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Causes of pecking and cannibalism

Cannibalism is a prevalent problem in chicken and game bird flocks. It usually begins as simple pecking among the birds and escalates until it is out of control. There are many conditions that increase the likelihood that it will become a serious problem. The problem usually begins by innocent pecking during the establishment of a social order or by pulling of the feathers in certain cases. Some of the reasons for cannibalism are:

  • Crowding birds - Correct by increasing the amount of space available for each bird.
  • Provide plenty of feed and water - All birds should have access to feed and water at all times.
  • Keep light intensity low - Bright lighting increases bird activity and cannibalism.
  • Keep the house temperature comfortable - Hot house temperatures aggrivate birds and make them more irritable.
  • Provide all dietary nutrients at recommended levels - Deficiencies of nutrients like methionine and salt will increase a craving for feathers and blood.
  • Regularly treat birds for external parasites - Pests can stimulate birds to peck and injure the skin, resulting in cannibalistic frenzies.
  • Remove all sick, weak, small, or odd colored chicks - Birds will attack and kill these chicks as a survival instinct, resulting in widespread cannibalism throughout the flock.

If the pecking and cannibalism problem can not be controlled by the recommended management practices, the last resort is debeaking. Many producers commonly remove portions of both the upper and lower beaks of chicks soon after hatching. This prevents future pecking problems. The debeaking procedure is accomplished by using a hot debeaking blade that cauterizes while cutting the beak. In young chicks, the beak is so soft that touching the beak to a hot metal blade usually removes enough beak to prevent cannibalism. Mature birds may need to have their beaks "trimmed" periodically to prevent cannibalism in older flocks.

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Dressed in a pink T-shirt and blue jeans, broiler grower Teresa Dyess stands next to two wagon wheels in front of a barn on her family farm.
Filed Under: Women for Agriculture, Poultry October 20, 2017

In three days, Teresa Dyess shifted her business focus from produce to poultry.

The change began two years ago with an offhand remark from her husband, Joe Dyess.

 “He told a broiler grower in Wayne County we wouldn’t mind building pullet houses because we wanted to diversify our farm,” she said. “We didn’t think any more about it, and then the next day a poultry processor called and offered us a contract. A banker came the next day, and everything fell into place.”

Lanette Crocker, coordinator for the MSU Extension Service in Wayne County, said Teresa Dyess’ adaptability has helped her maintain success through the farm’s transition.

Hen flock inventories grew after the poultry industry recovered from the 2015 avian influenza outbreak, increasing the number of eggs on the market and driving down the price. (Photo by MSU Extension Service/Kevin Hudson)
Filed Under: Poultry August 4, 2017

RAYMOND, Miss. -- Mississippi's poultry industry remains healthy with a strong demand for broilers and a positive outlook for the remainder of 2017.

Filed Under: Avian Flu March 30, 2017

STARKVILLE, Miss. -- All Mississippians who raise any species of poultry are being urged to follow strict biosecurity practices and review new requirements regarding sales and exhibitions.

Tom Tabler, poultry specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said that while avian influenza is not a threat to human health or food safety, an outbreak would endanger backyard flocks and the state’s nearly $3 billion commercial poultry industry.

Choosing the right breed of chickens for a backyard flock is an important decision. From left, Tripp, Luna and Charlie Sanders examine chicks for sale March 8, 2017, in Starkville, Mississippi. (Photo by MSU Extension Service/Kat Lawrence)
Filed Under: Poultry March 16, 2017

STARKVILLE, Miss. -- Families willing to host a flock of feathered friends reap the benefits of fresh eggs delivered daily just outside the door.

What started several years ago as an underground "urban chicken" movement has become much more common and widely accepted. Today, raising backyard chickens has gained popularity nationwide, boosted by interest in locally grown foods that avoid the energy use and carbon emissions typically associated with transporting food.

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