Causes of cannibalism in poultry

The causes of cannibalism in poultry are numerous. This problem can the result of overcrowding, poor nutrition or unbalanced diet, injuries and death, feather eating, excessive heat or light, poor feeding practices, mixing different kinds of birds, and prolapse pecking.

In this post, we’ll look at each of these causes one by one.


Overcrowding is one of the critical causes of cannibalism in poultry. It is responsible for increased fighting among birds as dominant birds fight to sustain or obtain social dominance.

Additionally, when birds are overcrowded, each bird has less feeding space. Because of this, some birds may become the target of cannibalism by the less dominant birds that do not get enough food.

Also, it is essential to note that overcrowding causes aggression and confusion among the flock resulting in an increased risk of cannibalism.

Poor nutrition or an unbalanced diet

Cannibalism in poultry can also be due to poor dieting. For instance, birds are known to develop aggressive behaviors if continually fed on a diet that lacks protein methionine. Methionine is an essential amino acid whose deficiency inhibits the growth of feathers in poultry. A lack of methionine can also lead to increased pecking, escalating to cannibalism.

On the other hand, continually feeding your birds with a low-fiber diet can cause them to be aggressive and extra active.

Feather eating

Another potential cause of cannibalism in poultry is feather eating. This behavior is similar to feather pecking. If you notice some of your birds picking and eating feathers from other flock members, this can indicate an impending cannibalism habit. I have also observed slow-feathering birds more prone to cannibalism than their high-feathering counterparts.

Injuries and deaths

Seeing injured or dead birds in a pen can encourage birds within the pen to peck each vulnerable bird. The presence of injuries in some birds is a potential cause of cannibalism in poultry because the red color is attractive to birds. This means that the sight of blood can encourage non-injured birds to peck the injured one.

Also, poultry has a social hierarchy. One approach birds use to increase their rank in the social order is pecking other birds.

Excessive heat or light

Birds can be highly cannibalistic when they become uncomfortably hot. Overheating and extreme light intensity within the pen are causes of cannibalism in poultry because they cause discomfort and stress to the flock. Birds become hostile toward one another when exposed to excessively long and extremely bright light periods.

Poor feeding practices

Hunger is an ingredient of aggression in birds and is among the leading causes of cannibalism in poultry. When birds are hungry, they compete and fight for water as well as food. The inability to get enough water and food can encourage some birds to begin cannibalizing other birds.

Additionally, hunger increases pecking. Fighting increased pecking and aggressive behaviors can escalate to cannibalism in poultry.

Mixing of poultry

Mixing birds of different sizes, colors, traits, and ages causes cannibalism in poultry in two ways.

First, mixing normally disrupt the flock’s normal pecking order within the pen. It also increases curiosity in birds leading to habits such as toe pecking, especially in young birds.

Change in environment or management practices

Unguided changes in the management practices and the environmental situation may stress the flock leading to cannibalism in poultry.

Introducing new birds with existing ones

Anytime new birds are added to the pen, the flock’s pecking order is disrupted. This disruption results from increased aggression and stress that may subsequently escalate to fighting.

As a result, introducing new birds into a pen or coop is a cause of cannibalism in poultry.

Prolapse pecking

Prolapse pecking is a condition in which a layer’s stretched, and toned uterus takes longer to properly return to the bird’s body cavity after the egg is laid. You’ll mostly see this problem in flocks just starting to lay eggs. Birds that see the exposed uterus may be curious and start picking it, causing injury and subsequent bleeding with the progression of cannibalism in the poultry.

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