Welfare of laying hens: code of practice

The code aims to help those responsible for laying hens to look after them properly.

Animals with access to open runs

Schedule 1, paragraph 17 of the Welfare of Farmed Animals (Scotland) Regulations 2010 (S.S.I. 2010 No. 388) states that:

Animals not kept in buildings must, where necessary and possible, be given protection from adverse weather conditions, predators and risks to their health and, at all times, have access to a well-drained lying area.

The Welfare of Farmed Animals (Scotland) Regulations 2010 (S.S.I. 2010 No. 388), Schedule 3, Part 5, paragraph 19(b)(i) and (ii); provisions applicable to laying hens kept in non-cage systems; states that:

If laying hens have access to open runs:

(i) there must be several popholes giving direct access to the outer area, at least 35cm high and 40cm wide and extending along the entire length of the building; in any case, a total opening of 2m must be available per group of 1,000 hens; and

(ii) such runs must be of an area appropriate to the stocking density and to the nature of the ground, in order to prevent any contamination and equipped with shelter from inclement weather and predators and, if necessary, appropriate drinking troughs.

You should also refer to the Egg Marketing Standards (see reference section) regarding "free-range eggs".

57 Where birds are kept extensively and are free to range it is important to provide some overhead shelter. Reasonable precautions should be taken to protect birds against predators, dogs and cats. Shelter from rain, sun and cold should always be available when necessary. Windbreaks should be provided on exposed land.

58 Housing used by range birds should be of sufficient standard to ensure that the birds are not subject to distress caused by extremes of temperature.

59 Factors such as soil type, drainage and size of colony and frequency of flock rotation are very important in deciding the number of birds that a particular area can carry. Heavy, poorly drained soil can carry fewer birds than land that is light and well drained.

60 It is important to establish a system of rotation of grazing or house movement in order to prevent poaching and build up of parasitic infection and disease. Where houses in free-range systems are to remain in one location, steps should be taken to prevent the ground immediately around the house becoming poached. Flocks and portable houses should be moved with sufficient regularity to avoid continuously muddy conditions and/or contamination of the land with organisms which cause or carry disease to an extent which could seriously prejudice the health of poultry. Unless the house is moved frequently, it is good practice to protect the ground immediately adjacent to it, e.g. by providing slatted or wire mesh platforms, covered verandas or areas of gravel.

61 Birds should be encouraged to use the outdoor area by the provision of adequate suitable, properly managed vegetation, outdoor scratch whole grain feeding, a fresh supply of water and overhead cover all sufficiently far from the house to encourage the birds to range.

62 When birds are transferred to range houses, precautions should be taken to avoid crowding and suffocation, particularly during the first few nights. Cannibalism is a danger under this system, and birds should not normally be confined for too long during hours of daylight or subjected to direct sunlight during confinement.

63 Where the area within a veranda attached to a free-range house is included in the calculation of floor space, it must have the same artificial lighting system as within the inner part of the unit. The popholes must meet the requirements of the legislation and continuous pophole access must be provided between the house and the veranda.


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