Farm animals: looking after their welfare

If you’re responsible for a farm animal you must make sure that you care for it properly.

Applies to England

You’re responsible for the welfare of all farm animals that you own or keep.


You must comply with the relevant legislation.

The Animal Welfare Act 2006 is the principal law relating to animal welfare, protecting all vertebrate animals.

Under the Act, owners and keepers have a duty of care to their animals and must make sure they meet their needs:

  • for a suitable environment and place to live
  • for a suitable diet
  • to exhibit normal behaviour patterns
  • to be housed with, or apart from, other animals (if applicable)
  • to be protected from pain, injury, suffering and disease

The Act prohibits animal cruelty which includes:

  • causing unnecessary suffering to an animal
  • mutilation
  • poisoning an animal

Anyone who does not comply with the Act may:

  • be banned from owning animals
  • face an unlimited fine
  • be sent to prison for up to 5 years

The Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) Regulations 2007 are made under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 and set the minimum welfare standards for all farm animals. Schedule 1 sets out conditions under which all farm animals must be kept, with Schedules 2 to 9 providing additional species specific conditions.

The Mutilations (Permitted Procedures) (England) Regulations 2007 are made under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 and make it an offence to carry out a prohibited procedure on a protected animal. For example, one which involves interference with the sensitive tissues or bone structure of an animal.

The Mutilations Regulations 2007 lists those exemptions to which the prohibitions do not apply if certain conditions are met, such as ear tagging for the purposes of identification or castration for the control of reproduction.

In addition to the above legislation, you must be familiar with, and have access to, the species specific codes of practice (see below).

On-farm welfare codes of practice

You and any staff working with animals must read, understand and have access to the on-farm animal welfare codes of practice for the animals you keep or own.

The codes provide guidance on how to comply with the legislation. They are intended to help all those who care for farm animals to practise good standards of stockmanship to safeguard animal welfare.

Welfare codes are not law, but if you do not follow them they can be used as evidence in court to show breaches of legislation.

Some of the references to legislation in the codes are out of date. You should refer to the animal welfare legislation listed above and relevant wider legislation as needed.

Read the on-farm welfare codes of practice for:

Published 15 October 2015
Last updated 15 August 2023 + show all updates
  1. Added legislation references and removed out of date guidance. Updated references to the on-farm animal welfare codes of practice.

  2. First published.