Will Chickens Kill Chickens?

dead chicken

Chickens are a very social species. They congregate, forage and roost with one another. In the wild and in your backyard, being part of a flock provides strength in numbers when it comes to finding food and watching out for predators. However, sometimes things are not so friendly in the chicken world, and they can be quite aggressive when it comes to their space, resources, and social status.

Chickens will occasionally kill each other. Usually, this can happen when new chickens are introduced, younger or smaller chickens get picked on by the dominant ones, or when they are overcrowded. Curiosity and over-enthusiastic pecking can also cause problems.

This article will talk about what causes chickens to kill other chickens and how to minimize this from happening in your flock.

What Causes Chickens to Kill Other Chickens?

Chickens will often “pick on” and bully other chickens who are younger or smaller than those in charge. But it is rare that this leads to death, provided they are healthy and well-fed. However, some situations can escalate into fatal attacks.

Will Chickens Kill New Chickens?

An established flock will have an established pecking order. This order is generally very stable and changes very slowly, if at all. There will always be a bit of pecking or even bullying from time to time, but rarely anything major.

When new chickens are introduced into this group, it will upset this balance and cause fighting. In most cases, this takes a day or two, and then the group will settle down again with a new pecking order based on the new additions to the flock.

However, it does happen that chickens will kill new members to their flock. This is especially the case if some of the new chickens are younger or noticeably smaller. If one of these new chickens is picked on to an excessive degree and cannot get out of this situation due to being weak, younger, or smaller than the others, then it may be killed by its injuries, or it dies from the stress of the situation.

How to Prevent Fatalities?

Generally, you should avoid keeping young chickens or bantams with larger chickens. Either keep your young chickens separate from the flock until they have grown large enough to defend themselves or buy more mature ones to balance off the numbers and avoid problems in the first place.

Whenever new chickens are introduced into an established flock, monitor the situation for a couple of days. Have a look at how they are getting on and who’s pecking whom. They do need to establish a new pecking order, and some pecking and/or fighting is to be expected, but if you notice one chicken being picked on more than others, keep an eye on it.

For suggestions on how to introduce new chickens to an existing flock, I recommend this very well-written article on the subject.

When One Chicken Is Weak or Wounded

A sick or injured chicken is at risk of being picked on by the others. If a chicken has its leg caught in something, for example, or if it is lame or weakened from illness, then it will not be able to get away from the other chickens who may attack and kill it.

Chickens pick on weaker chickens for two reasons: They want to increase or maintain their place in the hierarchy, and they want to expel potential carriers of harmful germs. It is in the animal’s best interest to get rid of sick and injured animals as they are a potential source of disease.

There are also cases where the pecking is not due to aggression but curiosity and a gruesome taste for meat. Chickens are naturally drawn to wounds and might peck at an injured chicken out of curiosity which will further injure the victim. Without intervention, they will continue to peck until there is nothing but bones left.

How to Prevent Fatalities?

If you notice signs of weakness in a chicken, isolate it from the flock. This will give it a better chance of survival, and hopefully, you can treat whatever the problem is and get your chicken back with the flock.

The best way to prevent infectious diseases amongst your chickens is to identify symptoms of sickness early. Some of these symptoms may include apathy, depression, lack of coordination, and pale or swollen wattles. Some chickens may experience abnormal droppings, respiratory issues like sneezing and even coughing.

If you suspect the chicken is suffering from a disease or parasites, contact a vet. Some diseases are highly contagious and have a high mortality rate among affected flocks.

When They Are Overcrowded

Chickens need space to roam. When they are overcrowded, the flock may fight over who gets to access certain areas. It is also extremely stressful for chickens when they are overcrowded, and this can lead them to peck at one another in order to release their frustration and anger.

In larger runs or on forage, a lower-ranging chicken can escape “dominant” chickens. Even a persistent bully will soon get bored or distracted by something else. But when the chickens are confined to a coop or small run, the victim can’t get away, and this can result in her being severely injured or even killed.

How to Prevent Fatalities?

If you notice that there is a problem with your chickens fighting, and especially if overcrowding is a factor, then you may need to give them more space in the run and/or the coop.

According to the AWA, the minimum space a chicken should have is 4 square feet of outdoor space (minimum of 18 x 10 feet.) and 1.8 square feet in the coop. Less than that, and you are likely to see more fighting and pecking.

