The first two parts of the Keeping Chickens in the Garden Guide dealt with the advantages and downsides to keeping chickens. Now we’re going to take a look at UK law and the rules and regulations you need to be aware of when you’re keeping chickens. While there are no national laws preventing you from keeping chickens in the garden, there is still advice you need to heed and rules, such as animal husbandry laws, that need to be followed. There are also certain laws governing the sale of eggs, but first let’s what look at what you need to know about keeping chickens in your local area.
Chickens and UK Law
While the UK government does not require you to register with DEFRA (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) if you have under 50 poultry (poultry includes chickens, geese, ducks, partridge, turkeys, quail, pheasants, pigeons for meat, emu, ostrich, guinea fowl and rhea) you do have to register if that number exceeds 50 at any one time to the Poultry Register. The reason for this is so any substantial poultry owners can be notified of disease outbreaks such as Avian Influenza. If you have fewer than 50 you can register if you desire, but this isn’t a legal requirement. However, Northern Ireland residents have to follow different rules and are required to register with DARD (Department of Agriculture and Rural Development) in order to be placed on the Bird Register.
So, now that we’ve got the national law out of the way you should be able to keep chickens, right? Unfortunately you still may not be able to, as rules in your local area may prevent it, a bit annoying really seeing as how good chicken poo is for soil quality. By-laws on certain properties may state that livestock isn’t allowed to be kept. To find out if these affect your property you should contact your local council. Similarly, housing authorities may have covenants that prevent chickens from being kept on the property they own. Again, you will have to contact the people in charge of the housing authority if you’re unsure about whether this applies to you. Finally, house deeds may prevent you from keeping livestock to.
While neither of these may affect you, you still need to take into account that your neighbours may complain to your local council. If your chickens are noisy and can be heard from the next house along then you may start irritating your neighbours, so it’s a good idea to let them know if you’re planning on keeping chickens on your property. The Noise Act 1996 could come into play if your chickens are making noises all night, although there are things you can do to keep noise levels to a minimum that we will talk about in a future instalment. Also don’t let them loose in neighbours gardens obviously.
If you start getting warnings from your local authority then that should tell you that you’re doing something wrong. Basically, just be sensitive to your neighbours nearby and you should have no problems.
Chickens are covered by the Protection of Animals Act 1911 that prevents any cruelty towards animals in your care. While we’re not saying that you will intentionally harm chickens, sometimes you can be cruel to animals indirectly by forgetting to do something, like keep them well watered. The Code of Recommendations for the Welfare of Laying Hens says that chickens should have ‘freedom from hunger and thirst by ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigour’. They also be given freedom of a comfortable environment, with shelter and a resting area, and also have a freedom to express their natural behaviour by giving them enough space and the company of animals of their own kind. They should also be regularly checked to prevent, diagnose and treat any diseases or injuries, and the freedom from fear and distress by ensuring conditions are good enough to avoid mental suffering. Part of this involves providing enough security to be protected from predators, such as foxes. Even if the fox is shooed away after getting in, the chickens could be mentally strained by the event.
Failure to provide proper care could lead to prosecution, fines, a ban from keeping livestock in the future and even jail time for repeated offences.
If you want to sell the eggs produced by your chickens then there are a few regulations you need to be aware of. Many of the regulations won’t apply to you if you’re only keeping a small flock of chickens. If you are only selling eggs to friends, family and your neighbours then you don’t need to do anything; providing your flock remains under 50. However, you cannot sell eggs to shops, restaurants or bakeries without first being approved and authorised as a packing centre by the EMI (Egg Marketing Inspectorate) as they need to be graded as Class A eggs. You can sell at local markets providing you have fewer than 50 hens.