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

Stocking Density and Freedom of Movement

Schedule 1, paragraph 9 of the Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) Regulations 2000 (S.I. 2000 No.1870) states that:

- The freedom of movement of animals, having regard to their species and in accordance with established experience and scientific knowledge, shall not be restricted in such a way as to cause them unnecessary suffering or injury.

Schedule 1, paragraph 10 states that:

- Where animals are continuously or regularly confined, they shall be given the space appropriate to their physiological and ethological needs in accordance with established experience and scientific knowledge.



The maximum stocking density for chickens kept to produce meat for the table should be 34 kg/m2, which should not be exceeded at any time during the growing period. This stocking density is satisfactory for chickens reared to the usual   slaughter weights (1.8 - 3.0 kg) but it should be reduced for birds being reared to significantly lower slaughter weights.


However, a variety of factors need to be taken into account when setting and monitoring stocking densities in chicken houses at levels which promote good welfare. The observance of any particular stocking density is important but cannot, by itself, ensure the welfare of the birds. There is a close relationship between stockmanship, environmental control and stocking density. Birds will be maintained in good condition only if the balance is right and the onus is on the producer to demonstrate that welfare is not compromised, whatever the stocking density.


Irrespective of the type of system, all chickens should have sufficient freedom of movement to be able, without difficulty, to stand normally, turn around and stretch their wings. They should also have sufficient space to be able to sit without interference from other birds.


Stocking density should be reduced and specialist advice taken if problems occur, in particular excessive heat or humidity due to inadequate ventilation and poor litter quality. If disease or environmental problems arise in a particular building or system, reducing the stocking density in subsequent flocks may lessen the likelihood of recurrence.


A notice indicating the internal floor area available to the birds should be clearly and permanently displayed at the entrance of each house. This, along with other recorded information (see record keeping, paragraph 73), will facilitate calculation of the stocking density.


Deliberately placing a high number of chicks and routinely thinning should be avoided as this causes unnecessary distress to the birds and may result in stocking densities that are too high.

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