Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Cannibalism: The Hannibal Lecter of Chickens

After 3 nights of having our Silkies in the new coop with the rest of the flock without any integration problems, I decided to allow them to spend the daylight hours together as well. Sadly, we came home yesterday to find one of the Silkies dead. She was killed by some of the others...they pecked her to death and proceded to eat her until we got there to stop their feeding frenzy.

While I knew that this happens in the world of chickens, it was horrifying for me. And, I feel it could have been prevented. When I began to blog about our experience, I never imagined I'd have to discuss anything like this. I have tried very hard to do everything right, so our hens would always be happy & healthy. I'm hoping that by sharing our experience, others that start their own backyard flock can avoid making the same mistake that we did.

We have taken very seriously the responsibility of raising our own backyard laying flock. I have read and researched. We have provided ample living & run space, the right feed & forage, excellent care, and plenty of love to our girls yet we are currently having to deal with the unfortunate experience of cannibalism in our flock. There are many treatment & prevention measures that one can take to hopefully avoid such a problem.

We have done most of them.

I say most, because we did one thing that I believe is the most likely cause of the chicken homicide. We introduced new chickens to the flock and upset the pecking order at least one too many times.

Twelve of our girls were raised together from chick to present. Even though we had mixed breeds, there didn't seem to be a problem. A few weeks ago we introduced 3 Silver-Laced Wyandottes that were about the same age as the rest. At first, a couple of our original girls were letting the new Wyandottes know who was boss, but things settled down and everyone was happy again. Shortly after, we added the 4 Ameraucanas. The newer Wyandottes and a few of our original girls began to pick and peck at the Ameraucanas emerging tail feathers. No big deal... until they started drawing blood. In order to combat the pecking & any possible infection, we sprayed the Ameraucanas with Bactine and smeared a thick coat of antibiotic ointment and Vaseline on their sore bums. This seemed to have worked. After about a week of monitoring the behavior and bums, everyone seemed to be getting along. We then decided to introduce the Silkies. BIG MISTAKE. A mistake that cost my Silkie her life.

All of these introductions continued to upset the pecking order and wreak havoc in the coop. Once the problem has gone from pecking and feather picking to blood and broken flesh to homicide, you've got a big problem. If one chicken starts, others follow. After it starts, I've heard & read that it's hard to stop it. This is where we are now.

We've removed the Silkies and placed them back in the safety of our pen in the garage. Because of their small size, we plan to have a separate coop for them soon so we never have to attempt to put them with the others again. We are going to keep a very close eye on the coop to be sure the Hannibal Peckers don't start picking on the Ameraucanas again. If they continue, we'll be faced with the difficult decision to cull the culprits. While I'm not thrilled about that idea, it's certainly not humane to allow the cannibals of this flock to feast on their coop-mates. If the problem persists, the guilty peckers will most likely become chicken stock. It's a sad reality of chicken ownership. One I had hoped I'd never have to encounter.


  1. Extremely well written piece, Becky. I didn't know that such a thing existed within the chicken community. It's very shocking! Sorry for the loss of your Silkie......

  2. Anonymous - is Mama Huolihan

  3. OMG-- the cartoon had me rolling! But sad about your little silkie.