The Road Home

The Road Home
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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Chicken Cannibalism

Hello, Frank here.

Good morning, everybody. Remember those cute little chickens we hatched 11 weeks and 3 days ago? Well, for the most part, they're still growing strong, and most of the birds are healthy. All except the 7 that have been killed.

Let me try to explain what's going on here. First, I'm not exactly sure what is going on here. About three days ago, I noticed one of the baby chickens had a blood spot on it's back down close to it's tail. Many birds have a gland there. Well, one of them had a little bit of a bloody spot. I went and got my little bottle of Pick No More, formerly called Anti-Pick. It's a dark, redish colored substance that has some great coating and healing properties. Well, the color causes birds to want to peck it. You ask, "Why would you use this?" Because apparently, it has a taste that chickens find vile or putrid. If you'll take and put a couple of drops on some healthy birds, the birds will pick at it, clean their beaks off and not pick at it again.

So, here we had our little injured bird, still healthy, though. Skin is not broken, it had a couple of feathers plucked out and some blood spots. Birds like to peck red, but unlike the medication Pick No More, birds love the taste of blood. Normally, one treatment, add a few drops to some other birds, and the problem is solved. Why do birds do this? Who knows. Some type of vitamin deficiency, too many birds in a small space, some birds are just more aggressive than others. But, like I said, with this type of problem with this gland, normally one treatment, and it's finished.

Well, the next morning, I had two dead birds. It's ironic that not all birds are carnivores. I would say most aren't. But, once you get a bird that is, then you'll have to isolate the bird and get rid of it. It's kind of like eating eggs. If a chicken, for whatever reason, accidentally lays an egg and it falls to the floor and breaks, most chickens will hurry over to eat that egg. The shell, yolk, the whole thing is just gone. But every now and then, you'll have a bird figure out that they can get into a nest box, move the eggs around enough until one cracks, then you have a broken egg and it eats it. There are ways to stop this. Instead of once a day, gather the eggs three or four times a day so there are less eggs in any nest box, therefore, no eggs to break. This will normally solve the egg eating problem, but not always. Sometimes you just have to watch them, figure out which one it is, and get rid of that bird.

Back to the cannibalism. At this age, most of the birds you can tell whether they are male or female. Most of them, but not all of them, every now and then you'll miss one. We separated the males and the females. The Black Australorps have a single comb, which you envision when you picture a standard chicken. The Easter Egg chickens don't, they have something similar to a pea comb. It is easy to tell the sex of the Black Australorps by the size of the comb. It's sharply more difficult to tell with the Easter Egg chickens at this age. Yes, a few of the Easter Egg roosters will stand out, and say 'I am a rooster' and 'I am a dominating bird'. You know, it's kind of like the first kid on the block that started shaving before anyone else? The other roosters will grow up and they will be good roosters, but there is always one or two that becomes a rooster first. There are also some roosters that are what I call recessive type roosters. Some of them will always be that way.

Okay, so we separated the males and females to the best of our ability. Two separate pens, no access to each other. The next day in the rooster pen, I have two more dead birds. It's kind of like, once a chicken knows it's defeated, they seem to just get weak and give up. They just kind of lay down and die. 

So, that narrows down that it wasn't the girls that were doing the pecking. I'm not saying females will not peck a bird to death, they certainly will. But in this case, it's probably one of the bigger, more aggressive boys. You know, the one that started shaving before everybody else?

All toll, we lost 7 chickens, unless we had one die in the night. When the sun goes down the activity quits, normally. I had planned on waiting to butcher these birds at 13 or 14 weeks. But the reason I am raising these roosters is for me to eat, and not one of them. Don't get me wrong, they do not eat the whole chicken. It seems that once the blood stops flowing, they quit eating. Now, if I were to leave the bird there for a longer period of time, they would consume more, but this is not the case this time.

So, this morning we are going to butcher about 10 chickens. I'm going to butcher the ones that I can obviously tell are males. And I hope that this stops the problem. If it doesn't, then I'll butcher everybody else that's in the male pen, even if I inadvertently butcher a couple of females. I have raised chickens like this, in a home flock type setting, on and off for about 20 years. I have never had this problem to this severity before. They've had a good, strong diet. The adult birds aren't doing it. Some how or another, the pecking just started, and somebody has developed a taste for blood. It can happen with other animals too, especially carnivores. 

