Welfare of laying hens: code of practice

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


Housing

General

Schedule 1, paragraphs 11 and 12 of the Welfare of Farmed Animals (Scotland) Regulations 2010 (S.S.1. 2010 No. 388), state that:

  • materials used for the construction of accommodation and, in particular, for the construction of pens, cages, stalls and equipment with which the animals may come into contact, must not be harmful to them and must be capable of being thoroughly cleaned and disinfected
  • accommodation and fittings for securing animals must be constructed and maintained so that there are no sharp edges or protrusions likely to cause injury to them

Schedule 3, paragraph 6 of The Welfare of Farmed Animals (Scotland) Regulations 2010 (S.S.I. 2010 No. 388) states that:

Cages must be suitably equipped to prevent hens escaping.

Schedule 3, Paragraph 8 of the Welfare of Farmed Animals (Scotland) Regulations 2010 (S.S.I. 2010 No. 388) states that:

The design and dimensions of the cage door must be such that an adult hen can be removed without undergoing unnecessary suffering or sustaining injury.

32 The design, construction and maintenance of enclosures, buildings and equipment for laying birds should be such that they:

  • allow the fulfilment of essential biological needs and the maintenance of good health
  • facilitate good management of the birds
  • allow for easy maintenance of good conditions of hygiene and air quality
  • provide shelter from adverse weather conditions
  • limit the risk of disease, disorders manifested by behavioural changes, traumatic injuries to the birds, injuries caused by birds to each other and, as far as possible, contamination of the birds by droppings
  • exclude predators, rodents, and wild animals and minimise insects
  • allow for the prevention and treatment of infestations of internal and external parasites
  • incorporate damp-proof membranes to prevent insulation breakdown, and measures to prevent easy access by vermin to the insulation material

33 Emergency planning - farmers should make advance plans for dealing with emergencies such as fire, flood or disruption of supplies, and should ensure that all staff are made familiar with the appropriate emergency action. At least one responsible member of the staff should always be available to take the necessary steps. Fire precautions should be a major priority for all flock-keepers. Where buildings need to be locked, arrangements must be made to allow rapid entry in case of emergency.

34 Where birds are housed, floors, perches and platforms should be of a suitable design and material and not cause discomfort, distress or injury to the birds. They must provide sufficient support, particularly for the forward facing claws of each foot; moreover, perches should be of sufficient length to allow all birds to roost at the same time. Floors, perches and platforms should be kept sufficiently dry and clean.

35 Birds shall be kept in such a way that they can keep themselves clean.

36 Ventilation, heating, lighting, feeding, watering and all other equipment should be designed, sited and installed so as to avoid risk of injuring birds.

Alternative systems

Schedule 3, paragraphs 17(c), (d) and (e), 18 and 19 of The Welfare of Farmed Animals (Scotland Regulations 2010 (S.S.I. 2010 No. 388) state that:

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

  • at least one nest for every 7 hens and if group nests are used, there must be at least 1m² of nest space for a maximum of 120 hens
  • perches, without sharp edges and providing at least 15cm per hen; perches must not be mounted above the litter; the horizontal distance betweenperches must be at least 30cm and the horizontal distance between the perch and the wall must be at least 20cm
  • at least 250cm² of littered area per hen, the litter occupying at least one third of the ground surface
  • the floors of installations must be constructed so as to support each of the forward-facing claws of each foot
  • if systems of rearing are used where the laying hens can move freely between different levels, the following provisions apply:

(i) there must not be more than 4 levels;

(ii) the headroom between the levels must be at least 45cm;

(iii) the drinking and feeding facilities must be distributed in such a way as to provide equal access for all hens; and

(iv) the levels must be so arranged as to prevent droppings falling on the levels below.

You should also refer to the Egg Marketing Standards (see Reference Section) regarding "free-range" and "barn" eggs.

37 Usable area may be made up of the ground surface of the building where accessible to the hens and any additional raised areas or platforms at least 30cm wide, including perforated floors providing arrangements are in place to prevent fouling of hens below.

38 Nests should be provided with a floor substrate, which encourages nesting behaviour. This is especially important at the start of lay, when the provision of loose litter may be used to encourage the pullets to use the nests. Individual nests should be designed to accommodate only one bird at a time. Communal nests should be designed using divisions and suitable access points to minimise overcrowding.

39 Nest floors may be made of wire mesh provided that this is overlain by another material such as straw or plastic.

40 Only perches at 30cm centres or more should be calculated as part of the perching space.

41 Multi-tier systems with perforated platforms should have droppings belts or trays beneath. Perches must be positioned to minimise fouling of any hens below and, where possible, should be over a droppings pit.

42 Even where ladders are provided, nests, roosting areas, perches and platforms should not be so high above floor level that birds have difficulty in using them or risk injury.

Conventional cages

Schedule 3, Part 3, paragraph 10 of the Welfare of Farmed Animals (Scotland) Regulations 2010 (S.S.I. 2010 No. 388) made it illegal for anyone to keep 350 or more laying hens on a holding in conventional cages from 1 January 2012.

43 Cages should be designed and maintained so as to minimise discomfort and distress and to prevent injury to the birds.

44 Droppings should not be allowed to fall on birds in lower tiers of cages. Droppings pits below battery cages should be closed off to prevent birds gaining access.

45 If there is evidence that the claws of hens are found to be overgrown or broken, then the provision of claw shortening devices should be enhanced. Excessively abrasive devices may cause injury so caution should be exercised in specifying such devices.

Enriched cages

Schedule 3, Part 4, of The Welfare of Farmed Animals (Scotland) Regulations 2010 (S.S.I. 2010 No. 388) states that:

All cage systems must be enriched to comply with the requirements of this Schedule.

Laying hens must have:

(a) at least 750cm² of cage area per hen, 600cm 2 of which shall be usable area; the height of the cage other than that above the usable area shall be at least 20cm at every point and no cage shall have a total area that is less than 2000cm²;

(b) a nest;

(c) litter such that pecking and scratching are possible; and

(d) appropriate perches allowing at least 15cm per hen.

A feed trough which may be used without restriction, must be provided and its length must be at least 12cm multiplied by the number of hens in the cage.

 Each cage must have a drinking system appropriate to the size of the group and where nipple drinkers are provided, at least two nipple drinkers or two cups must be within the reach of each hen;

To facilitate inspection, installation and depopulation of hens there must be a minimum aisle width of 90cm between tiers of cages and a space of at least 35cm must be allowed between the floor of the building and the bottom tier of cages.

Cages must be fitted with suitable claw-shortening devices.

You should also refer to the Egg Marketing Standards (see reference section) regarding "eggs from caged hens".

46 If there is evidence that claws of hens are found to be overgrown or broken then the provision of claw shortening devices should be enhanced. Excessively abrasive devices may cause injury so caution should be exercised in specifying such devices.

47 The aisle width should be measured as the unobstructed width between the outer edges of the feed troughs. The distance to the floor should be measured to the mesh base of the cage.

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