Welfare of meat chickens and meat breeding chickens: guidance

Detailed information about the needs of meat chickens and meat breeding chickens and how to meet these needs in accordance with good practice.


1. This guidance (which applies in Scotland only) covers those parts of the livestock industry involved with the production of meat chickens.

2. Legal text is provided in boxes throughout the guidance and is quoted directly from the relevant legislation.  For ease of reference, the table below summarises the various legal provisions relating to animal welfare on farms for different types of meat chicken production systems.  Unless stated otherwise, the legal provisions in the boxes apply to all meat chicken producers.  Some boxes, however, set out the additional welfare requirements for keeping conventionally reared meat chickens.  These additional requirements do not apply to hatcheries or when fewer than 500 chickens or breeding chickens are kept; they also do not apply where birds are reared to extensive indoor, free range or organic marketing standards.  However, although not legal requirements for these systems, the additional welfare provisions for conventionally reared meat chickens, for example on lighting and litter, can help to ensure bird welfare when applied to all systems of production.  The Council of Europe’s recommendations concerning meat chickens and grandparent stock, where not covered by legislation, are also included in this guidance.

Legislation in Scotland

Type of meat chicken production system

Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006

The Welfare of Farmed Animals (Scotland) Regulations 2010 Schedule 1

The Welfare of Farmed Animals (Scotland) Regulations 2010 Schedule 2

Holdings with <500 chickens

Holdings with only breeding stocks of chickens


≥500 birds conventionally reared, stocking density up to 33kg/m

≥500 birds conventionally reared, stocking density more than 33kg/m2 up to 39kg/m2

a Free range chickens, 

maximum stocking density 27.5kg/m2

b Extensive indoor chickens, maximum stocking density

25kg m2

c Organically reared chickens in accordance, 

maximum stocking density 21kg/m²

a as referred to in points (c), (d), (e) of Annex V to Commission Regulation (EC) No 543/2008 which sets out detailed rules as regards the marketing standards for poultry meat for the application of the Single CMO Regulation (EC) No 1308/2013.

b as referred to in point (b) of the same regulation.

c in accordance with the relevant EU Organic Regulations - Council Regulation (EC) 834/2007 and Commission Regulation (EC) 889/2008.

3. No person should operate or set up a meat chicken or meat chicken breeding unit unless the welfare of all the birds can be safeguarded to the fullest extent possible across all points of production.  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.

4. The relevant animal welfare legislation applies to owners as well as any person looking after the chickens on their behalf, wherever the chickens 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.

Paragraph 29 of schedule 1 of the Welfare of Farmed Animals (Scotland) Regulations 2010 states:

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

5. The strains of bird selected must be suitable for the production system. In particular, care must be taken in the production of birds with extended growing periods (e.g. organic, free range) to use suitable strains and required feeding regimes.


Email: Kirsten.Foubister@gov.scot

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