Farm animals: looking after their welfare

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

You’re responsible for any animals you keep on your farm and you must have enough staff with the training, knowledge and skills to look after them properly. This guide explains your responsibilities and helps you follow the Welfare of Farmed Animals Regulations 2007 and related laws.

You and your staff must also have read, understand and have access to the welfare codes of recommendations for the animals you keep. Read the:

The welfare codes of recommendations include both legal requirements and good practice to help you follow the law.

Your responsibilities

It’s against the law to neglect or be cruel to a farm animal. If you’re responsible for an animal you must make sure that you care for it properly.

You must make sure that any animal you own or care for:

  • has a proper diet and fresh water
  • has somewhere suitable to live
  • is kept with or away from other animals, depending on its needs
  • is allowed to express itself and behave normally
  • is protected from, and treated for, illness and injury

The codes of recommendations will help you care for your animals’ needs and you should get advice from a vet as needed.

Looking after animal welfare

Farm inspectors visit your farm to check on your animals’ welfare. Staff or members of the public can also report you to your local authority if they think you’re not looking after your animals’ welfare needs, or causing unnecessary suffering.

You can be fined, jailed or banned from owning animals, for causing unnecessary suffering to an animal, or for not killing it humanely.

A court would look at whether you could have avoided or reduced the physical or mental suffering of the animal, and whether you followed the legislation and codes of recommendations or any licence requirements.

Animal welfare off the farm

You’re also responsible for your animals’ welfare off the farm, including:

Looking after animals

You must inspect your animals to make sure that they’re well and treat them if they’re not. The individual codes of recommendations and guides have examples of what to look for and what to do.

Check that animals are healthy

You must check the health and welfare of your animals regularly. Inspect animals:

  • at least once a day if they depend on you for their welfare (eg housed poultry)
  • as often as needed if they don’t depend on you (eg farmed deer kept outside) - ask your vet how often this is

If you house any calves (any bovine up to 6 months old) you must check on them at least twice a day. You only need to check on calves you keep outside at least once a day.

Sick animals

You must care for any animal that looks like it’s ill or injured and, if necessary, call in your vet.

You must isolate sick or injured animals in suitable accommodation and, where needed, dry comfortable bedding.


You must not use any breeding methods (either natural or artificial) that may cause suffering or injury to animals unless it’s minimal or unlikely to cause lasting injury.

Moving and restricting animals

You must not use electric currents to stop or incapacitate an animal (‘electro immobilisation’), and you must not restrict your animals in any way that will cause them unnecessary suffering or injury. The specific welfare codes of recommendations and guides have examples for each type of animal and what you must not do.

If you tether an animal you must give it enough space for its particular needs. Check the welfare codes of recommendations and guides for what you must do for each type of animal.

Keep health records

You must keep records of your animals’ health and welfare. You must record the:

  • number of dead animals (mortalities) found on each inspection
  • date you treated any ill or injured animals, including what medicine you used and which animals you treated

You must keep these records for at least 3 years and make them available to any authorised person who asks for them. For example, inspectors from Defra, the Animal and Plant Health Agency or your local authority.

You’re breaking the law if you make, or let one of your staff make, a false record.

Feeding and watering

You must place and maintain feed and water points so that animals won’t injure each other when competing for food and water.

You must feed animals at appropriate intervals and at least once a day (unless a vet has told you otherwise) and give them enough fresh water to last them throughout the day. The food you give must be suitable for the age and type of animals and it must keep them in good health.

The welfare codes of recommendations and guides explain where there are extra feeding requirements, eg you must feed calves twice a day.

Use feed that’s safe

You must not:

  • feed animals any substance, food or liquid that can cause them unnecessary suffering or injury
  • use feed that makes the animals who eat it unable to produce food that’s safe for humans to eat
  • feed animals anything that hasn’t been proved to be safe for them, unless it’s medicine or other welfare-related products
  • feed animals catering waste

You must follow the law on food safety and animal feed.

Keeping animals in buildings

You must make sure that any animal you keep in a building has access to well-maintained dry bedding (litter for poultry) or a well-drained resting area.

You must keep all surfaces that your animals can access (like walls and floors) free from anything that could cause injury or death, like:

  • sharp edges or protruding (sticking out) parts
  • electrical wires
  • toxic paint or wood preservative - make sure that any second-hand materials don’t have any lead-based paint

You must also be able to clean and disinfect any surfaces the animals can come into contact with, and do so regularly.

Light levels

You must not keep animals in permanent darkness.

Your buildings must have enough lighting (either fixed or portable) for you to be able to inspect the animals at any time.

If there isn’t enough natural light available in a building to meet the animal’s welfare needs you need to have artificial lighting. Check the welfare codes of recommendations and guides for any specific requirements.


You must make sure that you keep air circulation, dust levels, temperature, relative humidity and gas concentrations at levels that don’t harm your animals.

Check the welfare codes of recommendations and guides to find out if there are specific requirements. For example, for meat chickens you must keep the concentration of ammonia below 20 parts per million measured at hen head level.

Keeping animals outside

You must protect any animals you keep outside from extreme weather, predators and risks to their health (eg poisonous weeds, dangerous ground).

They must be able to access a well-drained lying area at all times.

Make sure equipment works

You must keep all equipment and their surfaces clean.

You must inspect any automated or mechanical equipment essential for the health and wellbeing of your animals at least once a day.

Fix any problems you find immediately. If you can’t do this immediately then you must make sure that you maintain the animals’ health and welfare. For example, by using other ways of feeding and watering while the equipment is being fixed.

Equipment you must inspect includes:

  • feed hoppers
  • drinkers
  • ventilating fans
  • heating and lighting units
  • fire extinguishers
  • alarm systems

Ventilation systems

When animals depend on a ventilation system for their survival (such as meat chickens in a barn), you must have:

  • a backup ventilation system that will keep the animals healthy and maintain their welfare if the main system fails
  • an alarm to warn you if the automatic equipment fails

You must test these systems weekly and fix any faults immediately.

Published 15 October 2015