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

Additional Recommendations for Breeding Chickens

Breeding Procedures

Schedule 1, paragraph 28 of the Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) Regulations 2000 (S.I. 2000 No. 1870), requires that:

- Subject to sub- paragraph (2) (below), natural or artificial breeding or breeding procedures which cause, or are likely to cause, suffering or injury to any of the animals concerned shall not be practised.

- Sub-paragraph 1 shall not preclude the use of natural or artificial breeding procedures that are likely to cause minimal or momentary suffering or injury or that might necessitate interventions which would not cause lasting injury.

Schedule 1, paragraph 29 states that:

No animals shall be kept for farming purposes unless they can reasonably be expected, on the basis of their genotype or phenotype, that they can be kept without detrimental effect on their health or welfare.

Feed and Water


Breeding birds have been selected over several generations for their genetic potential for large appetites, fast growth and high fertility. Consequently, their husbandry requirements demand committed and competent stockmanship and a high standard of housing and equipment. Control of the environment is essential.


As in many aspects of husbandry, to promote optimum welfare the amount of feed offered to breeding chickens is a fine balance between offering too much feed (because birds fed to demand would become obese, fail to survive through the laying period and breeding would be severely impaired) and causing suffering due to hunger and starvation. The weight of present evidence is that the overall welfare of the bird is better if feed is restricted. However it is particularly important that the effects on the individual bird are carefully monitored by skilled staff.


Feeding equipment should be capable of delivering small quantities rapidly, accurately and evenly to all birds in the house and the amount of trough space allocated should allow access to feed for all birds intended to be fed.


In no circumstances should breeding birds be induced to moult by withholding feed and water. Withholding feed and/or water is unlawful (see box following paragraph 10). Paragraphs 11, 14, and 18 of this code apply at all times, including when moulting is induced.


Birds should not be fed on the day of transportation as they travel more comfortably with an empty crop. Increased feed should be given to breeding birds on the day before travel and water should be made available up to the time of catching.


For breeding birds, it may be necessary to manage the supply of water in relation to the feeding system and programme to reduce excessive drinking and to maintain litter quality. When access to water is time limited it is vital that there is generous provision of drinkers with adequate flow to enable all birds to drink without undue competition when the water supply is turned back on.

Parent Breeding Chickens


During the first 6 weeks of life feed levels should be adequate to ensure good skeletal development. The level of feed intake throughout rearing should be managed to achieve a steady growth, not less than 7% week-on-week, and the desired weight and condition at point-of-lay.


Feed should be offered to the birds at least daily throughout the production cycle with the exception of the day before depopulation, when a more generous allocation should be fed in anticipation of fasting the birds before slaughter. Skip a day regimes are not acceptable (they are also unlawful, see box following paragraph 10).


In addition to routine daily checks, the body weight and condition of the birds should be systematically monitored and recorded on a weekly basis. Prompt, appropriate adjustments should be made to feed allocation according to what is found.


As the amount of feed offered to the birds is so small its nutritional quality must be carefully monitored and controlled. The flock-keeper must be particularly vigilant after changes in feed batches.


During lay, cockerels and hens have different nutritional requirements and may be fed differently within the same house. The equipment used to prevent cockerels taking feed intended for hens should be carefully adjusted to ensure that  access for hens is maintained and cockerels are not injured. However, some systems and stages in the flock require both males and females to be fed similar amounts of feed together and so it may be desirable to remove cockerel excluders  from female feeding systems.

Elite (Pedigree) Birds


Primary breeding companies should identify the best means of minimising the number of elite birds subject to detailed selection performance testing and the age and weight to which they grow on an ad libitum feed regimen. Once the selection procedures are complete, weekly recording of weight gain should be used to check that the birds follow the correct body weight profile to ensure good health and production.


Because of the constraints to which they are subjected, the management of elite birds during the period of feed restriction (from 8 weeks to pointof-lay) must avoid any other welfare challenge and provide even feed distribution, effective environmental control and avoid disease challenge.

Building and Accommodation


Breeding birds should be reared in houses in which temperature, humidity, ventilation rates, light levels and photoperiods are carefully regulated. A well designed house will incorporate insulation and heaters, ventilation fans and vents, effective lightproofing, and a lighting system providing controllable light levels with uniform distribution.


To enrich the environment, insoluble grit should be offered (spread on the litter) from about 6 weeks of age. This will also help the gizzard to break down any litter or feathers which may have been consumed, and encourage scratching. Foraging behaviour has the added advantage of improving litter quality. Suitable perches in the rearing house may provide a form of enrichment to aid the birds in performing another of their natural behaviours. Perches will also aid the birds adaptation from litter to raised, perforated floors when they move to the laying house.


Recommended minimum light intensities and photoperiods for breeding birds are:

  • up to 10 days - minimum of 60 lux at day old, reducing to 10 lux and an uninterrupted day length minimum of 8 hours by 10 days of age.
  • up to point of lay - minimum of 10 lux. Uninterrupted daylength minimum of 8 hours.
  • laying - minimum of 20 lux. Uninterrupted daylength increasing from 8 hours to a maximum of 18 hours.

All the above should be measured at bird eye height. If aggression occurs, the lights should be dimmed for a few days. After the first few days of life, there should be a set period of at least 6 continuous hours of darkness in any one 24-hour period.

Stocking Density and Freedom of Movement


Stocking density for breeding birds should not exceed 25 kg/m2 calculated by dividing the total weight of all the birds (males and females) in the house by total area available to the birds. The calculation of stocking density should be on the basis of all stock within the house, including males.

Catching, Handling and Transport


When breeding birds are unloaded, care should be taken when lifting them out of a crate or when tipping them out of an open-topped container. Breeding birds should have immediate access to water on arrival, especially where slats are fitted.

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