Cannibalism in Layer Production

28 August 2018

This article is brought to you be Nkosilathi Robi, Profeeds Technical Advisor (Matabeleland & Midlands)

Cannibalism frequently develops due to stress from poor management practice. Once exposed to stressful environments, birds may begin picking the feathers, comb, toes or vent of another bird. Once an open wound or blood is visible on the bird, the vicious habit of cannibalism can spread rapidly through the entire flock. In the view of cannibalism prevention is definitely better than cure!

If an outbreak of cannibalism occurs in the layer flock, management practices have to be immediately checked and evaluated. Possible stress factors have to be addressed, as these are the major causes in cannibalism. It is easier to control such vices than eliminate them but it is important to try and eliminate such vices as soon as possible if they do set in a flock.

Effects of cannibalism may include:

  1. poor feathering
  2. poor carcass quality due to torn and broken flesh
  3. Deaths

The above effect may result in financial losses for the farmer.

Causes of cannibalism:

  1. Feed or water shortage – inadequate feed or uneven distribution of feeders and drinkers. It is important to provide adequate feeders and drinkers for the flock.
  2. Poorly formulated feed rations – it is important to give balanced feed rations to laying birds and also to provide a balanced diet for the age and stage of production of the flock, for example, a diet deficient in protein may lead to cannibalism. In egg production mashes are recommended as compared to pelleted feeds.Overcrowding -  reduce bird population to 7 birds per square meter and provide enough nesting sites. Overcrowding of birds also limits access to feeders and drinkers leading to weaker birds having smaller body weights and thus higher chances of them being victims of cannibalism
  3. Excessive light - laying nests should be dark to provide a safe place for laying as other birds tend to perk at the exposed cloaca. Constant light may also be stressful to laying birds

Further measures that may be taken once cannibalism has set into the flock may include:

  1. Beak trimming – experienced personnel must carry out this procedure as over trimming may lead to injury to the bird and may impact negatively on the bird’s ability to feed. Birds have to be given stress mix at least 3 days prior to the procedure being carried out and two days after.
  2. Layer cages – usage of cages especially in situations where pullets from different houses are being transferred to the same house may help cannibalism as then the issue of pecking order being disturbed does not come into play.
  3. Immediate removal of cannibalism victims/ injured birds – removal of any objects that may cause harm to the birds is important.

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