Animal welfare on farms inspection

Information for farmers about inspections carried out when there have been complaints about the welfare of livestock on farms.

Who gets inspected

Your farm can be inspected by either or both of the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) and your local authority if a member of the public has complained.

There are a number of main reasons for visits.


Complaints may come from:

  • a veterinary surgeon
  • the public
  • the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA)
  • the Scottish Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SSPCA)
  • the police
  • a local authority inspector, fish health inspector or an officer from Defra, Rural Payments Agency (RPA) or other government bodies who have visited the farm

A veterinary risk assessment is made to determine the timescale of these visits. If the complaint is alleging unnecessary suffering then the target time for conducting these visits is within 24 hours of the complaint or allegation being made. These visits should normally be unannounced.


Investigations may happen if there are suspected contraventions of welfare legislation arising other than from a complaint. A visit is made to the premises of origin to follow up a report of an unfit animal being transported or presented at a market or abattoir, or in the case of farmed fish where fish are transported for slaughter.

Investigations may be part of the programme of farm inspections on farmed animals which includes all cross compliance welfare visits to claimants to enforce these EU Directives:

  • Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) Regulations 2007
  • Welfare of Farmed Animals (Scotland) Regulations 2000 (as amended)
  • Welfare of Farmed Animals (Wales) Regulations 2007

Investigations may start:

  • as a follow up to an earlier visit
  • where an APHA Inspector is already on the farm for another purpose (for example tuberculin test or another visit) and the farmer is asked to agree that a welfare inspection is to be made of animals on the premises
  • as a result of a farm fire or other emergency such as flooding
  • to assess new developments in husbandry practices
  • following a local risk assessment

What gets inspected

The reason for the visit will dictate how many and what groups of animals need to be inspected. This can range from an individual to all livestock that you are responsible for.

The animals must be inspected when they are in their normal setting, that is, not when they are gathered together in pens. This is because their accommodation, such as the buildings and fields in which they are being kept at the time of the visit, is also included in the inspection.

You must have available for the inspector on request, records for the previous 3 years of:

  • any medicinal treatment given to animals
  • the number of mortalities found on each inspection of animals

Time and length

You’ll be inspected within 24 hours of a complaint that suggests there is a high risk of animal suffering. These inspections are normally carried out unannounced. The length of the inspection will depend on the number of livestock to be inspected and their location.

If an animal is reported to be suffering and APHA can’t immediately contact you, they’ll inspect your farm in your absence. This is because inspectors have power of entry onto premises under the current animal welfare legislation.

What happens next

You’ll be sent a letter following the visit to confirm the findings of the inspection. Depending on the type and severity of the issue, APHA may discuss your case with your local authority. They’re responsible for taking any formal action such as a caution or initiating prosecution.

If you claim Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) then the APHA inspector will notify RPA of any inspection that has been carried out on your farm. If there are breaches of the cross compliance rules, RPA will then be responsible for any penalty to be applied.

Published 12 January 2016