Welfare of laying hens and pullets: guidance

Guidance about the needs of laying hens and pullets and how to meet these needs in accordance with good practice.


This guidance applies in relation to Scotland only. It is issued by the Scottish Ministers under section 38 of the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006 with a view to securing the welfare of laying hens (including pullets and breeding birds) under all types of husbandry systems in Scotland. This guidance is intended to help all those who care for laying hens to ensure that their needs are met to the extent required by good practice.

This guidance in some areas goes beyond the legal minimum requirements for laying hen flocks of 350 birds or more. However, following the guidance may result in benefits such as: better health and welfare; assurance that the law is being followed; and less frequent inspections by Scottish Government Poultry Officers (because they will be assured that you are applying good practice methods).

This guidance can also be considered within the context of the Farm Animal Welfare Committee's concept of quality of life for farm animals (see Annex 3). An animal's quality of life can be classified as a life not worth living, a life worth living, and a good life. This guidance is intended to help those responsible for laying hens to provide those hens with, as a minimum, a life worth living.

The Farm Animal Welfare Committee's 'Five Freedoms' form the guiding principles for the assessment of welfare within any system, together with the actions necessary to safeguard welfare within the constraints of an efficient livestock industry.

The Five Freedoms are:

1. Freedom from hunger and thirst by ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigour;

2. Freedom from discomfort by providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area;

3. Freedom from pain, injury or disease by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment;

4. Freedom to express normal behaviour by providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animals' own kind;

5. Freedom from fear and distress by ensuring conditions and treatment to avoid mental suffering.

The Five Freedoms should be considered in conjunction with the Farm Animal Welfare Committee's three essentials of stockmanship:

1. Knowledge of Animal Husbandry

Sound knowledge of the biology and husbandry of farm animals, including how their needs may be best provided for in all circumstances.

2. Skills in Animal Husbandry

Demonstrable skills in observation, handling, care and treatment of animals, and problem detection and resolution.

3. Personal Qualities

Affinity and empathy with animals, dedication and patience.

Without good stockmanship, animal welfare can never be adequately protected.

Those who have care of laying hens should demonstrate:

  • Caring and responsible planning and management;
  • Skilled, knowledgeable and conscientious stockmanship;
  • Knowledge of design of the birds' housed environment;
  • Considerate handling and transport; and
  • Knowledge of humane slaughter.


Email: animal_health_welfare@gov.scot

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