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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.

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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.

That Came From WHERE?????

“Do you know where that thing comes out? I’m not going to eat that!”

Dirty eggs

Believe it or not, I’ve actually heard a few people say this about eggs. Some people are only willing to eat eggs that are perfectly clean and completely removed from the farm with any connection to the animal that supplied it stripped completely clean.

To those people I say, get real. No really, I mean it, get REAL.

In real life, an egg comes out of the same opening that poop does in a bird. It’s called a cloaca and it is very efficient. When the egg drops down through the oviduct (which is a separate from the intestine) and is ready to be released, it squeezes the opening to the intestine shut, effectively separating the poop from the egg.

Once the egg is laid, the intestinal track opens up again and is ready for action.

But as is almost everything in life, things can get messy, there can be residual poop in the opening, or there can be poop that has leaked around the closure. And if a hen is brooding, she’s not going to leave her nest resulting in some of her poop on the eggs.

What this all means is that you can get eggs that are not necessarily pristine (although sometimes you will find an egg that looks like it has been washed, it’s so clean.) Almost always, eggs will have some poop on them.

You can help this situation by keeping the bedding clean and by keeping all roosting bars away from the nesting boxes, but even still,

Guess what? Poop happens.

All you need to do is bring the eggs inside and wash them. To wash our eggs, we fill a soft plastic bucket with warm (not hot) water and put a few eggs at a time inside.

If the egg floats we get rid of it. That’s a bad, old, or cracked egg that has too much air inside. I would never take a chance with that.

If the eggs sit nicely on the bottom of the bucket, we gently wash the egg off with a very soft sponges. I do not use soap on my eggs, although some people use soap/and or vinegar.

The point is not to make them look like perfect little pristine packages of protein. Some eggs will have spots, some will even be stained by the poop that was on them. It’s all okay. The point is to simply to remove the poop.

If you’re worried about germs (and yes Salmonella is a real threat in animals) then use common sense. Wash your hands after handling eggs. When you are cooking with eggs make sure all products are thoroughly cooked so that all bacteria will be killed. Be aware of cross contamination and use the same precautions you would use with meat (which in all likelihood, probably has more bacteria in it than your eggs.)

It amazes me that some people are so removed from where food comes from that they think farm fresh eggs are gross.

When in fact, it’s the sterile, bleached, factory-caged, nutrient-deficient things called eggs found in the grocery store that are what’s really gross.

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I write about lessons learned living with children and chickens in New Hampshire. You can follow our family's stories at my blog: Lessons Learned From the Flock.