Below is guidance taken from "Welfare of animals kept on allotments; briefing on they key issues from the Public Affairs team", published by the RSPCA on 21 May 2014. We would remind you that if you keep livestock on your allotment, it is your duty to keep up to date and comply with all animal welfare legislation and RSPCA guidance.
More information can be obtained from the RSPCA website.
For more information on beekeeping please see our 'Useful Links' page.
Anyone keeping 50 or more birds is required by Defra to register with the Great Britain Poultry Register, in order to help the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency get in touch in the event of any disease outbreaks. The RSPCA highly recommends that anyone with any number of birds, even two or three, registers in order to receive any disease alerts and guidance.
Chickens must have access to clean and fresh water at all times. In cold weather, care should be taken to prevent drinking water from icing-up. Should this occur, the ice should be broken manually; chemicals that prevent the build-up of ice or break it up once formed should never be used.
Drinkers should be cleaned regularly and water should not be allowed to remain in a contaminated or stale condition. Drinkers that prevent young chicks climbing in and drowning should be used. As the birds become older and require more water, alternative drinkers can be introduced and those drinkers used previously should be removed gradually over a number of days. If new chickens are introduced to the allotment, they must be provided with facilities to which they are already accustomed, as chickens do not like to drink from unfamiliar drinkers.
Chickens will spend much of their day scratching and foraging for small seeds, roots and insects. However, they will need additional food, which is suitable for their age and breed, to provide a balanced diet. If feed is provided outside, it should be sheltered to keep it clean and dry. Feed dispensers should be cleaned regularly and precautions taken to prevent infestation and contamination of the feed. Avoid attracting rodents and wild birds by, for example, cleaning up any spilt feed. Chickens must also always have access to insoluble grit (e.g. hard flint grit) to aid digestion. If the birds are kept on a grassed area, the grass should not be allowed to become too long, as, if eaten, long strands can become impacted in the crop, making it difficult for the birds to digest food.
As female birds (hens) mature they will begin to lay eggs and a layers’ mash or pellet feed should be provided to ensure a balanced diet. Calcium supplements, such as oyster shell, can also be included in the diet. Hens will naturally prefer to find a quiet, secluded place to lay their eggs. Therefore, hens should be provided with individual, enclosed nest boxes. The boxes should be draught-free and lined with plenty of clean, dry and comfortable nesting material, such as straw or wood shavings.
Chickens should be provided with warm, dry and well-ventilated housing. Adequate ventilation is very important, and while it is important to keep the birds warm, there must also be good air circulation inside the housing. The floor should be covered with a suitable substrate, such as wood shavings or straw, which must be kept dry and friable and therefore topped-up or replaced when necessary. Chickens like to dustbathe and preen their feathers, therefore a suitable material, such as wood shavings, should also be supplied for this activity. Feed and water facilities should be provided within the house.
Owners must ensure that there is plenty of space for the birds to move around easily and perform their natural behaviours within the house, this will depend on the size and number of chickens and the layout of facilities. It is important not to overstock birds as doing so may increase aggression and the potential for conflict.
Chickens will naturally seek a raised position to roost at dusk, which is an anti-predator behaviour, and should therefore be provided with perching facilities. Perches should be wooden and approximately 3-5cm in width with rounded edges, to enable the birds to grip them properly. They should provide enough perching space for all the chickens to roost at the same time. However, there must be enough space either side of the perch for hens to get up and down from them without injuring themselves. As a guide, chickens may require about 15cm of perching space each, but this will depend on the size of the birds. The height of the perches will have to be adjusted according to the age, size and breed of birds being kept.
In smaller houses, a greater proportion of birds tend to go out onto the range area during the day, and only use the housing at night. The entrance to the housing should be wide enough to allow chickens to pass through without difficulty and high enough so that they do not have to crouch down. The accommodation should be cleaned out frequently and disinfected to ensure that there are no harmful parasites that could compromise the birds’ health.
The outdoor area will require careful management and should be given periods of rest, to allow the ground and grass to recover. It is important that the area is sufficiently large enough to be divided (unless there are alternative grass areas nearby to use) in order to allow the chickens to roam on good pasture every day while other parts are allowed to recover. Again, the birds should have plenty of space to move around easily and perform their natural behaviours, this will depend on the size and number of chickens and the layout of facilities.
Overhead cover should be provided on the range area such as small trees, shrubs and purpose built shelters, to provide the chickens with protection from the sun, bad weather and other animals. It will also help to encourage birds to utilise the full outside area. They should also have access to dry soil where they can dustbathe and forage. Where outside conditions and/or the vegetation is poor or limited, consideration should be given to providing alternative areas for enrichment. The provision of straw will keep birds occupied and encourage them to carry out food searching behaviours. Raised perches on the range area should be considered, as they provide a way for individuals to escape from one another, and birds often use them as a place to preen during the day.
Fences should be well maintained and provide appropriate protection against other animals. The design should ensure that the birds cannot escape or become trapped or injured.
We recommend that people keep at least three hens (female chickens) which get on well together. Cockerels (male chickens) should not be kept together, unless they have grown up together and get on well.
Introducing new stock to an existing flock
Mixing of chickens that are unfamiliar with each other should be done carefully. Avoid mixing breeds with substantially different body weights or individuals from the same breed of markedly different sizes as this may result in increased conflict and bullying of smaller birds.