When They Are Bored

Chickens are very curious animals, and they need activities that can keep them busy. If they are confined to their run all day, they can get bored, which in turn leads to aggression. This is especially true when they don’t have anything else to do other than eat, sleep, lay eggs, and wander around their home.

Even in larger runs, if there is nothing interesting to do, aggressive hens may keep chasing a more vulnerable chicken until her victim is exhausted and cannot flee any longer. If this happens, the more dominant chicken may peck at her victim until long after she is dead.

How to Prevent Fatalities?

In order to avoid boredom and pecking amongst your flock, take the time to interact with them. Talk to them, pet them, give them scratch treats (yes, chickens love treats), and generally engage with them. Turn the dirt in their run with a digging fork so they can forage for worms and bugs.

Consider letting them out in the yard when you are home during daylight hours so they can range around their territory and find bugs to eat. If you are worried about them getting into your vegetable garden, here are four ways to keep chickens out of the garden without fencing.

When They Are Hungry

Chickens need constant access to food and water. Unlike some other animals, chickens will stop eating when they are full, so you do not need to worry about overfeeding them.

Chickens do not have any moral or instinctual reservations about eating their own kind. And if they are denied access to food for a longer period of time, they may turn on each other to kill and cannibalize the more vulnerable chicken. You do not have to worry about that happening just because you forget to feed them for a few hours, but if you leave them without access to any source of food for more than a day, then you may get a cannibal problem.

How to Prevent Fatalities?

Check your feeder regularly and top it off if it is getting low. If you feed your chickens layer pellets, then they should have a constant source of food in the coop or run. They are great foragers, so if you let them out in your yard regularly, don’t be worried if they don’t seem to eat much from the feeder.

Don’t forget to provide your chickens with access to clean water at all times. Chickens will drink more when they are hot or stressed, so make sure there is plenty of fresh water available for them all day. This will cool the temperaments of your birds and make them less likely to fight or pick on each other.

When They are Stressed

Chickens like their home to be calm and peaceful. A hectic environment with loud noises, other animals (e.g., a predator or a dog), extreme weather situations, etc., will stress chickens out, which leads to aggressive behavior.

In such situations, they may pick on the weakest members amongst them, or stronger chickens may fight amongst themselves. While those fights generally will be non-fatal, they may cause physical injuries that will make one chicken weaker and more vulnerable to picking from the others.

How to Prevent Fatalities?

Keep your chickens in a stress-free environment and make sure all of their needs are met so that they can relax. If you have other pets that are scary to the chickens and create a lot of commotion, do not allow them to run freely in the chicken coop or run.

When They Fight over Top Spots in the Pecking Order

Both hens and roosters fight over the top spot in a flock’s social hierarchy. When one chicken is obviously stronger or more aggressive, the other will back down and let her win. However, if two chickens are evenly matched, the fighting can become vicious, and, in the worst cases, the weaker chicken may die.

These very violent fights can happen between hens, but more often are seen between roosters. In far most cases, the outcome is not fatal, and the losing rooster will eventually give up and run away. However, older roosters with long spores can cause serious damage and even death to their opponents.

How to Prevent Fatalities?

Besides providing sufficient space and activities for your chickens to prevent them from becoming bored or stressed out, the best way to deal with this situation is to keep at least ten hens per rooster. Roosters do fight for dominance, but as long as there are enough hens, the fights tend to be less violent.

If you have tried everything to keep the peace and two hens or roosters are still fighting viciously, you may need to separate them, or one may end up killing or severely injuring the other.

In Summary

Chickens will kill chickens in a variety of situations. They may attack their own kind when they are overcrowded, stressed out, or bored. When two roosters fight for dominance over the flock’s pecking order, one can die from their injuries, and older hens with long spurs can cause serious damage to an opponent as well.

As such, you should make sure your birds have plenty of space and activities so that they remain happy and stress-free at home while providing enough hen per rooster to keep them from fighting too fiercely.

If all else fails, separate the offending animals. And always isolate a sick or injured chicken immediately to prevent it from passing on any disease or getting killed by other chickens.


Hi, My name is Rasmus. I am a hobby "polytarian" and a backyard farmer. Ever since I was a baby, I have been surrounded by poultry of all kinds. This blog is my way of sharing what I have learned from my bird-crazy family, books, and my personal experience.

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