Legal implications of owning chickens
If you’re thinking of keeping some chickens in your garden there are a few legal implications to bear in mind.
Restrictions on keeping chickens
Check the title deed or tenancy agreement for your property to ensure there are no restrictive covenants prohibiting the keeping of livestock (which could include chickens). Also contact your local authority to ensure there aren’t byelaws covering your area which restrict the right to keep chickens.
Keeping chickens could, in some circumstances, amount to a nuisance; for example, if they are kept in close proximity to another dwelling house.
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.
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.
If you keep fewer than 50 birds, you can sell your eggs at your gate, locally door to door, or direct to consumers at a local market and you won’t need to mark or grade your eggs. You will, however, have to display your name, address, the best before date and advice on how to keep eggs chilled after purchase. Individual markets may have their own rules which require the stamping of a producer code on hen eggs.
If you have more than 50 birds and/or sell eggs to someone who will sell them on, eg, a shop or a restaurant, you must register with the Egg Marketing Inspectorate and mark your eggs with a code identifying the method of production (ie, free range, organic, barn or caged), the country of origin and the production establishment.
Looking after chickens requires time and effort. You should also consider what would happen if you fell ill or go on holiday as it is not always as easy to find someone willing to look after chickens as it is cats and dogs, for example.
The Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) Regulations 2007 set out 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 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 plan to keep laying hens, additional rules apply relating to accommodation, food, drink, health and hygiene. These extra 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 also applies 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.
Like other animals, chickens are prone to certain diseases. Some diseases – such as Avian influenza (bird flu) and Newcastle disease – are known as ‘notifiable diseases’; if one of your chickens has one of these diseases or you suspect that it may have you must, under the Animal Health Act 1981, inform a police constable of that fact with all practicable speed. You should also inform your local Animal Health office.
Disposing of dead chickens
If one or more of your chickens dies, 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.