Keeping chickens in a garden

If you are thinking of keeping some chickens in your garden there are a few legal implications which you should bear in mind. This article looks at the main ones.

Are there any restrictions on you keeping chickens in your garden?

Some times title deeds and tenancy agreements contain restrictive covenants prohibiting the keeping of livestock, including chickens. You should, therefore, check whether your deeds or tenancy agreement contains any such restrictions. You should also check with your local authority that there are no other restrictions on you keeping chickens.

You should also be aware that the keeping of chickens, will in some circumstances amount to a nuisance, for example, if they are kept in close proximity to another dwelling house.

Do you have sufficient time to dedicate to looking after chickens?

Looking after chickens requires a certain amount of time and effort. You should also consider what would happen if you were to fall ill or go on holiday as it is not always as easy to find someone who is willing to look after chickens as it is for cats and dogs, for example.

The Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) Regulations 2007 sets out the minimum standards under which farm animals (including chickens kept for domestic purposes) must be kept. For chickens kept in Wales the Welfare of Farmed Animals (Wales) Regulations 2007 will apply. The regulations contain requirements relating to stockmanship, health, feeding, breeding, accommodation and management and require that anyone looking after animals to which the regulations relate be familiar with and have access to appropriate welfare codes. Welfare codes relating to laying chickens and chickens kept for meat can be found on the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ (Defra) website.

If you are planning to keep laying hens then additional rules will apply relating to accommodation, food and drink, health and hygiene. These additional rules are contained in the Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2002 and the Welfare of Farmed Animals (Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2002.

The Animal Welfare Act 2006 will also apply to the keeping of hens. Under this Act it is a criminal offence to cause unnecessary suffering to an animal. The Act also imposes a duty on anyone responsible for an animal to ensure that the animal’s welfare needs are met.

Restrictions on feeding chickens

The Animal By-products Regulations (EC) No. 1774/2002 prohibits “catering waste” from being fed to farmed animals, which includes hens kept for domestic purposes.

The term “catering waste” is very wide and includes all waste food originating from domestic household kitchens as well as from commercial catering facilities and restaurants. It is, therefore, illegal under these regulations for you to feed your chickens with vegetable scraps.

Selling your eggs

If you keep fewer than 50 birds you are allowed to sell your eggs at your gate or locally door to door or direct to your consumers at a local public market and you are not required to mark or grade your eggs. You will, however, have to provide details of your name and address to anyone who you sell your eggs to together. You will also be required to provide your consumers with consumer advice advising them to keep the eggs chilled after purchase along as well as a best before date. The best before date should be no more than 28 days from the date on which the egg was laid.

If you sell eggs to someone who will sell them on, for example to a shop or a restaurant, you will need to register with the Egg Marketing Inspectorate and you will be required to mark your eggs with a code identifying the method of production (i.e. free range, organic, barn or caged), the country of origin and the production establishment.

If you run a bed and breakfast establishment with no more than 3 rooms on the same site where you keep your chickens you are allowed to serve your eggs to your guests and they do not have to be graded or marked. However, you will be required to inform your guests that the eggs come from your own chickens and you should advise your guests that they might like them properly cooked, particularly if your guests are vulnerable, for example elderly, young or pregnant, since they are not graded.

Registering your flock

If you have 50 or more birds you are required to register your flock with the GB Poultry Register. If you have less than 50 birds you can still register on a voluntary basis. The advantage of registering is that you will be informed of any disease outbreaks.

Diseases

Like other animals, chickens are prone to certain diseases. Certain diseases are known as “notifiable diseases” and if one of your chickens has one of these diseases or you suspect that it may have the disease you will be required, under the Animal Health Act 1981, to inform a police constable of that fact with all practicable speed. You should also inform your local Animal Health office.

The main notifiable diseases which affect chickens are Avian influenza (bird flu) and Newcastle disease.

Disposing of dead chickens

If one or more of your chickens die you must take it to, or arrange for it to be collected by, an approved knacker, hunt kennel, incinerator or renderer. It is illegal to bury or cremate a chicken in your garden.

There is an exception to this for remote areas, such as Bardsey Island, Caldy Island, the Scilly Isles, Lundy Island and the Isle of Wight and in certain circumstances during outbreaks of notifiable diseases.