Welfare of laying hens: code of practice

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


Section 20 of the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006 makes it an offence to carry out a procedure which involves interference with the sensitive tissues or bone structure of the animal. Schedule 3 of the Prohibited Procedures on Protected Animals (Exemptions) (Scotland) Regulations 2010 (S.S.I. 2010 No. 387), however, allows an exemption which permits the following procedures:

  1. Microchipping - for the purpose of identification; and
  2. Beak trimming - for the purpose of flock welfare


  • beak trimming may only be performed to prevent feather pecking and cannibalism and, in relation to laying hens kept on holdings of 350 or more, when the animals are less than 10 days old
  • beak trimming of laying hens kept on holdings of 350 or more may only be performed using the infra-red procedure
  • in an emergency, to control an outbreak of feather pecking or cannibalism in laying hens, conditions 1 and 2 do not apply

Beak trimming

When not carried out by a veterinary surgeon beak trimming must be carried out in accordance with the Veterinary Surgery (Exemptions) Order 1962 (SI 1962 No. 2557). The operation of beak trimming (sometimes known as debeaking) means the removal from a bird by means of a suitable instrument of:

(i) not more than a one-third part of its beak, measured from the tip towards the entrance of the nostrils, if carried out as a single operation; or

(ii) not more than a one-third part of its upper beak only, measured in the same way

And the arrest of any subsequent haemorrhage from the beak by cauterisation.

67 If behavioural problems occur, they should be tackled immediately by appropriate changes in the system of management, for example, by reduction of the lighting intensity. Research also indicates that availability of good quality litter, particularly shavings, encourages foraging and dust-bathing and hence reduces the feather-pecking tendency.


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