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

Buildings and Accommodation


Schedule 1, paragraphs 11 and 12 of the Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) Regulations 2000 (S.I. 2000 No.1870), state that:

- Materials used for the construction of accommodation, and, in particular for the construction of pens, cages, stalls and equipment with which the animals may come into contact, shall not be harmful to them and shall be capable of being thoroughly cleaned and disinfected.

- Accommodation and fittings for securing animals shall be constructed and maintained so that there are no sharp edges or protrusions likely to cause injury to them.

General

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Advice on welfare aspects should be sought from qualified advisers before any new buildings are constructed or existing buildings modified. It is important to ensure that the design of housing and equipment is suitable for the intended use. The incorporation of facilities for raising drinkers and feeders to aid access for handling equipment should be considered. Consideration should also be given to the incorporation of weighing, handling and loading facilities.

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Flock-keepers should take measures to protect birds from predators, rodents and other animals. Further advice on the control of vermin can be found in the DEFRA Code of Practice for the Prevention of Rodent Infestations in Poultry Flocks - see Appendix.

Ventilation and Temperature

Schedule 1, paragraph 13 of the Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) Regulations 2000 (S.I. 2000 No.1870) states that:  

- Air circulation, dust levels, temperature, relative air humidity and gas concentrations shall be kept within limits which are not harmful to the animals.

 

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Ventilation rates and house conditions should at all times be adequate to provide sufficient fresh air for the birds and keep the litter dry and friable. Air quality, including dust level and concentrations of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and ammonia, should be controlled and kept within limits where the welfare of the birds is not negatively affected. In particular, the concentration of ammonia should not exceed 20ppm of air measured at bird height level

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Extremes of temperature should be avoided. Maximum and minimum temperatures should be monitored and recorded daily to assist management. Birds should be protected from cold draughts. Efforts should be made to ensure that the ventilation systems do not result in large differences in air speed across the house.

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Chicks should be placed in the brooding area when they arrive in the house and their behaviour monitored carefully. Young chicks are particularly susceptible to extremes of temperature and an even distribution of the chicks in the house will indicate that they are comfortable. After 4-5 weeks birds can tolerate a fairly wide range of temperatures but every effort should be made to avoid creating conditions which will lead to chilling, huddling and subsequent smothering.

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Birds on restricted feed are more susceptible to low temperatures but less so to high temperatures. If the temperature is allowed to fall there may be a need to increase feed or provide heaters.

Heat Stress

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Birds should not be exposed to strong, direct sunlight or hot, humid conditions long enough to cause heat stress as indicated by prolonged panting. Housing affects the birds ability to maintain their normal body temperature but under any management system ambient temperatures high enough to cause prolonged panting may occur, particularly when humidity is relatively high. All accommodation should therefore be designed so that its ventilation is adequate to protect the birds from overheating under any weather conditions that can reasonably be foreseen. Attention should be paid to air throughput and distribution, especially at bird level.

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Flock-keepers should plan ahead to avoid heat stress. During the summer months consideration should be given to reducing stocking density at the time of ordering or placing day-old chicks. If suffering or mortality occurs, the onus will be on the person responsible for the birds to demonstrate that the measures taken were appropriate for the design of the building, its locality and the predictable maximum temperature/humidity at the time.

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During hot and humid conditions, the birds should be checked frequently, but not disturbed unduly.

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Steps should be taken to minimise the potential for heat stress by increasing ventilation and air speed at bird level. Portable back-up fans should be available. The air temperature within a building may be reduced by improved insulation, hosing the roof and the correct use of evaporative cooling of incoming air. The heat output of the birds may be reduced by lowering stocking density or changing the feeding patterns. Advice about management measures to prevent heat stress is given in a DEFRA booklet Heat Stress in Poultry - see Appendix.

Lighting

Schedule 1, paragraphs 14-16 of the Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) Regulations 2000 (S.I.2000 No.1870), state that:

- Animals kept in buildings shall not be kept in permanent darkness.

- Where the natural light available in a building is insufficient to meet the physiological and ethological needs of any animals being kept in it then appropriate artificial lighting shall be provided.

- Animals kept in buildings shall not be kept without an appropriate period of rest from artificial lighting.

 

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Chickens should be housed at light levels which allow them to see clearly and which stimulate activity. This should be provided by lighting systems designed, maintained and operated to give a minimum light level of 10 lux at bird eye height. Illumination of the house to at least 20 lux will further encourage activity. Houses should have a uniform level of light. If a behavioural problem such as cannibalism occurs, it may be necessary to dim the lights for a few days.

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Meat chickens which do not have access to daylight should be given at least 8 hours of artificial lighting each day. It is important for bird welfare to provide them with a period of darkness (not less than 30 minutes) in each 24-hour cycle. This ensures the birds become used to total darkness and helps to prevent panic in the event of a power failure. Longer periods of darkness can reduce mortality and improve leg health.


Litter

Schedule 3 of the Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) Amendment Regulations 2002 (S.I. 2002 No.1646) states that:

- Where any poultry other than those kept in the systems referred to in Schedules 3A, 3B and 3C are kept in a building, they shall be kept on or have access at all times to, well maintained litter or to a well-drained area for resting.

 

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Meat chickens and breeding chickens spend their lives in contact with litter and their health and welfare are linked to its quality. Conditions such as pododermatitis, hock burn, foot pad lesions and breast blisters are consequences of poor litter quality. Well-designed equipment and high standards of management are important if good litter quality is to be maintained. The ventilation capacity should be sufficient to avoid overheating and to remove excess moisture. The feed composition should be well balanced to avoid problems with wet or sticky droppings.

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Litter should be kept loose and friable and measures should be taken to minimise the risk of mould and mite infestation. It should be inspected frequently for signs of deterioration and appropriate action should be taken to rectify any problem. Mouldy litter should not be used. Litter should also be inspected to ensure it does not become excessively wet or dry. A water system which minimises water spillage should be used, such as water nipples with drip cups positioned at an appropriate height for all birds. Nipple drinkers without cups may be used if they are well managed and the water pressure is checked frequently. Advice on litter management is given in a DEFRA booklet Poultry Litter Management - see Appendix  - and flockkeepers should familiarise themselves with this advice.

Emergency Procedures

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Farmers should make advance plans for dealing with emergencies such as fire, flood, power or equipment failure, or disruption of supplies, and should ensure that all staff are familiar with the appropriate emergency action. At least one responsible member of the staff should always be available to take the necessary steps. Fire precautions should be a major priority for all flock- keepers. Where buildings need to be locked, arrangements shall be made to allow rapid entry in case of emergency.

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Flock-keepers should have access to and be familiar with the content of the DEFRA booklet Farm Fires see Appendix. Expert advice on all fire precautions can be obtained from fire prevention officers of local fire brigades  and from the Fire Prevention Association.

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Contingency arrangements should be made to ensure that adequate supplies of water and suitable feed can be made available in emergencies. Efforts should be made to minimise the risk of drinking water freezing.

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