Welfare of laying hens: code of practice

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


Catching and transport

Article 3 of Council Regulation (EC) No. 1/2005 on the protection of animals during transport and related operations, states that:

No person shall transport animals or cause animals to be transported in a way likely to cause injury or undue suffering to them.

In addition, the following conditions shall be complied with:

(a) all necessary arrangements have been made in advance to minimise the length of the journey and meet the animals' needs during the journey;

(b) the animals are fit for the journey;

(c) the means of transport are designed, constructed, maintained and operated so as to avoid injury and suffering and ensure the safety of the animals;

(d) the loading and unloading facilities are adequately designed, constructed, maintained and operated so as to avoid injury and suffering and ensure the safety of the animals;

(e) the personnel handling animals are trained or competent as appropriate for this purpose and carry out their tasks without using violence or any method likely to cause unnecessary fear, injury or suffering;

(f) the transport is carried out without delay to the place of destination and the welfare conditions of the animals are regularly checked and appropriately maintained;

(g) sufficient floor area and height is provided for the animals, appropriate to their size and the intended journey;

(h) water, feed and rest are offered to the animals at suitable intervals and are appropriate in quality and quantity to their species and size.

Annex 1, Chapter I states:

However, sick or injured animals may be considered fit for transport if they are:

(a) slightly injured or ill and transport would not cause additional suffering: in cases of doubt veterinary advice shall be sought;

(b) transported for the purpose of Council Directive 86/609/EEC if the illness or injury is part of a research programme;

(c) transported under veterinary supervision for the following veterinary treatment or diagnosis. However, such transport shall be permitted only where no unnecessary suffering or ill treatment is caused to the animals concerned;

(d) animals that have been submitted to veterinary procedures in relation to farming practices such as dehorning or castration, provided that wounds have completely healed.

Annex 1, Chapter II of Council Regulation 1/2005 states:

1.1 Means of transport, containers and their fittings shall be designed, constructed, maintained and operated so as to:

(a) avoid injury and suffering and to ensure the safety of the animals;

(b) protect the animals from inclement weather, extreme temperatures and adverse changes in climatic conditions;

(c) be cleaned and disinfected;

(d) prevent the animals escaping or falling out and be able to withstand the stresses of movement;

(e) ensure that air quality and quantity appropriate to the species transported can be maintained;

(f) provide access to the animals to allow them to be inspected and cared for;

(g) present a flooring surface that is anti-slip;

(h) present a flooring surface that minimises the leakage of urine or faeces;

(i) provide a means of lighting sufficient for inspection and care of the animals during transport.

Annex 1, Chapter VII of the Regulation states:

2.1 For poultry, domestic birds and domestic rabbits, suitable food and water shall be available in adequate quantities, save in the case of journeys lasting less than:

(a) 12 hours disregarding loading and unloading time; or

(b) 24 hours for chicks of all species, provided that it is completed within
72 hours after hatching.

Chapter VII sets out the minimum space allowances applicable to the transport of poultry in containers.

The minimum floor areas are as follows:

Category Area in cm²
Day-old chicks 21-25 per chick
Poultry other than day-old chicks; Weight in kg Area in cm²
per kg
<1.6 180-200
1.6 to <3 160
3 to <5 115
>5 105

69 Birds should not be deprived of feed or water before transport; however, feed, but not water, may be withheld for up to 12 hours prior to slaughter. This period of 12 hours must be an inclusive period to include the catching, loading, transport, lairaging and unloading time prior to slaughter.

70 Every effort should be made to co-ordinate collection times with production requirements at the slaughterhouse, in order to limit the time birds are held in containers before transport.

71 Before de-populating houses, any hindrance from fixtures and fittings, especially sharp edges and protrusions must be removed. Care must be taken in catching birds in order to avoid panic and subsequent injury to and smothering of the birds, for example by reducing the intensity of the light or using a blue light.

72 Particular care should be taken when moving birds within a house to ensure that no bird is injured by the equipment or handling process. The proper handling of birds requires skill, and it should be undertaken only by competent persons who have been appropriately trained. It should be carried out quietly and confidently, exercising care to avoid unnecessary struggling which could bruise or otherwise injure the birds. For catching birds in cages, they must be removed from the cage singly and to avoid injury or suffering and must be held by both legs. The breast should be supported during removal from the cage. Loose-housed birds must be caught by both legs to avoid injury or suffering.

73 In all systems, birds should only be carried by the legs and care taken to avoid hitting solid objects particularly if wings are flapping. They should not be carried by their wings, heads or necks. The number of birds carried will depend upon the size of the bird and the ability of the carrier but a maximum of three per hand must not be exceeded. Distances birds are carried should be minimised, for example by bringing transport containers as close as possible to the birds.

74 Transport containers with large openings should be used to avoid damage to the birds; the design, size and state of repair of any container used to carry birds should allow them to be put in, conveyed and taken out without injury.

75 During the time birds are held in the containers they should be protected from bad weather and excessively hot or cold conditions. They should not be allowed to become stressed (as indicated by prolonged panting) by being left in containers exposed to strong direct sunlight. Adequate ventilation for the birds is essential at all times.

76 Care should also be taken when crates are loaded on to vehicles, and in their transportation and unloading, to avoid physically shocking the birds.

77 Birds that cannot be transported because they are unfit to travel due to being ill, injured, infirm or fatigued should be given prompt veterinary treatment or humanely despatched on farm without delay.

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