The requirements for housing poultry vary according to the way your poultry is raised. The design, construction and maintenance of your enclosures, buildings and equipment for laying birds should be such that they:
- allow the fulfilment of essential biological needs and the maintenance of good health, and facilitate good management of the birds
- allow for easy maintenance of good conditions of hygiene and air quality
- provide shelter from adverse weather conditions
- limit the risk of disease, disorders manifested by behavioural changes, traumatic injuries to the birds, injuries caused by birds to each other and contamination of the birds by droppings
- exclude predators, rodents, wild animals, and minimise insects
- allow for the prevention and treatment of infestations of internal and external parasites
- incorporate damp-proof membranes to prevent insulation breakdown, and measures to prevent easy access by vermin to the insulation material
For caged systems installed before 2003, it is important that you provide your flock with:
- a minimum of 550 square centimetres space per hen
- access to at least ten centimetres of feeding trough per bird
- access to at least two drinkers or ten centimetres of drinking trough
- mesh floors so that droppings can pass through onto boards, belts or pits to await removal
- sloping floors so that the eggs roll out of reach of the birds to await collection
Since 2003 only ‘enriched’ cages are allowed to be introduced. From 1 January 2012 only enriched systems will be allowed. Enriched systems require:
- a minimum of 750 square centimetres per bird
- a nest and perching space of 15 centimetres per bird
- litter such that pecking and scratching are possible
- 12 centimetres of feeding trough per bird
- at least two nipple drinkers or two cups within easy reach of each hen
- incorporated damp-proof membranes to prevent insulation breakdown, and measures to stop easy access by vermin to the insulation material
The details given below apply to all newly built – or rebuilt – non-cage systems and all new systems of production for keeping laying hens. From 1 January 2007, you must make sure that all non-cage systems of production for keeping laying hens have:
- a maximum stocking density of nine birds per square metre
- at least 250 square centimetres of litter area per bird
- 15 centimetres of perch per hen
- ten centimetres of feeder per bird and at least one drinker for every ten birds
- one nest for every seven birds or one square metre of nest space for every 120 birds
- water and feeding troughs should be raised so the food is not scattered
If you do not keep your flock in a building (and let them range), you should make sure, where necessary and possible, that birds have protection from adverse weather conditions, predators and risks to their health. They should also have access to a well-drained lying area all the time.
Your flock must have continuous daytime access to open runs, mainly covered with vegetation, which have a maximum stocking density of 2,500 birds per hectare.
Birds should be encouraged to use the outdoor area by the provision of adequate, suitable, properly managed vegetation, outdoor scratch whole grain feeding, a fresh water supply and overhead cover, all sufficiently far from the house to encourage birds to range.
In addition, all the rules for keeping barn hens apply to keeping free-range hens.
For more information on egg marketing rules and regulations, see our guide poultry – an overview.
Advance plans should be made for dealing with emergencies such as fire or flood.
If you have to keep your buildings locked, you should make sure that rapid entry is always possible in case of emergency. Download advice on farm fires and animal welfare from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) website (PDF, 82K) – Opens in a new window.