Minimum standards for housing laying hens
This code particularly refers to laying hens on large commercial farms but the standards equally apply to all adult poultry, both male and female. The code is too long to go into here, but if you’re interested in keeping poultry, it’s a good idea to read the whole document.
Housing covers the full range of environments from cages, including the phasing out of small cages (to be replaced over time with colony cages), to barns where birds are kept inside all the time, to situations where birds have access to outside areas. It also covers sheds with a ‘winter garden’, a covered area with a floor of gravel or bark chips which is a transitional area between the barn and outdoors, protected from extreme weather and predators. Other systems which are increasingly common are aviaries or percheries where birds have access to the floor plus multilevel platforms and perches within a barn where food and water is also available. The ability to move through the various levels builds up the birds’ bone strength and also provides them with training during the growing phase for accessing nests and perches in the laying house. The minimum standards of space apply whether you have 10 hens or 10,000. While many small flock keepers may have a small coop and their birds are let out to roam free each day, many confine their birds to a small shed, or a shed with an outdoor run, or a small coop with an attached run which they move around the garden. Some breeders of heritage breeds may also confine their birds to small cages or hutches, especially during the show season, to accustom their birds to confinement. The relevant minimum standards apply equally in all of these cases.
1SPACEa cage, must be allowed a minimum 550cm² per bird; in colony cages it’s a minimum of 750 cm² (or 13 birds per square metre); in barns where birds are on the floor but have no outdoor access it must not exceed seven birds per square metre; if outdoor access is available the maximum is nine hens per square metre.
If you have a small coop with an attached run or one of those which has an overhead coop accessed by a ramp and a run area below, you’ll find they are usually sold with a recommended number of birds which can comfortably be housed, but measurements and suitability of the run area should always be checked. This type of run is not suitable when you have birds of multiple ages and both males
and females in a small area, even if the measurements comply. In a commercial scenario, the birds housed are almost always of the same age and size so issues with hen pecking or male/female aggression are less of a problem.
Where outdoor ranging area is available, the stocking density must not exceed 2500 birds per hectare. However, the recommended best practice is 900 birds per hectare as things like soil type, drainage and flock rotation will vary from place to place.
access to feeders and water, air temperature and quality, humidity, litter quality and activity levels, so as to maintain good health and welfare. (b) Notwithstanding (a), stocking density in sheds must not exceed 38kg of live weight per square metre of floor space. (c) Outdoor stocking density must not exceed the capacity of the outside area or cause overcrowding.
The codes also include useful outdoor flock management tips for small flock owners. Hens with access are observed to use the outside range frequently, so it’s important to: • keep pugging, standing water and muddy, dusty or contaminated conditions to a minimum – the area immediately around the barn should be managed to keep hens’ feet clean; • keep the range free of poisonous plants and contaminants; • run a system of range rotation that takes account of the type of soil, drainage and flock size; • enhance the range to encourage hens to use the entire area so they feel safe to move away from the barn, opening and perimeter by including trees, shrubs,