Pecking attacks aren't often talked about, so many new flock owners are horrified to suddenly see the birds drawing blood and even cannibalizing each other.
Chickens are generally docile creatures, so while this behavior comes naturally as the pecking order is established in a flock, it can be rather distressing to witness. The pecking usually begins slowly, and you may not realize its full extent until it’s nearly out of control.
Left unaddressed, pecking and cannibalism can become a serious problem. While it’s easy to blame the supposed “bullies” or instigators, in many cases the pecking may be due to how we handle their care.
Fortunately, there are ways to deal with aggression in your flock, and by implementing certain practices, cannibalism and pecking can be practically eliminated.
Why Chickens Peck
Before we go on, remember that the pecking order comes naturally to chickens. All flocks will develop a pecking order, and usually, once the order is established, your birds will coexist peacefully.
You might see a few tiffs at first as the birds peck and bump their way into position; however, if your birds are well-kept, you’ll rarely see hens being seriously bullied or wounded.
This is especially true if you’ve raised your flock from a single group of chicks.
Chicks that have been raised together will rarely fight, as they’ll have established their pecking order from childhood.
Unless you disrupt the order by bringing in new hens, all should remain peaceful.
It is important, however, not to simply chalk up all aggression to the natural pecking order.
A bit of early pecking and aggression is normal; but if you begin to see frequent violent fights, or if a bird is actually being wounded and bloodied by the pecking, it’s time to step in.
When things get bloody, it’s quite likely that you have a management problem on your hands.
How to Control Pecking Attacks
Fortunately, there’s almost always a good reason why your birds are getting violent. If you can pinpoint the problem and provide a solution, the birds will usually calm down and stop pecking.
If your birds have begun pecking or cannibalizing each other, here are a few possible reasons:
As a last resort, some owners turn to debeaking to control flock violence. While this practice seems cruel and is best avoided if possible, trimming a small portion of the beak can be a last-ditch measure to prevent pecking attacks and keep your birds from cannibalizing each other.
In most cases though, you can keep your birds happy, healthy, and peaceful by providing the care and nutrition they need.
By maintaining good care practices, your birds should thrive and any pecking or bullying should taper off to a minimum.