Poultry welfare off the farm

How to manage the health and welfare of poultry during transport, at market and during slaughter


All animals, including farmed poultry, must be looked after in ways that meet their welfare needs - ensuring they do not experience any unnecessary suffering.

This guide deals specifically with welfare considerations for managing poultry livestock beyond the farm.

It outlines good practice and the duty of care for farming poultry during transport, at market and during slaughter.

Good practice and duty of care to poultry

Maintaining high standards for the health and welfare of your poultry is essential for efficiency and ensuring consumer confidence in your produce.

Poultry includes:

  • chickens (including bantams)
  • turkeys
  • ducks
  • geese
  • partridges
  • quail
  • pheasants
  • pigeons - reared for meat
  • guinea fowl
  • ostriches, emus and rheas

The five freedoms of animal welfare

Animal welfare legislation and the Farm Animal Welfare Council (FAWC) - a government advisory body - state that, at all times, you have a duty of care to ensure your animals have freedom:

  • from hunger and thirst - animals must have access to fresh water and a diet which will maintain health and vigour
  • from discomfort - an appropriate environment should be provided, including shelter and a comfortable resting area
  • from pain, injury or disease - you must ensure the prevention of illnesses, or rapid diagnosis and treatment
  • to express normal behaviour - sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animal’s own kind should be provided
  • from fear and distress - you must provide conditions and treatment which avoid mental suffering

You can read about the five freedoms of animal welfare on the FAWC website.

According to the Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) Regulations 2007 - made under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 - the standard of protection extends across all locations.

The government consults with FAWC to produce specific guidance for the care of animals:

  • during transport
  • at market
  • at slaughter

For information on the welfare of poultry in the farm environment, see the guide on poultry welfare on the farm.

Poultry welfare during transportation

When moving animals, you must transport them in a way that won’t cause them injury or unnecessary suffering.

While EU rules apply to all live, vertebrate animals transported for economic reasons, more stringent elements apply to the transport of farm livestock, such as poultry.

When transporting poultry, you should:

  • plan journeys thoroughly and keep the duration to a minimum
  • ensure the birds are fit to travel and check them regularly
  • ensure vehicle loading and unloading facilities are constructed and maintained to avoid injury and suffering
  • ensure those handling the birds are competent and don’t use violence or any methods likely to cause fear, injury or suffering
  • provide sufficient floor space and height allowance
  • provide water, feed and rest as needed

For more information, see the guide on farmed animal welfare during transportation and farmed animal welfare at shows and markets.

Fitness for travel

It’s illegal to transport any livestock, including poultry that’s considered unfit for travel. You must undertake an assessment of the fitness of poultry before crating and loading them. If the transporter does not carry out the assessment, there should be clear and documented procedures as to who undertakes and has responsibility for this task, and what action is to be taken on birds that are judged unfit for transport. Once loading of birds commences, the transporter is wholly responsible for the welfare of the birds until they are unloaded at the end of the journey.

As broilers can suffer lesions on the feet, an assessment of foot and leg health should be undertaken before transporting poultry. Birds with severe and painful conditions such as advanced plantar necrosis are unfit for transport.

Special considerations may apply to the transport of poultry in severe weather conditions, as they are particularly prone to stress during hot weather. You can find severe weather advice on transporting live animals and birds on the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) website.


Local authorities have primary responsibility for enforcing the rules to protect animals during transportation. Veterinary inspectors from the AHVLA also have powers to ensure transporters are following the rules.

Defra collects information about any transporters caught breaking the law from local authorities, the AHVLA and authorities abroad. This information is used when deciding whether to grant, suspend or cancel transporter authorisation.

Poultry welfare at markets

There is general and specific legislation covering the welfare of animals at markets and shows - including The Animal Welfare Act (2006) and the Welfare of Animals at Markets Order 1990 (as amended).

These specify that owners and keepers must provide animals and birds with a suitable environment, good diet, the opportunity to ‘act normally’, sufficient housing, and protection from pain, injury, suffering and disease.

