Cannibalism is an abnormal behavior of chickens and turkeys most often manifested as vent-picking or picking at unfeathered skin on the head, comb, wattles, or toes. No single cause has been identified, but overcrowding, excessive light intensity, and nutritional imbalances are directly correlated with its occurrence. Additionally, in overly fat pullets entering egg production or hens in production, mucosa will protrude from the vent during and after egg laying, and this red tissue will attract pecking. Other factors that predispose to cannibalism are insufficient feeder space, mineral and vitamin deficiencies, skin injuries, and failure to remove dead birds daily. Other than the loss of birds due to pecking trauma, cannibalism often leads to transmission of infectious diseases (eg, erysipelas) and botulism.
Control depends on correcting or reducing the above risk factors. Trimming the sharp distal end of the upper beak to decrease skin trauma from pecking may be required. Trimming of the tip of the beak distal to the nostrils is often done at 1 day of age and repeated between 6 and 12 wk of age in maturing pullets or turkeys. Cautery often is required to provide hemostasis.
Last full review/revision March 2012 by Frederic J. Hoerr