Poultry Welfare Assessment

Poultry Welfare Assessment

Feather Cover advice guide

This two-page leaflet provides practical guidance on Managing a Feather Loss Problem.

To ensure we are improving farm animal welfare we need to be able to measure it. Measuring welfare enables us to know what level is being achieved on-farm and therefore better understand what impact the resources being provided and management practices being implemented are having on the animal” www.assurewel.org.

Visit our Animal Welfare Assessment page in Veterinary Questions to find out more about welfare assessment and visit the AssureWel website for practical information on assessing the welfare of poultry. AssureWel is a collaboration the RSPCA, Soil Association and University of Bristol, supported by the Tubney Charitable Trust. Its main aim has been to develop a practical system of welfare outcome assessment for the major farm animal species, which can be used in farm assurance schemes.

Laying Hens

The use of antibiotics to promote growth, increase feed efficiency and reduce mortality in indoor poultry farming is unsustainable, and has been implicated in the increase in anti-biotic resistance in humans.The following core measures have been identified by AssureWel as being important and practical indicators of laying hen welfare.

1.Feather loss
2.Bird dirtiness
3.Beak trimming
4.Antagonistic behaviours
6.Birds needing further care

Measuring Feather Loss

Feather loss is a key indicator of hen welfare. A Feather Loss Benchmarking Tool has been produced by the AssureWel project which allows farmers to record and compare the severity of feather loss with other that found on other farms.

Broilers or Table Birds

Broilers drinkingThe following core measures have been identified by AssureWel as being important to assess as practical for table birds or broilers.

At a whole flock level:
1.Bird distribution
2.Air quality
5.General health

Ascites is a disease associated with intensive broiler production. Management plays a key role in its development, with feed, lighting, air quality and ventilation all having been implicated.

On a 20% sample of birds via a defined walk:
1.Walking ability
3.Birds requiring culling
4.Dead birds & runts
5.Litter condition

On Individual birds (25 penned birds):
2.Hock burn

From on-farm records:
1.Mortality & Culls
2.Antibiotic records
3.Post-slaughter records

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  • Livestock should be land-based and integrated with farm cropping enterprises
  • Animals should be provided with conditions that enable them to exhibit natural behaviours
  • Dependency on veterinary medicines should be reduced without jeopardising the well-being of animals


outdoor access

Animals having outdoor access, shade, shelter, lighting and sufficient space for them to undertake free movement and to exhibit natural behaviors.


Using breeds and strains well-suited and adapted to the prevailing conditions.

Health Plan

Implementing herd and flock planning based on sound ecological practices and epidemiological knowledge.


Undertaking good practice with regard to biosecurity.

closed herds

Maintaining animals in closed herds and flocks and at stocking rates that enables free-movement, reduces risks of disease spread and minimises environmental damage.

forage and grazing

Forage and grazing being the main source of nutrients for ruminants, and continuously available to non-ruminants.

production practices

Avoiding the use of mutilations as standard production practices.


Improved understanding and responsible usage of veterinary medicines.