Stopping Pecking Attacks

Awestruck lil' boy checking out some hens!

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.

Cute lil' girl inspecting a bowl of baby chicks.

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:

  • Crowding – This is possibly the prime reason for violent pecking. Each bird needs at least 9-10 square feet of outdoor space and another 3-4 in the coop. Your hens may choose to crowd together sometimes, but if they don’t have enough space to spread out at will, you’ll start to see pecking.
  • Boredom – Much like human children, your birds will get into trouble when they’re bored. By providing interesting things to scratch and peck at, you’ll keep your birds from pecking at each other. A compost pile works wonderfully for this purpose.
  • Hunger/Thirst – By providing plenty of food and water, you’ll keep the birds from fighting over access.
  • Nutrition – If your birds have dietary deficiencies, they’ll develop a craving for blood and feathers. Make sure that they’re getting a proper dietary balance – including elements like methionine and salt.
  • Lighting – Intense light will increase activity and cannibalism (especially in chicks). Using infrared bulbs will help to keep your birds calm and peaceful.
  • Discomfort – Uncomfortable birds are cranky birds. Try to keep your coop at a steady temperature and you’ll see fewer attacks.
  • Parasites – Make sure that your birds are regularly treated for external parasites. Mites and other pests can stir up a pecking frenzy amongst your flock, resulting in injuries and cannibalism.
  • Odd-Balls – Unfortunately, chickens will attack and kill any chick that is odd-colored, weak or sick. Avoid cannibalism and violence by removing these birds right away.

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.

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