Chickens are omnivorous. They have no problem consuming any edible plants and animals. Their food range is quite large too. That is why they are very easy to raise and feed, they don’t need fancy food at all.
But, cannibalism does creep into chickens’ behaviors. In a flock, they establish a pecking order. Pecking can lead to damaged skins and lost feathers, which is like consuming part of the body, so do chickens eat each other?
Do chickens eat each other?
It is possible that chickens can eat each other. Pecking is one of the signs showing cannibalism in action. If left unattended, it may result in this behavior spreading to the entire flock, which leads to chicken number loss.
Cannibalism in chickens
Cannibalism means animals eating animals from the same species.
These are the acts that show the signs of cannibalism: pecking, skin consuming, tearing, or more extreme: consumption of tissues and internal organs. This is a recurring problem in chickens in a flock regardless of ages and breeds.
Even worse, this behavior can spread quickly in your flock. Chickens can be quite aggressive to each other; that’s why the pecking order is established in a flock.
So, if you don’t monitor your chickens carefully, cannibalism can lead to many of your chickens having flesh injuries. In some extreme cases, you could end up with dead chickens, and the chance is high.
But fortunately for you, cannibalism is not hard to prevent at all. While the genetics of a chicken can determine its aggressiveness toward its fellow chickens, monitoring and managing from humans are also important.
If the right measures are put in place, you can significantly reduce the chance of chicken cannibalism happening.
Why do chickens try to peck each other?
Just like humans need some space to live peacefully, chickens need enough space to eat and drink. If you fail to create adequate spaces for your chickens, a vicious circle will happen within your flock.
Chickens are social animals, and they have a pecking order in their respective flock. So with crowded spaces, the disparity will be pushed further, the already dominant chickens will be more aggressive.
With the food and water taken away by the dominant chickens, the weak ones will be hungry and thirsty more, which may lead to underweight. The now weaker chickens become even more vulnerable to dominant chickens.
So, try to provide your chickens enough space for their normal activities. For example, getting them multiple long enough perches. Weak chickens can escape to the perch where hens can’t reach.
Again, just like humans can become a bit aggressive when the weather is hot, chickens will also feel uncomfortable and may start pecking other chickens.
To keep your chickens cool, make sure to provide enough cool water, drive the heat away from the coop, and create airflows to push the heat out of the coop.
This may surprise some of you, but the more your chickens are exposed to light, the more likely they will become hostile. Extreme lighting can hit the chicken badly. They will be more aggressive toward each other.
If you need a rough figure, then after about 16 hours of light exposure, you should remove the light source or take your chickens inside the coop. This is because too much light can cause stress to your chickens.
Typically, the ideal light exposure time for chickens, as well as the light’s intensity, goes from just 10 to 12 hours a day with chicks to 16 hours a day with matured chickens.
So, when choosing a light source for your coop, you shouldn’t pick those that are too powerful. If you need the light source to provide heat, get a red or an IR bulb.
Lack of nutrition
Cannibalism has been shown to link to lacking protein, phosphorus, and sodium.
Low fiber and high energy diets can make the chickens more aggressive. Also, if the chickens’ diet lacks protein and amino acid methionine, they will be more likely to peck other chickens.
That’s why it is important that you provide your chickens enough nutrients with a well-balanced diet and a sufficient amount of water. Make sure to give your chickens enough protein as they age.
Chickens are attracted to blood. One of the most prominent sources of blood in the flock is from the injury of chickens or even 1 dead body of a chicken. Once exposed to blood, cannibalism will burst, and chickens will peck even more.
Therefore, you should minimize the damage that a chicken takes. Jagged or loose wire cages will damage the chickens’ skins and cause bleeding. Furthermore, you should remove any injured or dead chickens, as well as those showing cannibalistic behaviors.
If there are too many members in a flock, chickens will have trouble recognizing each individual, so the pecking order breaks down. They will be less aggressive and more tolerant to their fellow chickens.
Differences in flocks
Chickens with different breeds, ages, colors, and sizes can disturb the pecking order and lead to cannibalism if they weren’t reared together before.
Also, chickens with different traits like more feathers in certain spots on the body will also increase pecking.
Sudden changes in the environment can cause stress to chickens, which leads to them being aggressive. So when you move your chickens to a new place, you should also bring their food and water sources so they can adapt.
Further reading: Why do chickens wear pants?
So, do chickens eat each other? Yes, cannibalism is a thing in chickens. Some signs of cannibalism include pecking, skin consuming, tearing, organ consuming, and more. These behaviors can spread quickly in a flock.
There are many factors that cause cannibalism, such as overcrowding, too much light exposure, overheating, lacking nutrition, blood exposure, sudden changes in the environment, etc.