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.


1. This Guidance (which applies in Scotland only) covers all parts of the laying hen sector. It applies to any person who keeps any laying hen (including pullets and breeding birds) regardless of the number of hens kept. It therefore applies to commercial businesses, smallholders, crofters and individuals who keep a laying hen or hens as a hobby. These recommendations will help owners and keepers of laying hens comply with animal welfare legislation. However, they are not meant to replace expert advice such as from a veterinary surgeon or appropriately qualified technical advisor.

2. Schedule 1 to the Welfare of Farmed Animals (Scotland) Regulations 2010 lays down requirements regarding the conditions under which all farmed animals, including laying hens, are to be kept. All persons responsible for laying hens must comply with those requirements. Schedule 3 to the Welfare of Farmed Animals (Scotland) Regulations 2010 lays down additional conditions that apply to the keeping of 350 or more laying hens. These additional conditions do not apply to establishments with fewer than 350 laying hens, hatcheries, pullet rearing farms or laying hen breeders. The Council of Europe has also made recommendations concerning laying hens and, where these are not covered in legislation, they are included in this guidance.

3. The keeping of 350 or more laying hens per site in conventional (unenriched) cages has been banned in the UK on welfare grounds since 1 January 2012. For this reason, conventional cages are not recommended for small units (with fewer than 350 birds).

4. For ease of reference, the table on the following page summarises the various legal provisions relating to animal welfare on farm for different types of laying hen production systems. (The Welfare of Farmed Animals (Scotland) Regulations 2010 are referred to in the table as "WOFAR 2010".)

5. The relevant animal welfare legislation applies to owners at all times as well as to any person looking after the hens on their behalf, wherever the hens are located. A written protocol should clearly set out for all parties their responsibilities in respect of welfare. However, the obligations imposed by the law will still apply.

6. No person should operate or set up a laying hen unit unless the welfare of all the birds can be safeguarded to comply fully with the law. This can be achieved by ensuring that the buildings and equipment, the skills and abilities, and the numbers of keepers are appropriate to the husbandry system and number of birds to be kept.

7. Keepers of flocks of 50 or more birds must register with the poultry register operated by APHA on behalf of the Scottish Ministers within one month of keeping this number of birds at the site. Keepers with fewer than 50 birds are actively encouraged to register. Paragraph 9 below explains the benefit of such registration. (See Annex 3 for information on registering poultry.)

Production System Legislation in Scotland
Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006 WOFAR 2010[2] Schedule 1 WOFAR 2010 Schedule 3 Part 2 WOFAR 2010 Schedule 3 Part 4 WOFAR 2010 Schedule 3 Part 5
Holdings with fewer than 350 laying hens, including smallholdings
350 or more laying hens in barn systems
350 or more laying hens in free range systems
350 or more laying hens in enriched cages
Organically reared laying hens
Laying hen breeders


Email: Animal.Health@gov.scot

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