It was a rather bloody week here at the farm. The hens in the south coop began picking at each other’s feathers over the weekend, and the picking quickly escalated into cannibalism. By mid-week we had lost forty birds. Cannibalism is one of the most common problems in egg production, and it is the reason large commercial egg producers routinely cut the beaks from their newly hatched chicks. It is less common in small, pastured flocks like ours, and we have not faced it before this batch of hens, but this is actually the second time we’ve seen it with this same flock. When they were chicks, we lost a good number of them to cannibalism in the brooder.
The causes of cannibalism seem to be partly genetic, and are also tied to nutrition, light levels, housing conditions, and population density. In this case, I believe the outbreak was triggered by a combination of genetics, more crowding than usual (because the hens were not inclined to go outside during this cold weather) and too much artificial light. We have the light adjusted now, and the problem has almost stopped… (Continue reading Kristin Kimball’s Essex Farm Note)