An introduction to poultry and eggs farming

Maintaining high standards of animal health, welfare and hygiene on the farm is essential for establishing consumer confidence, and helping to limit the risk of passing disease to both humans and animals.

Farming poultry

If you farm or intend to farm poultry, there are rules and regulations that you must be aware of. You must follow specific legislation in order to maintain quality and to ensure that animal and consumer health, and the environment, is protected.

Even if you only keep a small number of poultry as a hobby, many of the rules for commercial poultry farming still apply. The nidirect government services webpage "Keeping chickens - what you need to know" has useful information for anyone who is considering keeping chickens as pets or for eggs. It includes links to websites with information on, for example: poultry breeds, poultry diseases, how to hatch and rear chicks and how to humanely kill chickens when necessary. 

Poultry registration

Anyone keeping birds of any species, not just chickens, is required by law to register with the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD).  Only pet birds kept in cages indoors are exempt. For guidance and an application form to register your birds, go to the bird registration page.

There are additional rules for registering specific types of poultry premises, for example: egg production (laying hen) sites, and a step-by-step guide for egg producers on production site registration, dependant on flock size and types of egg sales, is available below:

There are also rules for registering poultry breeding sites, hatcheries and certain types of poultrymeat premises.

Marketing rules and regulations for poultry and eggs

The Poultrymeat Marketing Standards regulate standards throughout the European Union (EU) for the marketing of poultrymeat intended for human consumption.

They control the classification of poultrymeat from chickens, ducks, geese, turkeys and guinea fowl by:

  • quality
  • weight
  • packaging and labelling
  • water content
  • storage

They also specify the standards that must be met on farms before claims about farming methods, for example: Free Range, can be made and require such farms to be specially registered.

The Hatching eggs and Poultry Chicks Marketing Standards establish common standards for marketing and transporting hatching eggs and chicks throughout the EU and to enable the European Commission to obtain information about chick placings for forecasts of future supplies of hatching eggs and poultry.

The regulations apply to the production and marketing of hatching eggs, and of poultry chicks not more than185g in weight, of the following species: domestic fowl (chickens), turkeys, ducks, chicks, geese and guinea fowl.

Hatcheries with a setting capacity of 1,000 eggs or more and breeding establishments with 100 or more breeding birds are required to register with DARD and to comply with the regulations. Establishments with a lower setting capacity or with fewer breeding birds are not required to comply with the regulations but may do so if they wish.

The Eggs Marketing Standards lay down uniform standards throughout the EU for the marketing of hen eggs intended for human consumption. The rules include requirements for grading (by quality and weight), stamping, packaging, labelling, marking and production methods (Organic, Free Range, Barn or Cage) as well as storage and transport. This ensures that consumers are provided with good quality eggs of a common standard.
The EU Egg Marketing Standards regulations enforced by DARD refer specifically to hen eggs. The production and sale of duck or goose eggs on a commercial scale are subject to Food Hygiene legislation requirements and eggs must be kept clean, dry, insulated and provided to the consumer within 21 days from lay. Sales of small quantities of duck and goose eggs, directly to the consumer or to a local shop, are covered by general food safety legislation which is enforced by District Councils.

Salmonella rules and regulations for poultry and eggs

There are various rules and regulations that apply to different species and types of poultry or egg production, including for breeding poultry, egg laying hens and meat turkeys and broilers.

Most egg producers (but particularly those with more than 350 hens) must have samples from flocks tested for Salmonella and if a flock of laying hens is found to be infected with certain types of Salmonella, the eggs cannot be sold as Class A or for direct human consumption but must be heat treated or disposed of at an approved establishment.

Further information and guidance on these requirements, and on the National Control Plans (NCPs) for the reduction of Salmonella, is available by clicking on the following link:

Welfare rules and regulations for poultry

In addition to general rules and regulations covering the production, transport and slaughter of farmed poultry, there are specific rules for some species and types of poultry and there are also Welfare Codes of Practice for meat chickens and laying hens.

For further information go to the farmed animal welfare section.

Food Hygiene rules for poultry and egg production

The EU Food Hygiene Regulations, in force since 1 January 2006, extended the 'farm to fork' approach to food safety legislation and apply to food businesses throughout the supply chain, including at primary producers (farmers). In Northern Ireland, DARD inspects and enforces Food Hygiene requirements on farms on behalf of the Food Standards Agency (FSA).
Further guidance on Food Hygiene regulations and requirements on farms is available on the FSA website.

Environmental protection and pollution control

Poultry farms affect the environment through the release of pollutants, such as:

  • ammonia
  • nutrients from manure, litter and slurry
  • effluent discharges
  • dust
  • odour
  • noise

The Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) website has useful information and guidance for poultry farmers on, for example, rules relating to pollution prevention and control, Nitrates Action Programme and Phosphorus Regulations 2011-2014 and poultry litter storage and spreading.

See NIEA webpage information for Farmers and Landowners.

Animal By-products

Animal by-products (ABPs) are animal carcases, parts of carcases or products of animal origin that are not intended for human consumption - on poultry farms this includes, for example: dead birds, manure, broken eggs, egg shells and feathers.

ABPs are a potential source of risk to public and animal health and regulations have been in place for many years to control these risks by setting out the rules for their collection, storage, transport, treatment, use and disposal.

For further information please visit the Animal By-products section of our website.

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