultry

Cannibalism in poultry

Birds have a social hierarchy which is referred to as pecking order. Mild pecking is one of the main approaches in setting up of this order. Cannibalism, on the other hand, is a behaviour in which birds aggressively peck one other to an extent of causing physical harm.  can start with a few birds before spreading to the entire flock Cannibalism if not managed.  Whereas this behaviour is seen as an act of harassment between birds, cannibalism can result in the death of the injured birds. Many farmers do not understand what really causes cannibalism and how this behaviour can be stopped.  This article will highlight the major causes of cannibalism and how to prevent it.

Causes and prevention of cannibalism


If the spacing is inappropriate, birds tend to compete for resources which result in aggression among the birds. Birds of different ages have different space requirements. It is therefore important to ensure that birds have adequate space to avoid discomfort and stress which may be a  prerequisite for cannibalism.

Inadequate laying nests

Hens tend to be aggressive if disturbed when laying. If the laying boxes are not enough, dominant hens will peck the weaker hens while competing for the laying nests.  it is advisable to maintain a ratio of 4/5 hens per box.  Too much light at the laying area can also encourage vent pecking. Reduce light in the laying area.

Nutritional deficiency

Research has shown that deficiency of protein, sodium, and phosphorus can cause cannibalism.  Birds lacking these crucial nutrients may start by pecking feathers before escalating to serious body-harm causing behaviour.

Inappropriate Light

Too much light is known to cause stress among birds.  Excessive light can either be prolonged hours of light or too much lighting in the poultry house.   Stressed birds can turn vengeance to their mates resulting in cannibalism. It is therefore important to ensure that proper lighting is maintained in the poultry house at all times.


Just like inappropriate lighting, too much heat can cause stress in birds.  Poor housing or prevailing weather conditions can cause overheating which can make birds feel uncomfortable. Uncomfortable birds are prone to pecking.  Ensure that the temperature within the poultry house is maintained with the accepted range.

Abrupt changes

Birds like any other livestock get used to particular routine practices.  If there are changes in management practices, birds can feel uncomfortable and retaliate by pecking their mates.  Environmental changes often time induce stress in birds thus making them prone to pecking. In case management/environmental changes are inevitable, it is advisable to put extra effort in ensuring that the birds manage the change with minimal stress.

Inadequate food/water

Birds should always be provided with adequate water and food.  Birds competing for either food or water will always fight for limited resources.  It is advisable to hang weeds or vegetable which are rich in fiber to ensure that birds remain full and therefore eliminating the likelihood of pecking due to idleness or hunger.


Cannibalism if not managed can spread very fast to the entire flock. Whereas there are several causes that can cause pecking to escalate to serious levels, it is important to treat each case independently. Understanding the behavior your flock is crucial establishing the root cause cannibalism.

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