Egg Files

By Michelle Dunn

Country Smallholding - - Inside This Month -

AS SOON as the weather cools in Novem­ber, I know that the time is ap­proach­ing to say good­bye to the pigs. This time is al­ways tinged with sad­ness for us and for a week or two be­fore the un­happy event a cer­tain gloom per­vades the small­hold­ing.

This is not echoed among the chick­ens, how­ever. They ab­so­lutely love slaugh­ter week. We butcher and process the car­casses our­selves on the small­hold­ing and do a lot of the work in the open barn to keep the meat cool. The chick­ens are well aware of this rou­tine and start clus­ter­ing around as soon as they see the sides of pork be­ing car­ried out.

For any­one still un­der the il­lu­sion that chick­ens are happy veg­e­tar­i­ans, I’m afraid I have some dis­tress­ing news for you. Chick­ens are om­ni­vores and they adore raw meat. In fact, they will ac­tu­ally stalk, catch and kill mice, voles and frogs if they get the op­por­tu­nity. They will try any fresh meat, with one ex­cep­tion — I have never known my chick­ens to eat dead birds. And it isn’t just chick­ens. This sum­mer a spar­rowhawk dropped a freshly killed ju­ve­nile pi­geon in our chicken pen and not one of the chick­ens would touch it. Equally, when I have opened the shed in the morn­ing and found one of the birds has suc­cumbed to old age, there is never a mark on it. My chick­ens are not can­ni­bals.

Can­ni­bal­ism is not un­known in chick­ens, how­ever. If you do an in­ter­net search on the sub­ject (and if you are re­motely squea­mish, I would strongly ad­vise against it), there are many doc­u­mented cases and, in­deed, ex­per­i­ments where re­searchers have tried to find trig­ger fac­tors for can­ni­bal­ism. While re­ported cases usu­ally be­gin with ag­gres­sive feather and vent peck­ing, which is more com­mon among con­fined chick­ens, some back­yard flock own­ers have also re­ported cases of can­ni­bal­ism (al­though these are rarer).

What causes can­ni­bal­ism in chick­ens? Bore­dom, frus­tra­tion, stress and over­crowd­ing seem to be the key trig­gers. I have never seen a case of it in my 15 years of keep­ing chick­ens, how­ever, pre­sum­ably be­cause my wide-rang­ing birds are in no dan­ger of over-crowd­ing, bore­dom, etc.

There­fore I don’t be­grudge them the odd bits they pick up off the floor when we process the pigs. I do worry some­times, though, when I see them eye­ing up my bare toes in their sum­mer san­dals....

The chick­ens scav­eng­ing for meat scraps dur­ing fleece scrap­ing

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