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.

Section 3: Breeding Procedures

All keepers of laying hens

Paragraphs 28 and 29 of Schedule 1 to the Welfare of Farmed Animals (Scotland) Regulations 2010 state that:

28.-(1) Natural or artificial breeding or breeding procedures which cause, or are likely to cause, suffering or injury to any of the animals concerned must not be practised.

(2) Sub-paragraph (1) does not preclude the use of natural or artificial breeding procedures which are likely to cause minimal or momentary suffering or injury or that might necessitate interventions which would not cause lasting injury.

29. No person may keep an animal for farming purposes unless it can reasonably be expected, on the basis of its genotype or phenotype, that it can be kept without detrimental effect on its health or welfare.

221. Birds should come from balanced breeding programmes promoting and protecting health, welfare and productivity goals simultaneously. Identification of birds should be encouraged, to enable future feedback of information within the breeding pyramid and better application of breeding for welfare, based on data from the supply chain.

222. The presence of males in a layer breeder flock can reduce stress and fear responses due to the natural instinct for males to protect their females. However, too high a number of males in the flock can lead to sexual aggression and increased stress in the flock which can have negative impacts on welfare and health, including egg production. When producing hatching eggs from breeding birds, different bird strains will require a different cockerel to hen ratio. This is due to genetic differences in docility and sexual activity. Breeder suppliers should ensure they provide guidance on appropriate sex ratios, which ensure the production of sufficient fertilised eggs whilst minimising aggressive breeding behaviour.

223. Cockerel body condition should be assessed regularly throughout the laying cycle. Growth rates should follow the breeder growth recommendations provided by the supplier, because sperm production will be impacted if they grow too fast or if they lose body condition. Cockerels found in poor body condition should be removed and given additional feed, returning to the flock after being rested for a few weeks and when body condition has improved.

224. Cockerels displaying highly aggressive pecking or unacceptable behaviours, for example, repeatedly chasing and targeting the same hen for mating, may need to be temporarily removed from the flock. If unacceptable behaviour continues when the cockerel is returned, it should be humanely culled.

225. Husbandry measures and practices on the breeding farm should be designed to minimise floor eggs and heavily soiled eggs should not be sent as hatching eggs. Littered nests are preferred by breeding females and may reduce the number of floor eggs if litter substrate is placed in a nest, whatever the base type.

226. Surplus chicks and in-shell embryos, including in hatchery waste, must be culled humanely by a trained and competent person and in accordance with the specific welfare at the time of killing legislation. The Humane Slaughter Association has produced a Code of Practice for the Disposal of Chicks in Hatcheries which sets out the humane options available. See Annex 3.


Email: animal_health_welfare@gov.scot

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