Chickens for Meat & Breeding (England): Code of Recommendations for the Welfare of Livestock (PB7275)



Prohibited operations. The following are prohibited by law:

  • De-winging, pinioning, notching or tendon severing, which involve mutilation of wing tissues. When it is necessary to reduce the effects of flightiness, the flight feathers of one wing may be clipped.
  • The use of blinkers which pierce the nasal septum. Other forms of device fitted to birds heads (such as spectacles, contact lenses and nasal bits) may also cause welfare problems and should not be used.
  • Surgical castration and devoicing.

The Welfare of Livestock (Prohibited Operations) Regulations 1982 (SI 1982 No 1884) prohibit the fitting of blinkers to poultry by a method involving mutilation of the nasal septum, operations on birds (other than feather clipping) to impede their flight and the devoicing or surgical castration of male birds.



Mutilations can cause considerable pain and therefore constitute a major welfare insult to farm animals. They are undesirable in principle and should only be carried out where necessary to avoid a worse welfare problem. Producers should consider carefully the necessity of performing any mutilation. Where deemed necessary, mutilations should be  carried out humanely, in accordance with the law and by trained, competent staff. High standards of hygiene are essential.




Beak Trimming


When not carried out by a veterinary surgeon beak-trimming must be carried out in accordance with the Veterinary Surgery (Exemptions) Order 1962 (SI 1962 No 2557) i.e.: The operation of beak-trimming (sometimes known as debeaking) means the removal from a bird by means of a suitable instrument of

(i) not more than a one-third part of its beak, measured from the tip towards the entrance of the nostrils, if carried out as a single operation; or

(ii) not more than a one-third part of its upper beak only, measured in the same way; and the arrest of any subsequent haemorrhage from the beak by cauterisation.



Beak trimming of birds reared for meat should not be necessary because they are normally slaughtered before reaching sexual maturity. Beak trimming of breeding chickens should be avoided if at all possible, and used only if veterinary advice is that the procedure is essential to prevent worse welfare problems of injurious feather pecking and cannibalism. Consideration should be given to environmental enrichment as a means of avoiding the necessity to beak trim; possible methods of environmental enrichment include the provision of straw bales or brassicas or scattering of whole grain.


It is unnecessary to beak trim female breeding chicks and only the tip of the beak should be removed from male breeding chicks. This is best done at 5 to 10 days of age in order to allow the chicks to establish eating and pecking behaviours before the operation takes place. Beak trimming of older birds should only be carried out when advised by a veterinary surgeon.


The Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966 (Schedule 3 Amendment Order 1988 (SI 1988 No 526) permits only a veterinary surgeon to remove the combs or to cut the toes of a domestic fowl which has reached the age of 72 hours. On birds younger than 72 hours the operations may be carried out by unqualified persons (those over 18 years of age) using a suitable instrument. The removal of the dependent portion of a birds wattles may also be removed by unqualified persons, using a suitable instrument.



The removal of all, or part, of the male comb is known as dubbing. Removal of the comb offers few, if any, welfare advantages in comparison with the disturbance and pain likely to be caused and should be avoided. Where the operation occurs, it is usually performed when the chicks are one day old using sharp scissors and should only be undertaken by appropriately trained personnel. Once chicks are over 72 hours old, the procedure must only be carried out by a veterinary surgeon: this is a requirement of law.



This is the removal, at day-old, of the spur bud on the back of the males leg using a heated wire. If the spur grows to be very pronounced it may cause damage to females during mating. Selection of breeding male stock with the genotype of short, blunt spurs should be encouraged, so that routine despurring should not be necessary.



Some parts of the industry remove the dew and pivot claw from the feet of breeding males to prevent damage to females during natural mating. The procedure is usually carried out at day-old and must be carried out by a trained, competent person. It is more common to remove only the dew claws as these cause significantly more damage than the pivot claws. The removal of the pivot claw has little justification in welfare terms and should be avoided.

Toe removal


This mutilation is controlled by law (see box following paragraph 37). Toe removal (cutting) for purposes of identification is an unnecessary mutilation and should be avoided. Instead alternative methods of identification should be used that do not adversely affect the chicks welfare.

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