One thing is very natural about chickens and that is, they love to peck virtually everything they see. But one unfortunate thing about this behaviour is that they peck each other too. In fact, they can do this until blood comes out. If not careful, cannibalism can set in where chickens will intentionally peck others to till blood starts coming out.
Signs of pecking and cannibalism
The early signs you will see when pecking has set in on your poultry farm includes, continuous picking of toes in chicks; in growing birds, you will observe chickens pecking at maturing feathers, while in older birds, you will observe vent or head pecking. It is not an easy task to differentiate between random pecking and pecking that will result to cannibalism, and if possible introduction of disease. That is why it is important to pay more and closer attention to all your birds. A normal flock behaviour usually involves forming a pecking order. You may want to ask: can pecking habit spread? My answer is YES. Pecking can spread widely as a harmful behaviour among your flock. It usually begins innocently in chickens of all categories and it rapidly progresses into a more serious event if prompt intervention and management changes are not put into place before it results in cannibalism. If you think this habit has become unbearable, then implement the precautionary measures below:
How to treat or prevent pecking and cannibalism
The best means to prevent aggressive behaviour is to raise a flock of the same age, size, breed, and health status together. Birds that are different from normal could be victimized. Also, isolate weak or sick birds immediately they are sighted, to reduce pecking instinct that can result in cannibalism. An old adage says “Birds of a feather flock together.”
Provide adequate space for each bird and allow all the birds to have constant access to water and feed. This helps to eradicate excessive pecking among chickens in a flock. Furthermore, keeping a constant and comfortable temperature in pens, and reducing birds’ exposure to bright light can prevent pecking. It helps also when red light bulbs are used in an enclosed brooder. If an occurrence of pecking still exist after the above has been done, check birds’ body for ectoparasites such as lice, fleas, ticks, etc.
Deficiency of sulphur and salt in the feeds of your birds can trigger pecking habit in a flock by increasing birds’ appetite for blood (blood contain salt and sulphur). The addition of one tablespoon of salt to one litre of water; and that this solution be given as the only drink for half a day. It is then replaced with the regular drinking water. If this does not check the cannibalism within a day or two, it is repeated after a period of three days. If the trouble is due to a lack of salt this will correct the situation.
This is very simple but could be laborious. Beak trimming or clipping could be the solution for a large flock) while for small flocks, preventive measures are recommended.