Proper management can prevent Cannibalism
Satuti Sharma 1 , Aditya Sharma 1 , Sheikh Uzma Farooq 2 , Lalrinkima 1 and Shagufta Azmi 1 1 Department of Veterinary Pathology 2 Department of Veterinary Pharmacology and Toxicology KCVAS, Amritsar
Cannibalism is a problem that is associated with large poultry flocks where the birds are kept in close confinement .This can result in significant mortality within the flock because when a wound is generated due to pecking there is a decrease in egg production as the hen pecked birds become stressed. This is a vice which is usually precipitated by some aspect of management or environment which the birds are subjected to. Under the intensive management conditions, this condition can occur in all ages of birds and in many species. It has been determined, however that the light breeds, such as the leghorns, are more susceptible than the heavier breeds. These lighter breeds are characterized by their flighty nature and are hypersensitive to environmental factors.
The following are common forms of cannibalism seen in commercial poultry operations:
Picking of the vent or region of the abdomen several inches below the vent is the most severe form of cannibalism. This is generally more common in high-production or overweight pullet flocks. Predisposing factors are prolapsed or tearing of the tissues by passage of an abnormally large egg. This could lead to severe anaemia in birds
Frequently seen in flocks kept in close confinement resulting in lack of sufficient exercise. Nutritional deficiencies may contribute to the problem.
Most commonly seen in young birds. Inadequate feeder space or inability of the chick to find the feed will lead to toe-picking.
Follows injuries to the comb or wattles, injuries can lead to head pecking.
Causes of Cannibalism in Poultry Flocks:
The problem may simply arise because of the normal pecking behaviour of this type of bird when searching for food or exploring an environment. The birds are kept in barren, crowded conditions and may have little else to peck besides their pen mates. Once one hen has picked up this technique other hens, observing the behaviour, will learn from the initial pecker-and a serious episode will develop. A lack or a deficiency of nutrients in a poultry ration may result in the birds becoming irritated which can subsequently lead to cannibalism in the flock. Usually when diet formulation is involved in the outbreak the imbalance is in the protein or the sodium level of the ration. Deficiencies can also be caused by insufficient feeding and water space. An abrupt change in the palatability or form of a flock's ration may also be a contributing factor in the onset of cannibalism as the birds might impulsively seek alternative sources of food. Poor ventilation, high temperature/ low humidity, excessive population density, and excess illumination are all factors in the flock's environment that may precipitate an outbreak of this vice, especially with the lighter breeds. During egg laying the cloaca may become damaged and distended especially with the passage of large eggs and this protrusion of the vent may be an attractant to other birds due to its stark colour difference against the white body.
There are four main methods by which cannibalism and/or self mutilation can be treated:
1. Making changes to the bird's environment by increasing cage size.
2. A physical barrier is required, i.e. . Provision of Elizabethan collar while the bird's feathers
grow out, or the wounds from mutilation heal.
3. Drug treatment: Behaviour modifying psychoactive drugs have been reported as an effective
4. Keeping a favourite toy, or food before the owner leaves
Distractions such as leaving a radio or TV on for the bird may be helpful, Birds often do respond
to videotapes of their owners talking to them in a normal, playful manner, Feather pecking can
also be the result of some "upheaval" in the life of either the owner or the bird. Companion birds,
especially the psittacine species are highly attuned to the attitudes and moods of their owners.
Consequently, owners need to be aware of this, and in the event of such upheavals, possible
solutions should be discussed with veterinarians.
The onset of this vice can be prevented by paying particular attention to the dietary factors
(protein, sodium/ and palatability), the environmental factors (ventilation, temperature/ humidity/
population density, and lighting) and the feeding and water space that is available for each bird.
With highly intensive operations the light intensity should be reduced, perhaps by changing to a
light which is of a red tinge.
The most common and cost effective mode of prevention is the use of beak trimming. Beak
trimming is usually done at 4-6 weeks of age and the procedure requires that two thirds of the
upper mandible be removed. This procedure will not eliminate the abnormal behaviour entirely but
the birds are less able to inflict damage.
Other control methods include increasing feed availability, reducing group size/ adding litter, and
providing distractants such as straw bales. Best method of control is to prevent it from starting at
all/ since once it has begun it will be very difficult to stop. In nut shell, poultry farmers and
veterinarians both have to vigil at the time of handling cannibalism.