Domestic Fowls (England): Code of Recommendations for the Welfare of Livestock (PB0076)

4. Introduction

The welfare of domestic fowls can be safeguarded and their physiological and behavioural needs met under a variety of management systems. The system, and the number and stocking rate of birds kept at any one time, should depend on the suitability of the conditions and the skills of the stockman.

  1. Consideration should be given to the question of animal welfare before installing more complex or elaborate equipment than has previously been used. In general the greater the restriction imposed on the bird and the greater the complexity of the system or of the degree of control which is exercised over temperature, air flow or food supply, the less the bird is able to use its instinctive behaviour to modify the effect of unfavourable conditions and the greater the chance of suffering if mechanical or electrical failures occur. Thus systems involving a high degree of control over the environment should only be installed where conscientious staff skilled in both animal husbandry and the use of the equipment, will always be available.
  2. Large flocks can be managed successfully, but in general the larger the size of the unit the greater the degree of skill and conscientiousness needed to safeguard welfare. The size of the unit should not be increased nor should a large unit be set up unless it is reasonably certain that the stockman in charge will be able to safeguard the welfare of the individual bird.
  3. All stockmen should know the normal behaviour of domestic fowls and watch closely for signs of distress or disease and, where necessary, take prompt remedial action.
  4. The good stockman will know the signs which indicate good health in domestic fowls. He should be able to recognise impending trouble in its earliest stages and may often be able to identify the cause and put matters right immediately. If the cause is not obvious, or if the stockmans immediate action is not effective, veterinary or other expert advice should be obtained as soon as possible.
  5. Important indications of health are alertness, clear bright eyes, good posture, vigorous movements if unduly disturbed, active feeding and drinking, and clean and healthy skin, shanks and feet. Attention should be paid to any departure from the normal.
  6. The early signs of ill-health may include changes in food and water intake, in preening, in chatter and in activity. In laying birds there may also be a drop in egg production, and changes in egg quality such as shell defects.
  7. Ailing birds, and any birds suffering from injury such as open wounds or fractures, or from prolapse of the vent should be segregated and treated or, if necessary, be humanely killed without delay (see note 2).


  1. The Slaughter of Poultry Act 1967, as amended by the Animal Health and Welfare Act 1984 lays down provisions concerning the welfare of poultry at the time of slaughter wherever it takes place. More detailed provisions concerned the slaughter of poultry for a commercial purpose are laid down in the Slaughter of Poultry (Humane Conditions) Regulations 1984.
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