Gamebird and quail sectors - phasing out the use of cages: call for evidence

We would like to hear the views of stakeholders on how the current systems can be improved to enhance the welfare of the birds kept. The Scottish Government seeks to expand its understanding of the gamebird industry and has taken the opportunity to include quail egg and meat production in Scotland.

Phasing out the use of cages in the gamebird and quail sectors

The species covered by this call for evidence are pheasants, partridges and quail, either home-bred or imported, and reared under farm conditions, whether or not for subsequent release.

The Scottish Government is committed to improving animal welfare and announced a Programme for Government Commitment for 2023/2024 to consult on the phasing out of cages for gamebirds.

Before consulting more widely on specific proposals, the Scottish Government seeks to expand its understanding of the gamebird industry and has taken the opportunity to include quail egg and meat production in Scotland, especially the extent to which cages are used for housing egg-laying and meat birds. We would like to hear the views of stakeholders on how these systems can be improved to enhance the welfare of the birds kept in them.

We invite anyone involved in the sector to contribute to this Call for Evidence in order to help us frame a future consultation in such a way that it asks the right questions and elicits responses to guide future actions that continue to support this important sector while enhancing animal welfare.


Approximately 40 million gamebirds (30 to 35 million pheasants and 5 to 10 million partridges) are estimated to be released each year in Great Britain for shooting. Scottish figures held for the quail sector state that there are approximately 22,000 quail in Scotland.

Gamebirds reared for sporting purposes are not regarded as farmed animals for the purposes of farm animal welfare legislation as they are bred and reared primarily for sport shooting. This means that gamebirds bred and reared for sporting purposes are not subject to the same legislative requirements on welfare as farmed poultry.

However, gamebirds bred and reared under controlled conditions for the purpose of release for sport shooting, together with birds retained or caught-up for breeding purposes are protected animals for the purposes of the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006. Those responsible for their care may be committing an offence should they fail to take reasonable steps to ensure the needs of the animal are met whilst still in their care.

Farmed gamebirds are bred on farms in Great Britain or are imported to Great Britain, mostly from Europe, as hatching eggs, with a lesser number as day-old chicks from France. About half the pheasants and up to 90% of partridges imported are reared for the UK sporting sector.

Gamebirds are reared intensively on the farm, or more extensively on the shoot, before being released to the wild for shooting when the season begins. In the release pens and after release, there may be some ongoing support in the form of feed, water or shelter. We understand that around 1000 quail are kept in cages for egg and meat production in Scotland[1].

Gamebirds have traditionally been bred and reared using simple systems of husbandry, though increasingly more intensive methods have been used. Over the years Codes of Practice have been issued by various bodies representing game keepers and shooting interests.

The Scottish Government and the other devolved administrations introduced the gamebird welfare codes in collaboration with interested stakeholders in 2011 –

(Gamebirds: Code of Practice for the Welfare of Gamebirds Reared for Sporting Purposes (

Currently, Gamebird keepers with 50 birds or more are required to be listed on the British Poultry Register. Voluntary registration of premises keeping less than 50 birds is encouraged, allowing administrations to locate poultry premises accurately and to warn keepers of health and restriction problems associated with notifiable diseases through the current alert system. The use of the Poultry Register has subsequently been extended to other animal health and welfare purposes, including planning of visits related to legislation on veterinary medicines and animal welfare. The soon to be introduced Scottish Poultry Register will replace the British Poultry Register in Scotland, adopting all of the current functions from its predecessor.

We would be interested to hear the sector’s views on the difference between the enriched cages used for laying hens which provide a separate laying area, perching and provision for scratching mats[2] and the cages used for gamebirds and quail and how the following recommendations in the code of practice for the welfare of gamebirds reared for sporting purposes are met in practice:-

6.1 When birds are housed or penned, the accommodation should be well constructed and managed and of sufficient size to ensure good health and welfare.

This is best achieved by:

a) good design, including adequate facilities for the inspection of the birds, and their removal where necessary;

…. and

c) appropriate size, stocking densities and facilities, including appropriate environment enrichment, to ensure good health and welfare;

and in particular,

6.11 Barren raised cages for breeding pheasants and small barren cages for breeding partridges should not be used. All laying systems used for the housing of birds should be designed and managed to ensure the welfare of the birds. Any system should be appropriately enriched.

As a general indication, we would consider cages as including any raised enclosures with artificial flooring and/or any that significantly restrict the birds’ freedom of movement or natural behaviours like foraging and dust bathing.



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