Welfare of laying hens: code of practice

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


Feed and water

Schedule 1, paragraphs 22-27 of the Welfare of Farmed Animals (Scotland) Regulations 2010 (S.S.I. 2010 No. 388), state that:

  • animals must be fed a wholesome diet which is appropriate to their age and species and which is fed to them in sufficient quantity to maintain them in good health, to satisfy their nutritional needs and to promote a positive state of well-being
  • animals must not be provided with food or liquid in a manner, nor must such food or liquid contain any substance, which may cause them unnecessary suffering or injury
  • all animals must have access to feed at intervals appropriate to their physiological needs (and, in any case, at least once a day), except where a veterinary surgeon acting in the exercise of that profession otherwise directs
  • all animals must either have access to a suitable water supply and be provided with an adequate supply of fresh drinking water each day or be able to satisfy their fluid intake needs by other means
  • feeding and watering equipment must be designed, constructed, placed and maintained so that contamination of food and water and the harmful effects of competition between animals are minimised
  • no other substance, with the exception of those given for therapeutic or prophylactic purposes or for the purpose of zootechnical treatment, may be administered to animals unless it has been demonstrated by scientific studies of animal welfare or established experience that the effect of that substance is not detrimental to the health or welfare of the animals

Under the Welfare of Farmed Animals (Scotland) Regulations 2010 (S.S.I. 2010 No. 388), Schedule 3, paragraphs 17 (a) and (b); provisions applicable to laying hens kept in non-cage systems; state that:

  • all systems must be equipped in such a way that all laying hens have:

(a) either linear feeders providing at least 10cm per hen or circular feeders providing at least 4cm per hen;

(b) either continuous drinking troughs providing 2.5cm per hen or circular drinking troughs providing 1cm per hen, and in addition, where nipple drinkers or drinking cups are used, there must be at least one nipple drinker or cup for every 10 hens and where drinking points are plumbed in, at least two drinking cups or two nipple drinkers must be within reach of each hen.

21 Feed and water should be readily accessible to all birds and particular attention should be given to its provision in areas used by subordinate birds. In the case of birds, which have difficulty in feeding or drinking, appropriate measures should be taken.

22 Feeding and watering equipment should be designed, constructed, placed, operated and maintained in such a way that:

  • it minimises spillage or contamination of feed and water
  • all birds have sufficient access to it to avoid undue competition between individual birds
  • it does not cause or result in injury to birds
  • it operates in all weather conditions
  • the consumption of water and feed can be monitored

In addition, all equipment, including bulk feed bins, must be able to be easily and effectively cleaned and disinfected.

23 Feeder space allocation should be sufficient to enable the birds to obtain adequate feed with the minimum of competition. For linear feeders this space must be 10cm of trough side per bird provided that birds have access to both sides and that feeders are placed sufficiently far apart for birds to make full use of the available space. If feed is not provided ad libitum, sufficient space must be available to allow all birds to eat at the same time.

24 Sudden changes in the type or quantity of feed and feeding procedures, other than those appropriate to the physiological needs of the birds, shall be avoided except in case of emergency.

25 Systems that call for the complete withholding of feed and water on any day must not be adopted. In no circumstances may birds be induced to moult by withholding feed and water. 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.

26 Stale or contaminated feed or water should not be allowed to accumulate and should be replaced immediately. Precautions must be taken to minimise the risk of drinking water freezing.

27 In alternative systems, a small amount of whole grain may be scattered over the litter each day to encourage foraging and scratching and reduce the possibility of feather pecking outbreaks. Birds should also have regular access to insoluble grit to aid digestion.

28 Arrangements should be made in advance to ensure that adequate supplies of suitable feed and water can be made available in emergencies such as interruptions in power supplies.

29 Body condition, weight and egg production should be used to monitor the effectiveness of the feeding regime.

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