All animal owners are also responsible for the health and welfare of their animals and therefore need to understand and provide for their physical and welfare needs. They have a duty of care towards the animal and must recognise the signs of illness or disease. They also have a responsibility to be vigilant, report any suspicion of disease and maintain good disease prevention and control practice, including compliance with regulations.

For more information, see the guide on farmed animal welfare at shows and markets.

Poultry travel documentation

If you transport animals in connection with an economic activity over 65 kilometres - approximately 40 miles - you must have a valid transport certificate known as a ‘transporter authorisation’.

The type of authorisation you will need depends on the duration of the journey(s) you intend to make:

  • Type 1 transporter authorisation - for journeys up to and including eight hours
  • Type 2 transporter authorisation - for journeys over eight hours

A Type 2 authorisation is valid on short journeys as well, so if you intend to undertake a mixture of journeys both under and over eight hours, you should apply for this type of authorisation.

Find guidance and application forms for all types of animal welfare transportation documentation on the Defra website.

You will need to submit the following additional information along with your form when applying for a Type 2 transporter authorisation:

  • copies of valid competence assessment certificates
  • copies of valid vehicle approval certificates only if required by the member state of intended destination, and transiting member states

You must declare if you have any Home Office Simple Cautions or convictions, or any current court orders restricting ownership or the keeping or control of any animals when you apply for transporter authorisations. This affects anyone who transports poultry on your behalf - see the guide on farmed animal welfare during transportation.

Anyone who has been convicted or given a Home Office Simple Caution in the three years prior to making an application will generally be refused an authorisation.

Animal Transport Certificates

ATCs are required for transporting any species of animal, including poultry, a distance or duration over 50 kilometres - except journeys involving farm livestock and unregistered horses on export journeys over eight hours, which require a journey log instead. You can find information on the welfare of farmed animals at markets in the guide on farmed animal welfare at shows and markets.

The ATC must include the following information:

  • origin and ownership of animals
  • place of departure and destination
  • date and time of departure
  • expected duration of journey

You are exempt if you transport your own poultry - in your own means of transport - on journeys of up to 50 kilometres from your holding.

Defra refers to the provision of this information as an ATC. You do not have to present this information in a prescribed format. Any other document containing the information - such as an animal movement licence - may be used, if preferred. Download an ATC application form from the Defra website (PDF, 15K).

Poultry welfare at slaughter and fallen stock

The welfare of animals at the time of slaughter or killing is covered by EU directive 93/119 and UK regulations. These rules state that animals must never be submitted to any avoidable stress, pain or suffering, and must be handled, stunned and killed using specific methods by licensed slaughtermen.

There are special arrangements when specific slaughter methods are used for religious purposes - ie the halal or kosher killing of chickens. Religious slaughter can only take place in an approved slaughterhouse. You can find clarification on slaughtering animals under Islamic law on the Defra website.

The welfare requirements also apply to on-farm slaughter - although an owner killing an animal for private consumption does not need a slaughter licence.

For more information, see the guide on farmed animal welfare at slaughter.

Fallen stock

Fallen stock can be any bird or animal that has:

  • died of natural causes or disease on the farm
  • been killed on the farm for reasons other than human consumption

Farmers with fallen stock must use approved means and places for their disposal. The National Fallen Stock Company can help with the disposal of fallen stock and advise on the disease prevention rules, as part of the National Fallen Stock Scheme.

If you suspect that a bird or animal has died of a notifiable disease, you must tell your local AHVLA.

For contact details of your local AHVLA use the postcode search tool on the Defra website.

There are also special regulations governing on-farm incineration.

For more information, see the guide on fallen stock.

Unwanted chicks and hatchery waste

Surplus chicks must be killed humanely and as rapidly as possible by someone with sufficient knowledge or training. Killing can be undertaken using a mechanical apparatus causing immediate death, exposure to gas mixtures or dislocation of the neck.

