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Cannibalism in young flocks

post #1 of 7
Thread Starter 
Keeping for chickens for over five years I figured we have a good track record of managing our new flocks, but something seems to have slipped through.

We got 25 new layers (Rhode Island Red) one month ago. We live in Sothern Maine, and are raising these layers to supplement our egg sales for next season (we have 50 Barred Rocks who just finished their first laying season and are healthy in another location). Like all of our flocks (meat and layers) they start life in the greenhouse, under two safe heat lamps, on shavings with access to water and food. We check on them several times a day, add cabbage etc as they get older, and switch to clean water lots. They are in a huge metal bin (4 ft across) and as they grow we give them more access to the bin. At 3 weeks we move them onto shaving covered soil, still with heat lamps. Then we add roosts and raise the heat lamps (for the cold maine nights- we are about 25 degrees at night outside, 30+ inside, plus two heat lamps). They have a yard about 3 x 10 filled with shavings, hay, leftover plants from greenhouse production and clean water twice daily.

About 5 days ago I separated 4 chickens out who had been pecked, some young feathers bleeding at their base. After 2 days separated and they healed, we returned them to the flock. Two days later (today!) I pulled at least 9 bloody chickens. After observation I noted many chickens pecking, and perhaps one main culprit. I haven't separated anyone else yet.

I can't see that they are bored... They have squash to eat, organic grain, red cabbage and they routinely find fresh worms in our greenhouse soil. They show no signs of chill, at night they roost happily on their roosts under the heat lamps, but are also seen rummaging around the greenhouse. They get no unnatural white light (our lamps are red) and we are generally very good to them.

I think they are too young for nose pins or blinders... Which we have never had to use before.

Does anyone have suggestions?! What do we do? We can't lose a whole flock of 25, that would just break my heart. Even to lose any...


Patch Farm
Denmark, Maine
post #2 of 7

How old are they now? How much space do they have in terms of total sq footage? What is the protein content of their feed? 

The most common reasons for this kind of problem are overcrowding stress or not enough protein.

Too many goodies (squash, grains, and cabbage) will reduce the amount of protein they are getting.

post #3 of 7
Thread Starter 
Thy will be 1 month old tomorrow - they have a 3x10 ft area in our greenhouse on soil and shavings with hay to scratch in. They have had 1 butternut squash they haven't touched and one cabbage. They are still on layer starter crumbles, organic... I can't recall the brand right now. No added protein yet.
post #4 of 7

Layer feed is very different from chick starter. Growing chicks need a feed with at least 18% protein.

30 sq ft isn't really much room for so many chicks. It's barely enough room for 3 adults, and considering how quickly chicks grow, I think you chicks are already beginning to feel the stress from crowding.

post #5 of 7
Thread Starter 
After I set that last post I realized the yard seemed much bigger and they actually have a 6x 25 ft (I've never been a good length estimator) and the Green Miuntain Organic feed they have right now is 17% crude protein. Which is wha we have been using, with success, for 5 years now.
My concern isn't so much now what the issue ... It is what to do NOW. Space is NOT an issue.
post #6 of 7

Over the years of chicken keeping, I've run into this problem almost every year, and it usually is one culprit doing all the damage. However, the problem can be contagious, others picking it up, and then it's compounded.


My advice is to set aside an hour or two in the afternoon, since it seems feather picking picks up around that time of day, and observe your young flock. It's crucial to identify the picker so you can take steps to bring the behavior to a halt.


Yes, four-week olds are much too small for pinless peepers, but that would be the solution if this problem persists after another four or five months.


At this time, once you identify the culprit, you can isolate them from the rest, but still within sight so they don't get lonely. At four weeks, they tend to forget a habit pretty quickly and move on.


Something else you can do, and I've found it's extremely effective in chicks, is to discipline the chick when it picks. This requires time spent in the run with the flock but if you can spare the time, it really pays off. I and others who have tried this see results in just a couple of days.


The discipline is simple and consists of a simple poke on the back when a chick goes for the feathers of another chick. You don't have to spend much more time than it takes to see a chick peck another chick and deliver a poke, and repeat a second and third time, and that's sufficient until the next time you can come back and monitor behavior again.


Why do you have this problem now? It may be nothing more complicated than a single individual's brain signaling to it to focus on feathers. The good news is that at this young age, feather picking is usually easy to stop if you devote the time to intercede.

post #7 of 7
All chickens to one degree or another are prone to cannibalism. Just because a feed says that it has crude protein is no indicator that the protein that feed contains is an appropriate protein. Supplement the 25 new chicks ration with 2 or three table spoons full of canned dog food every other day. Remember that young or new feathers are fragile and if they are bent, or broken they are going to bleed like a stuck pig. Any feather that bleeds should be plucked out of your chicken's body immediately, in which case a new perfect feather will shortly start to grow back in place of the broken feather.. Blood is highly attractive to chickens so be ready to Blue-Kote any wound on your birds.
Keep your chickens safe from predators, buy and wear fur. 
Keep your chickens safe from predators, buy and wear fur. 
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