The Protection of Animals Act and Chickens

This covers laws that cover cruelty to animals. Rules and regulations for animal welfare are enforced by Trading Standards in the U.K. Whilst many of these you would assume would never apply to you, there are in fact a few things to keep in mind as the interpretation of the law can vary.

It is an offence to be cruel to any captive or domestic animal by anything that you do or have omitted to do.  

The first part of this is of course pretty straightforward but it’s the second part where it’s easy to fall foul if you pardon the pun. A code of recommendations were produced as a guide line in response to this and apply equally to commercial flocks of 100’000 hens or your back yard hens.

Code of Recommendations for the Welfare of Laying Hens

This code says hens should have Five Freedoms:

  1. Freedom from hunger and thirst by ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigour.
  2. Freedom from discomfort by providing an appropriate environment, including shelter and a comfortable resting area.
  3. Freedom from pain, injury or disease by prevention and rapid diagnosis and treatment.
  4. Freedom to express natural behaviour by providing space, sufficient facilities and the company of the animals own kind.
  5. Freedom from fear and distress by ensuring conditions and treatment to avoid mental suffering.

If you think about these, it would be very easy for a number of areas to be breached. If your bird becomes ill and you haven’t sought expert or veterinary advice, you could be seen to be in breach of the 3rd freedom or if the diet you were giving your birds wasn’t balanced (boiled pasta, potatoes or too much mixed corn for example) and wasn’t maintaining full health and vigor, you could be breaching the 1st.

And what if your chicken run had turned to mud after a wet winter, it could also be argued under the 2nd freedom that your hens weren’t free of discomfort if they were standing around in mud all day…

Common sense tells me this wouldn’t get you into trouble but be careful because I have heard of visits from Trading Standards visiting owners for very trivial things (such as too much mud in a chicken run) after having received complaints from neighbours or other concerned members of the public.

If you choose to keep chickens at home though, I would assume, like me, you would want them to have the right conditions to live in and you would always be the right side of the Code of Recommendations!


  1. My neighbour keeps chickens on the boundary between our houses. I was brought up with chickens and goats and the odd runty pig from our local farm and we prided ourselves on giving these animals freedom and care for a great life. These neighbours are very difficult and are keeping seven chickens in a small space ( maybe 4 x 2 metres ) and on pebbles! The chickens are fed pretty much on layers mash and never get to roam outside this small area. I have suggested that this might not be the best and that the poor chickens look rather stressed but they will not listen. At our side, they smell very bad and they attract a lot of flies as they are just living on pebbles. The neighbour says this is ok but it breaks my heart to see them as I remember my free range chickens with great fondness. We would love them to move them away from our boundary but they won’t, do you think it is ok to keep them like this?

    • It’s a shame when chickens are kept confined, they do thrive when allowed to exhibit natural behaviours, one of which is foraging and scratching.

      I suppose these conditions are better than a battery cage, providing they are fed and watered but yes, it’s sad to see them kept like this.

  2. May I ask please, our neighbours have purchased a pair of peacocks, they have flown into our garden several times, landed on our roof and patio balcony, wandered round the garden leaving their droppings over paths etc which later causes swarms of flies to land, even once landed in the pond, several days later some of the fish died…they have also wandered off on occasion and been found further afield. I don’t think that they are properly looked after and certainly not secured. Recently after several further escapes, the neighbours I think have kept them locked in as I only heard their sqawking on one occasion I think this is restricting their freedom. Are people allowed to keep peacocks in a domestic situation. We live on a housing estate and the neighbours have drastically reduced their garden size with a massive extension.any suggestions for their welfare?

    • They would be classed as poultry I guess? I’m not sure.

      Providing they meet the rules for poultry (which to be honest are not great because generally they are written with commercial farms in mind) then there’s not much you can do. I’d agree with you though that Peacocks like to wander and need a reasonable amount of space.

    • As an owner, you have the responsibility of keeping your chickens contained… so I would say this isn’t technically allowed.

  3. How do you report somebody if you see they are keeping chickens in unapropriate conditions when you have seen hens with cut feet and witnessed them dying?

  4. We have a nursery from home and are thinking of getting 2/3 chickens. Are there any special rules we should take into account due to the nursery?

    • To be honest, I don’t know. There are many schools that keep chickens so I would think that as long as you are following sensible precautions like hand washing after touching the chickens you should be ok?

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