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Causes of cannibalism in poultry

By Grace Chomba

Cannibalism is a trait that is found mostly in a large flock where the birds will peck, tear and consume skin issues of the other birds in the flock.

The outbreak happens when the birds are stressed due to poor management. A bird will start pecking feathers, comb, toes or vent of another bird. This occurs in all poultry. Once a bird starts bleeding cannibalism outbreak can spread to the entire flock.

The outbreak can lead to the death of the flock and low returns due to torn and damaged flesh.

Causes of Cannibalism 


Birds require adequate space as overcrowding can precipitate cannibalism. Overcrowded birds are likely to peck each other while fighting for space, food and water.  This happens mostly when they have inadequate feeder space. A farmer is advised to ensure a two square feet spacing per bird when rearing a large flock. 

Excessive heat

Increased temperatures make the bird uncomfortable and that may lead to cannibalism. Farmers should be very careful while adjusting the temperature in the birds’ cage as the birds get older.

During brooding, farmers are advised to decrease the coop temperatures as this reduces the risk of cannibalism.

Excessive light

Extremely bright lights and excessive periods of lighting will cause birds to become hostile towards each other. During brooding, use 40 watts bulbs and below and in case you need them for heating use infrared bulbs.

Use 25 watts bulbs around feeding and watering areas if raising three months old birds.

Food wars

Birds fighting for feed and water are likely to peck each other, ensure they are provided with adequate feeds and water.

Unbalanced diets such as extremely high energy and low fibre diets make them proactive and aggressive which leads to cannibalism. Lack of proteins and methionine nutrients in the feed causes them to peck feathers. It’s advisable to feed them a balanced diet.

Mixing different types, sizes and colours 

In case a new breed is introduced in the coop the other birds often start pecking them due to curiosity. Mixing different sizes and ages of birds in the same cage can promote pecking.

According to, cannibalism can be controlled by allowing the birds to use up their energy, by providing an enclosed outside run, increasing fibre in their diets by giving them fresh greens like clover grass or weeds and placing coloured or shiny items for them to peck.

The site also adds that beak trimming is advisable to make it difficult for the birds to harm each other.

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