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



Schedule 1, paragraph 2 of the Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) Regulations 2000 (S.I. 2000 No. 1870) requires that:

- All animals kept in husbandry systems in which their welfare depends on frequent human attention shall be thoroughly inspected at least once a day to check that they are in a state of well-being.

- Animals kept in systems other than husbandry systems in which their welfare depends on frequent human attention shall be inspected at intervals sufficient to avoid any suffering.

Schedule 1, paragraph 3 states that:

- Where animals are kept in a building adequate lighting (whether fixed or portable) shall be available to enable them to be thoroughly inspected at any time.



In order to reduce the risk of welfare problems developing on meat chicken or breeding chicken units, it is recommended that a systematic inspection of all flocks should be undertaken at least twice each day at appropriate intervals. Young birds, in the first few days of life, should be inspected more frequently.


These health and welfare inspections may be linked with other visits to the poultry houses but each inspection should be undertaken as a separate, specific procedure.


Flock-keepers should establish in advance the best course of action to take should problems be identified and ensure that veterinary or other expert advice is available when needed.


Light levels during inspection should be sufficiently high to ensure that all birds in all parts of the house are clearly visible.


While it may not be possible to examine each bird individually during routine inspection a good indication of flock health should be gained on each occasion. Where birds are not being fed on ad lib diets, inspection is particularly effective at feeding time when any birds which are not fit will be slow to feed and can be identified.


In order to ensure a thorough inspection the flock-keeper should walk within 3 metres of every bird and encourage it to move, taking care not to frighten the birds with sudden, unaccustomed movement, noise or changes in light levels. The aim should be to pass close enough to the birds to see them clearly and for them to be disturbed and so move away. This should enable the identification of any individual that is sick, injured or weak. Any such birds should immediately be removed to a hospital pen and treated or humanely killed. Birds with considerable difficulty in walking, severe ascites, malformations, severe wounds or seizures should be culled immediately unless they can be treated and are likely to recover without unnecessary suffering. Dead birds should be removed without delay.


It is a general offence under the Welfare of Animals (Slaughter or Killing) Regulations 1995 (S.I. 1995 No. 731) as amended by the Welfare of Animals (Slaughter or Killing) (Amendment) Regulations 1999 (S.I. 1999 No. 400) and the Welfare of Animals (Slaughter or Killing) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2000 ( S.I. 2000 No. 3352) to cause or permit any avoidable excitement, pain or suffering to any animal (bird) during the slaughter or killing process (Regulation 4(1)). The general offence applies in all cases, but the detailed provisions in respect of the method of slaughter or killing do not apply when an animal (bird) has to be killed immediately for emergency reasons (Regulation 13(2)).

When an animal (bird) is routinely slaughtered or killed on farm, this must be done using a permitted method. The permitted methods of killing poultry include decapitation and neck dislocation.

Disease Control

Schedule 1, paragraph 5 of the Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) Regulations 2000 (S.I. 2000 No. 1870), state that any animals which appear to be ill or injured:

- shall be cared for appropriately without delay; and

- where they do not respond to such care, veterinary advice shall be obtained as soon as possible.


Schedule 1, paragraph 6 states:

- Where necessary, sick or injured animals shall be isolated in suitable accommodation with, where appropriate, dry comfortable bedding.



A health and welfare programme should be implemented for each unit which sets out health and husbandry activities covering the whole of the production cycle. It should also establish management procedures and control measures to reduce the risk of infections and injury. This will normally include an effective vaccination protocol (which should be carefully monitored to ensure efficacy) to reduce the risk of disease outbreaks. The health and welfare programme should be developed with appropriate veterinary advice, reviewed against performance and updated accordingly.


Important indications of good health are clear, bright eyes, alertness, good posture, vigorous movements if unduly disturbed, active feeding and drinking, singing and vocalisation, satisfactory egg production in the case of breeding chickens, and clean and healthy skin, shanks and feet. Any departure from the norm may indicate a problem which should be given immediate attention.


A disease challenge may first be noticed by a change in water consumption, a reluctance to eat, changes in litter quality or in the general behaviour of the flock. It is good management practice to keep daily records of water consumption and where possible, feed intake. Veterinary attention should be sought at an early stage in any outbreak of disease so that the cause can be determined and appropriate  action taken.


Measures to control diseases caused by external parasites should be taken by using the appropriate parasiticides. It is particularly important to take measures to prevent the establishment of red mite infestation in breeding chicken flocks; these measures must not cause harm to the birds.


Should the flock-keeper decide that there is a good chance of a sick bird recovering, it should be isolated in a hospital pen, providing it is able to eat, drink and stand unassisted. Birds should be examined frequently throughout the day. However, if a bird is suffering and cannot be treated or if it fails to show significant improvement within 24 hours of being placed in the hospital pen it should be humanely killed without delay.


All those in contact with birds should practice strict hygiene and disinfection procedures. Where possible the site should be managed so that all houses are empty simultaneously to facilitate effective cleaning, disinfection and disinfestation. An all in all out approach with periods when there are no birds on site will also act to provide a disease break.


When houses are emptied and cleaned, old litter should be removed from the site before restocking so as to reduce the risk of the carry over of disease.

Leg health


Flock-keepers should monitor all birds for signs of lameness, leg weakness or abnormal gait on a daily basis. Any bird which is unable to move about freely and find feed and water must be humanely killed as soon as it is detected unless it can be treated and is likely to recover without unnecessary suffering.


Management measures should be taken to prevent lameness, having regard to previous experience on the farm and recognised best practice. The strain and source of chicks, stocking density, lighting patterns, feed composition and feeding routine and litter management should all be considered. Lameness is often caused by a bone or joint infection so effective prevention and control of viral and bacterial disease is essential. If a lameness problem develops,  management and husbandry practices must immediately be altered as appropriate in order to rectify the problem. Encouraging activity will help prevent the occurrence of leg problems.


Chickens can suffer from lameness due to infections acquired in the parent flock or hatchery. It is believed that 60% of lameness cases result from infectious causes. High standards of biosecurity and hygiene in the parent flock, in the handling of the eggs, at the hatchery and in subsequent handling and transport of the chicks should be maintained. Husbandry measures should be designed to minimise floor eggs and heavily soiled eggs should not be set as hatching eggs.

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