Grit Blogs > Lessons Learned From the Flock

Cannabalism in Chickens

Lessons Learned From the FlockIf you have chickens, you know that, at times, flock pecking can get out of hand resulting in severe injury and sometimes even the death of a bird.

Chickens are meat eaters (if you doubt me, you should have seen what happened within seconds to the nest of newborn mice we uncovered in the henhouse last spring.) They will peck each other and if they draw blood, the sight of the bright red tissue will excite them to even more pecking.

 pecking damage

Put simply, chickens can and will peck flock members to death.

So what can you do about cannibalism in your flock?

The best strategy is an offense.

  • Make sure your chickens have enough space. Crowded chickens are stressed chickens and stressed chickens will tend to lash out at each other.

  • Supply your chickens with activities. Free-ranged and well-exercised chickens rarely peck at each other. Cramped, winter chickens who are bored often will. Even in the middle of winter, you can supply henhouse-bound chickens with activities. Hang swinging roosts, or provide colorful decorations for them to peck at. Put a seed block in the coop or create some chicken toys (something as simple as some pebbles in a sealed soda can could work) in order to give the flock something to do.

  • Watch the amount of light they get. Sometimes birds receiving too long of a duration or too bright illumination may develop cannibalism, be flighty, and show nervous behavior. On the other hand, birds not receiving enough light or too dim illumination can show poor growth, poor egg production or poor weight gain. Natural lighting is the best and if you choose to augment the light, just beware of how it affects your flock’s behavior.

If your flock does peck and shows signs of cannibalism, you need to remove the injured bird and tend to its wounds. You may have to keep it separate from the flock so that it will have undisturbed access to food and water.

flock | Fotolia/sherjaca 

Photo: Fotolia/sherjaca

Whatever you do, don’t file down or trim the beaks – this procedure won’t prevent the pecking, it will just reduce the damage when a bird is pecked. It’s far better to address the underlying problem than it is to try and treat a symptom.

Lastly anticipate that pecking and therefore cannibalism might occur and “bird proof” your coop. Make sure there are no areas where a bird can “hide” and then get stuck exposing itself to the savagery of the others. Fill in cinderblock holes and make sure that boxes are flush against the henhouse walls so a bird won’t be tempted to wedge itself as a way to escape other chickens.


Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist and blogger who believes that facing challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of six funny and creative children, and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). She writes about her chickens for GRIT, Backyard Poultry, Chicken Community, and Mother Earth News.