Lost our first chicken - cannibalism


In the Brooder
10 Years
Dec 7, 2009
Because of snow on the ground our six chickens (9 months old) have been confined to the coop for the past two or three weeks. They have plenty of room (coop is 6'x7') fresh water, layer ration, a little treat just about daily (scratch or something else they like such as cottage cheese), perches, etc. Up until this point they were outside daily. They seemed to be doing fine until this past weekend. I noticed one of the girls was missing some tail feathers. Monday there was a little blood so we cleaned the wound and made her a saddle. Last night the saddle was gone and her back was a mess. Took her to the vet and it was too bad to save her, had to have her put down.

My question is this - is this a not too uncommon problem? Am I doing something majorly wrong? Should we expect this again with another one? These are our first chickens but I read everything I could for over a year until we had the time to start this project. From everything I have read, we did everything right. Was it just a stir crazy from confinement issue?

My solution is to shovel their run out this weekend and start letting them out daily again. Also to provide a covered area in their run and an outdoor feeder. Anything other suggestions? Any input would be greatly appreciated. We take caring for another living creature very seriously and I hate the thought that my poor management caused this problem.
So sorry for your loss - it is very upsetting to lose any of your chickens for whatever reason, when mine were all young I was fortunate it was during the summer months and they had plenty of freedom outside - I did hang cabbage and other treats for them in the yard so they could be distracted from the pecking order that is inevitable - I have had some issues with dominant hens attacking new ones to the coop and found that spraying all of them with a harmless vinegar spray to their plumage was effective - unfortunately I have some which attack the younger ones for no apparent reason - they have at least 1 acre of land to roam daily - I would have a problem in confining my hens and chicks to a coop as I feel that there would be major issues in the dominance of the elder ones.
We have had some horrendous weather here of late, minus 14 degrees, strong winds and plenty of snow and rain - I have always given my hens and chicks the opportunity to leave the coop despite the inclement conditions and much to my surprise they have almost all gone outside.
I can't offer any help as I don't know if my actions were considered to be right or wrong - no doubt somebody will enlighten us - please don't blame yourself - I am as new to this as you are and we do learn by our mistakes and by the wisdom of others - hopefully some advice will be forthcoming for all of us who have found themselves in this position.
Chickens are pretty blood thirsty creatures...once they spot blood and start pecking it's hard to get them to stop. Removing the injured hen is about the only way to insure that they don't continue to peck and make it worse. Yes, having them confined...especially when they aren't used to it probably contributed to the problem.

Thank you for the advice and kind words. I don't know how you get yours to go out in that. The first few days we had snow I opened the door for them in the morning and six little heads stuck out but they were not having it. One or two ventured out eventually but turned right around and went back in. I was going to try the hanging treats and cabbage to give them something to do as well.

Thanks again.

Sorry for you loss.

Your coop is a great size IF they have access to the run, but is a bit small for them when that is all they have access to. There are a few things you can do though to get by when the weather limits your options.

1. Get some blu-kote from the feed store and spray it on any areas that get bloody or red/irritated.
2. Distractions--lots of people have good luck with hanging a head of cabbage a foot or two off the ground. It can take them a few days to figure out it's good to eat, but will give them something to peck at besides each other.
3. Hang a suet feeder for them, same principle as the cabbage but with the added benefit of a protien boost. I'd only do this once a week or so though because of the fat.
4. Sometimes switching to a higher protien feed for the winter can help too. I use 22% protien gamebird feed and then give them oyster shell free choice to make up the calcium.
5. Remove any pullet that looks to be getting really beat up on until she recovers. The alternate to this is to remove the bully (if you can identify her) for a week or so. When you put her back in she'll be lower in the pecking order and often much nicer. It doesn't always work, but a stint in chicken jail can be an effective management tool.
I am so sorry for your loss.

I live in Central PA and we had two 24"+ snowfalls within 5 days and are expecting more tomorrow. My 9 girls are in an 8' x8' coop with attached run. There is a 4' x 8' roof over a small part of the run right outside the pop hole. I open the pop hole every morning no matter what the weather and allow the girls to decide on their own if they want to go out. Often they stand on the small roost under the roof or just wander in an out during the day. I think that giving them the choice to go out keeps them from getting "cabin fever".

The worst part is having to walk through 2 feet of snow at 5:30 in the morning to open the pop hole!

I'm so sorry for your loss--how sad. It's good you tried to take her to the vet and gave her a humane ending.
Every time I see any sign of blood, I clean up the wound, stop the blood flow, and isolate the chicken somewhere where I can keep a close eye on them. If they get too lonely, sometimes I'll put one of my particularly docile chickens in with them. They really do peck at the red, you have to be careful with chickens that have any blood on them at all. I keep a nice little pen ready at all times just in case I need to isolate for any reason, and it helps.

Kittymomma had some great suggestions--I hope those help you control any future cannibalism problems you may have. Good luck, and I'm sorry again for your loss.
I agree with this. If they are full grown birds, I would give them the choice of going out or staying in. I open the pop door every single day, even during winter storms.
Sorry for your loss.
. Thats the same reason I was getting worried about keeping them in the coup for too long. They are like piranhas when they see blood. When mine were little and still in the basement, one must have started bleeding a bit when her tail feathers were coming in, well it wasnt too long till they had plucked her butt raw and were just after her like mad. I had to keep her separate for a while.
Sorry to hear about that. Unfortunately it's that time of year when things like pecking and feather pulling happen because of sheer boredom. My large coop had seven chickens, and I gave away four because I noticed some pecking was going on. There was so much snow, they were just too cooped up. So I have a farmer friend with a big farm and gave three hens and a rooster to him. Things are fine now.

If I were you, I'd observe them quietly....just watch and see if you can tell who the troublemaker is and maybe cage that one up for a bit. It's sad that chickens can be so violent...they see blood and it sets them into a frenzy sometimes.....

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