Keeping chickens can be a rewarding experience but all too often, it can have a dark side.
Many inexperienced chicken farmers are shocked to see a killing streak in their birds. They may witness their healthy chickens attacking and pecking at a wounded or injured chicken and even eating it. So what is the reason behind such cannibalistic behavior?
This guide covers the answer to the question ‘Why do chickens attack injured chickens’ in detail and also gives you some tips to keep your birds safe.
Why Do Chickens Attack Injured Chickens? (The Short Answer)
Chickens attack injured chickens due to a natural instinct to peck away at anything unusual. Chickens often display cannibalism and might peck away at a bloodied chicken because the smell and color of the blood set off a feeding frenzy in them. Also, chickens follow a social hierarchy and have a natural survival instinct to eliminate perceived weaknesses for their flock’s safety.
Why Do Chickens Pick on Injured or Sick Chickens? (The Details)
The main reasons why chickens attack injured or sick chickens include:
Almost all poultry birds display cannibalism and chickens are no different. In such behavior, the chickens peck, tear, and consume the skin and organs of their wounded or injured flock mate. Such behavior is seen in chickens housed in different settings like a coop, an aviary, floor-raised birds, free-range birds, etc. Unfortunately, once such pecking behavior starts in a flock, it quickly becomes a vicious habit.
Cannibalism is also a learned behavior and young chickens quickly pick it up from their elders. Thus, if a chicken aggressively pulls at the feathers and skin of a socially weak chicken, the other chickens will follow suit. They all gang up on the weaker/injured chicken and continue pecking at it until it is featherless and dead.
The behavior also has a genetic component – which is why good farmers will take all the preventive measures to stop it in the first place.
Blood Frenzy (Attraction to Blood)
The smell and red color of the blood from a wounded bird set off a feeding frenzy in the remaining flock. The healthy birds attack the injured ones with open wounds. Pecking the wounds opens them up further and releases more blood. This continues to excite the healthy birds, who then continue pecking and eating the injured bird’s flesh.
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To Maintain Flock’s Strength
Chickens have the natural instinct wired in them to maintain their flock’s safety and security. A sick, injured chicken is perceived as a weak link that threatens the flock’s integrity. Therefore, chickens may peck the injured bird to death to maintain the flock’s stability and strength.
Why is My Chicken Attacking Other Chickens?
A chicken might attack other chickens due to the following reasons:
Chickens could get aggressive if their diet is lacking in certain nutrients. Changes in feed mix where certain nutrients are lacking are common reasons behind sudden behavioral changes in otherwise docile chickens.
Hens tend to get bored, especially if they are not allowed to free range or move to fresh ground. This boredom can also trigger aggression and cause them to attack each other. Providing some “hen-tertainment” can help your birds. Simply add some fresh piles of hay or suspend some vegetables by the side of the coop. This will keep your flock busy pecking and eating away.
To Establish a Social Hierarchy
Chickens follow a social hierarchy wherein a strong chicken will bully a weaker one. The resulting fight can cause injuries, which can then set off a blood frenzy among the other chickens.
Such social hierarchy is more prominent in smaller flocks since, in larger flocks, the birds tend to be more tolerant of other birds and generally less aggressive. The fight to establish hierarchies is also seen in flocks having birds of different species, ages, colors, and other traits. These differences promote aggression and fights in the coop.
Poor Living Conditions
Inadequate nesting boxes, overheating, and excessive light can also trigger aggression in chickens, prompting them to turn against each other. Competition for food and water, empty feeders, or dirty water can make chickens cranky and aggressive.
Similarly, abrupt changes in the environment can trigger stress, which could result in aggression among chickens.
How to Stop Chickens from Killing Each Other?
Here are some preventive measures you can take to keep your birds from killing each other:
Ensure Adequate Space and Resources
Ensure that each bird has adequate space, separate nesting boxes, and enough room to perch, roam, and roost. Standard-sized chickens need at least 4 square feet of coop space per bird. Heavier or larger breed chickens need at least 8-12 square feet of coop space per bird.
Similarly, every chicken needs to have access to a feeder and waterer. If you have more than 10 chickens, your coop should have a 30 lb. or 15 kg feeder and a 25 liter or 7-gallon waterer/drinker.
Provide Them With Toys and Things to Peck At
Add plenty of fresh hay, shiny toys like mirrors, a swing, a couple of musical instruments, ladders, perches, fresh vegetables, etc. to the coop. This will provide your chickens with entertainment. Toys and hay will keep your hens busy pecking and prevent them from turning against each other.
Ensure Balanced Nutrition
Make sure your birds are eating well and that the feed you provide contains optimum nutrition. If required, consult a vet specializing in poultry nutrition and make dietary changes accordingly.
Treat Stress and Underlying Health Issues
If you suspect an illness or stress in your birds, consult a vet to diagnose and rule out those underlying health issues.
Separate The Birds Where Needed
If some birds have become aggressive, you could consider adding more space or separating them from the docile birds for a while. It is especially important to isolate injured or sick birds so that healthy hens do not attack them. Cover wounds promptly using wound-treating sprays and bandages. Separate the wounded/sick chickens until they are completely healed.
Conclusion – Why Do Chickens Attack Injured Chickens?
Chickens attack injured or wounded chickens because of the scent and color of the blood. Once they taste chicken blood, they want more and may even start displaying cannibalism. Sometimes, chickens attack injured or sick birds to ensure their flock’s stability.
We hope this brief guide helps you keep your flock safe and healthy.