Signs of poor health may include a hunched posture, erect feathers and a reluctance to move. Birds may also be found hiding, for example in corners or amongst housing equipment, and may tuck their head under their wing. Healthy birds appear alert and interested in their environment, and look ‘bright eyed’ and well hydrated.
Chickens can be susceptible to lice and red mites. Lice, which are 2-3mm in size, can be found all over the body with their eggs being deposited around the shaft of the feather. Red mites are smaller and are more likely to be found on the fixtures within the shed. However, where a more serious infestation exists, they may be seen on birds at the base of the feathers, particularly under the wing.
Poultry need regular worming, particularly if they are kept on the same ground for a prolonged period (more than a month).
Feather pecking is where hens peck and pull at the feathers of other hens, sometimes leading to more serious injuries and even cannibalism. It can affect hens in any system, including commercial farming systems and hens kept as pets. Healthy hens, with plenty of space, dust-bathing facilities and opportunity to scratch and forage are less at risk but outbreaks can suddenly occur. More information can be found in the ‘Laying hen feather cover advice guide’ which can be downloaded from the RSPCA website.
***Please note that despite the guidance provided by the RSPCA, if you keep hens on your allotment we require you to register with the Geat Britain Poultry Register.*** Details on how to register can be found here.
Rabbits normally drink approximately 10ml water per 100g bodyweight per day. However, depending upon the type of diet they are fed, and in warmer weather, they will need to drink more water. Lactating does (females) will drink around 90ml per 100g bodyweight per day and must be given plenty of water during this time.
In order to keep the water clean and to avoid spillage, bottle drinkers are very suitable, although these must be checked regularly to ensure that there is no blockage, which would prevent the rabbits obtaining sufficient water. However some rabbits may prefer to drink water from a bowl, which should be sturdy enough to prevent it being tipped over. We recommend that rabbits are provided with water in a way that they have been used to. Bowls/bottles should be checked regularly to ensure that the rabbits have continuous access to fresh, clean water.
A high fibre diet should be given to rabbits, in the form of hay or similar forage material. Any sudden change in diet should be avoided to prevent digestive problems. For breeding does, a high-energy diet should be given. Rabbits will graze for a large proportion of the day and there should an adequate supply of food in the form of leafy greens and specially prepared pellets, to provide all the necessary nutrients, but the majority of the diet should be hay-based. Rabbits’ teeth continue to grow throughout their lives and they should be given hard gnawing material to help prevent the teeth from over-growing. Owners should avoid overfeeding concentrate food.
Housing and shelter
Most rabbits are kept in traditional hutches, however, they are very active animals so should be provided with as large a living space as possible. It is important that the height of their enclosure allows them to stand up on their hind feet without their ears touching the top of the enclosure. If movement is restricted, rabbits can develop skeletal problems, and in severe cases of restriction they can develop osteoporosis.
Rabbits should have permanent access to a large, safe exercise area to give them the opportunity to perform a wide range of behaviours (e.g. running, hopping, jumping, playing, digging). The exercise area must provide adequate protection against predators, such as foxes and cats as well as protection from the elements. The exercise area should contain hiding places, tunnels and safe toys for them to chew and explore (there should be enough for every rabbit to perform the same behaviour simultaneously). Hay should be continuously available to rabbits.
In addition, there must be a dry, comfortable and draught-free place for the rabbits to retreat, with a plentiful supply of clean bedding. If the substrate is coarse or rough, this can cause sore hocks. Some rabbits are predisposed to this; however, unclean housing or rough surfaces within the hutch, can increase the risk of this occurring. Rabbits like to hide away so they should have continual access to safe hiding places. There should also be a separate sleeping compartment (ideally darkened) where they can retreat for security and sleep undisturbed. Throughout the sleeping area there should be adequate bedding which must be changed frequently to keep it clean and dry.
Rabbits are social animals and should not be kept in solitary confinement. However, if two males are kept together, they may fight and it may be necessary to separate these. Females can usually be kept in groups without any problems. The best combination is a neutered male with a neutered female. When introducing new rabbits for the first time, introductions need to be carefully managed and can take several weeks. Unsuccessful or rushed introductions can lead to fighting and to severe injuries.
Where there is access to an outside run, care must be taken to ensure that the rabbits will not dig their way out and predators are able to dig in. The fencing should be strong and constructed properly to protect against other animals.
Rabbits will breed at every opportunity, so it is advisable that male rabbits are neutered unless they are specifically wanted for planned breeding. Neutering may reduce fighting and prevents some serious medical problems. In females, neutering is a major health benefit as approximately 80% of unneutered females over the age of 3 years develop uterine tumours.
It is strongly advised that all rabbits are vaccinated against Myxomatosis and VHD (Viral Haemhorragic Disease). Both these diseases are widespread in the wild rabbit population so wild rabbits should be prevented from coming into contact with pet rabbits.
Rabbits should be checked for cleanliness every day (more frequently in warm weather), and any build up of faeces on the fur removed promptly. If it is necessary to wash rabbits, they should be thoroughly dried. Soiled and/or wet areas are prone to fly strike, and subsequent infestation with maggots. Rabbits’ teeth and nails should be checked frequently to ensure they are not becoming overgrown or have been damaged.
If a rabbits’ normal behaviour changes it can indicate they are not well or are in pain. If there are any concerns about a rabbit’s health they should be taken to a vet immediately.
*** Please note that if you keep rabbits on your allotment, we will require the vaccinations mentioned in the Health section of the guidance to be given to your rabbit(s)***