Here in a couple of days, I'll post how the butchering went. It would have been a scheduled post anyway, it's just a couple of weeks early. I don't know if I've mentioned the Pick No More before, but you might need a bottle or two around if you're going to raise chickens. It's not just for pecking problems. You can have a bird cut it's foot on chicken wire. In the winter time a bird's comb might freeze and bleed a little. You want to stop the pecking of blood
as soon as possible. And if you need to, you can also isolate a bird for a few days until the bleeding stops, if the Pick No More doesn't stop it. There are other medications around that help suppress bleeding. Some of the older guys used to use just a little bit of white flour. Others used a black pine tar type of substance. You can buy these products at most animal supply dealers. I use Jeffer's. I buy them by the case. There are twelve 4 oz.bottles in a case. I keep one out in the chicken house all the time.

These kind of little emergencies happen, and we do the best with what we've got. The dead chicken carcass. Get rid of it whatever is the best way for you. Some people put them in an empty feed sack and take them to the local dump. If this practice is illegal in your area, and you choose to do it, make sure there are no identifying items in the bag with the dead chickens. You know, like junk mail with your name on it. Food for thought.

We'll talk more later. Frank


  1. My chickens would eat anything, anything. I saw the flock get a frog one day..
    I have long advised people to make their chicken house tall enough so they would never hit their head on the ceiling.

    1. Rob,

      I have read some really gross stories about folks having a heart attack or stroke and dying in their pig or chicken pen. I leave the details to your imagination.

      Take care. Watch your head.


  2. Blue Kote works great for pecking. My Mom raises heritage breed chickens. Of all the things she has tried, it works the best. Since the Blue Kote is purple the chickens aren't attracted to it.
    Having a red light in the brooder instead of clear, helps a lot. Curtain breeds pick more then others, and mixing different ages of chicks will cause it. Rhode Island Reds are an aggressive breed. My Mom won't raise them. I didn't see any in your pictures, but certain breeds are more aggressive than others.
    Free ranging the chickens pretty much puts an end to hens picking each other. They need to keep active all the time. Just like any other animal, they will develop bad vices.


    1. Kimberly,

      Thank you for your thoughtful comment. I am not familiar with Blue Kote, but I see that Murray McMurray carries it. I will give it a try.

      Everything you said, I agree with. Our birds are weeks past the heat lamp stage. We never mix younger birds in with adult birds, and all of these birds are the same age.

      Our first two breeds of birds were Buff Orpington and Rhode Island Red. An example. When you try to check under a sitting Buff Orpington, it will peck you. Depending on the individual bird, some a little harder than others. If you reach under a Rhode Island Red that is sitting, it will peck you and bring blood. That was the last time we ever raised Rhode Island Reds.

      Fern used to wear a Red Wing boot into the chicken house. That Rhode Island Red rooster would go crazy attacking her feet. If she wore a pair of tennis shoes, it didn't happen. So, I put him 'to rest'.

      You have some very good advice here. I will look into the Blue Kote. Thank you again.


  3. Frank-
    I was going to recommend Blue-Kote too. The blue color over the wound doesn't attract the chickens like red does.
    Just be careful with Blue-Kote. It takes a bit of time for it to dry and it will permanently stain clothing and anything that it touches or is accidentally transferred to. Be aware that Blue-Kote is also very drying to the skin and can be painful to the animal if sprayed on too large an area.

    Picking is a nasty chicken vice and once it gets started in a flock it can be hard to control and it tends to spread especially under crowded conditions.
    Non-pickers learn the habit from pickers and roosters seem to be more prone to it.

    I agree with Kimberly that letting chickens run a large will control some picking. Unfortunately I've found that the best control for picking is a 20 gauge shotgun or date with my bloom stick and the stew pot.
    Good luck.

    1. Yes, I am looking into the Blue Kote. But, being a southerner, I do have some small issues with blue coats. Maybe in a couple more hundred years, it will be acceptable. I think we've got our pecking problem just about under control, and we didn't butcher today, but we are in the morning. I would rather have it totally under control, than almost under control. So, tomorrow, as Napoleon would say, "Off with their heads." Thanks for the comment.


  4. This is a problem I can thankfully say I've never had, but then we've always free ranged so perhaps that's why as has been mentioned above. So sorry you had this problem! Losing chicks is never fun (last year I lost 6 to a rat).

    1. Well, sorry about your loss. I have only lost one chicken to a predator, but I've never lost this many birds to a pecking problem. I'm noticing that the only birds that are getting pecked are the Easter Egg chickens in that same spot. They don't seem to peck within their own breed, so it must be something that the Black Australorps find tasty. But I really don't know. Thank you for the kind words.