Where a gas mixture is used chicks must remain in the gas mixture until dead. Only gas mixtures specified at Schedule 11 of the Welfare of Animals (Slaughter or Killing) Regulations 1995 (as amended) can be used. If neck dislocation is used dislocation must be accompanied by severance of the spinal cord and blood vessels in the chick’s neck.

Embryos in hatchery waste must be killed instantaneously using a mechanical device.

Further information on poultry welfare off the farm

For more information and guidance on livestock and agricultural farming, the sources listed below may be useful.

One of the major roles of Defra is to help the farming industry operate as efficiently as possible. Defra administers European support policies which provide around £3 billion to UK agriculture. They also oversee a number of agencies that work with arable farmers, imports and exports of crops and implement pest and disease controls. You can call the Defra Helpline on 08459 33 55 77.

The AHVLA is an executive agency of Defra and is responsible for ensuring the welfare of farmed animals in Great Britain. The agency is also responsible for managing outbreaks of notifiable animal diseases and helping to ensure suitable standards of egg and dairy production are met. You can call the AHVLA Information Line on 0844 884 4600.

You should contact your nearest AHVLA if you have any suspicions of disease in your farm animals.

For contact details of your local AHVLA use the postcode search tool on the Defra website.

The Rural Payments Agency (RPA) is responsible for licences and schemes for growers as well as for running the Single Payment Scheme (SPS). For more information about SPS and how it can help your farming business, you can call the RPA SPS Helpline on 0845 603 7777.

The Environment Agency is a public body responsible for helping to protect and improve the environment in England and Wales.

It also regulates intensive poultry farms. If your farm exceeds certain capacity thresholds, you will need an environmental permit to operate. Find out about environmental regulations and licences for poultry farmers on the Environment Agency website.

The British Poultry Council (BPC) is the voice of the poultry meat sector. As the only trade association for producers of poultry meat and products, they are the key link between member companies, government and stakeholders. Read about the role of the BPC on the BPC website.

The Assured Chicken Production (ACP) scheme is an industry-wide initiative that addresses all the important issues concerning the production of chicken. It is an independently assessed assurance scheme designed to deliver confidence to the consumer. Standards have been written to include best practice in food safety, bird health, welfare and traceability. Read about the ACP scheme on the ACP website.

The National Farmers Union (NFU) represents the farmers and growers of England and Wales. It aims to promote successful and socially responsible agriculture and horticulture, while ensuring the long-term viability of rural communities. You can read about the work of the NFU on their website.

You are likely to come into contact with local authorities over a number of farming, land use, food standards and environmental regulations. Your local authority may also be able to provide further information or resources.

Further information

Environment Agency Helpline

03708 506 506

Cross Compliance Helpline

0845 345 1302

NFSCo Helpline

0345 054 8888

Defra Helpline

08459 33 55 77

Register your poultry flock on the GB Poultry Register

Download Defra’s welfare advice for transporters of poultry from the Agricultural Document Library website (PDF, 173K)

Detailed guidance, forms and further advice on animal welfare on the Defra website

Animal welfare transportation documentation, guidance and forms on the Defra website

UK Animal Transporter Authorisation for Type 1 authorisations on the Defra website

UK Animal Transporter Authorisation for Type 2 authorisations on the Defra website

Download an ATC application form from the Defra website (PDF, 15K)

Animal health and disease prevention news on the AHVLA website

Download an incinerator approval form from the Defra website (PDF, 590K)

Cross compliance guidance for farmers on the RPA website

Environmental regulations and licences for poultry farmers on the Environment Agency website

Environmental advice on the Natural England website

Poultry farming sector news and information on the NFU website

Poultry health and welfare guidance on the Poultry Site website

BPC information on the BPC website

ACP scheme information

Published 26 August 2012
Last updated 13 June 2013 + show all updates
  1. Fixing references to specialist guides
  2. First published.