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Protection of laying hens

Protection of laying hens



Directive 1999/74/EC — minimum standards for the protection of laying hens


  • It lays down minimum standards for the protection of laying hens. It does not apply to establishments with fewer than 350 laying hens or establishments rearing breeding laying hens.
  • The rearing of laying hens must comply with the relevant rules laid down by Directive 98/58/EC relating to the protection of farmed animals and with those laid down in the Annex to this directive.


Alternative systems

Since 1 January 2002, all newly built or rebuilt alternative systems of production and all such systems of production brought into use for the first time have had to comply with the following requirements:

  • all systems must be equipped with:
    • either linear feeders (at least 10 cm per hen) or circular feeders (at least 4 cm per hen),
    • either continuous drinking troughs (2.5 cm per hen) or circular drinking troughs (1 cm per hen),
    • at least 1 nest for every 7 hens,
    • adequate perches (at least 15 cm per hen),
    • and at least 250 cm2 of littered area per hen;
  • the floors of installations must support each of the forward-facing claws of each foot;
  • there are special rules on systems of rearing allowing hens to move freely and/or permitting access to outside runs;
  • the stocking density must not exceed nine laying hens per m2 of usable area (however, where the usable area corresponds to the available ground surface, a stocking density of 12 hens per m2 is authorised until 31 December 2011 for those establishments applying this system on 3 August 1999).

EU countries had to ensure that these requirements apply from 1 January 2007.

Rearing in unenriched cage systems

  • Since 1 January 2003, all unenriched cages have had to comply with the following requirements:
    • at least 550 cm2 of cage area must be provided for each hen;
    • a feed trough (of a length of at least 10 cm multiplied by the number of hens), which may be used without restriction must be provided;
    • each cage must have an appropriate drinking system;
    • cages must be at least 40 cm high over 65 % of the cage area and not less than 35 cm at any point;
    • floors of cages must be constructed so as to support the claws of each foot. If the floor is on a slope, this must not exceed 14 % or 8 % except where the floor is made of a material other than wire mesh;
    • cages must be fitted with suitable claw-shortening devices.
  • As of 1 January 2003, no unenriched cages could be built or brought into service for the first time. This type of rearing system has been prohibited since 1 January 2012.

Rearing in enriched cages

Since 1 January 2002, all enriched cages have had to comply at least with the following requirements:

  • each laying hen must have:
    • at least 750 cm2 of cage,
    • a nest,
    • litter such that pecking and scratching are possible,
    • appropriate perches of at least 15 cm;
  • a feed trough that may be used without restriction must be provided. Its length must be at least 12 cm multiplied by the number of hens in the cage;
  • each cage must have an appropriate drinking system;
  • there must be a minimum aisle width of 90 cm between tiers of cages and a space of at least 35 cm must be allowed between the floor of the building and the bottom tier of cages;
  • cages must be fitted with suitable claw-shortening devices.

Final rules

  • EU countries’ competent authorities must register the establishments covered by the directive and give them a distinguishing number that ensures the traceability of eggs placed on the market for human consumption.
  • EU countries must ensure that inspections are carried out under the responsibility of the competent authority to check that the rules of the Directive are complied with. They must submit a report on the inspections to the European Commission, which must then inform the Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed (PAFF).
  • Veterinary experts from the Commission may carry out on-the-spot checks in cooperation with the competent authorities. The findings of those checks are discussed with the competent authorities, which then take any measures revealed to be necessary by the checks.
  • EU countries may maintain or apply within their territories more stringent rules than those envisaged by this directive.

Official Controls Regulation

Regulation (EU) 2017/625, the EU’s new legislation on the official controls of human food and animal feed, amends certain minor technical details of the directive. These changes will apply from 14 December 2019.


It has applied since 3 August 1999. EU countries had to incorporate it into national law by 1 January 2002.


For more information, see:


Council Directive 1999/74/EC of 19 July 1999 laying down minimum standards for the protection of laying hens (OJ L 203, 3.8.1999, pp. 53–57)

Successive amendments to Directive 1999/74/EC have been incorporated into the original document. This consolidated version is of documentary value only.


Regulation (EU) 2017/625 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 15 March 2017 on official controls and other official activities performed to ensure the application of food and feed law, rules on animal health and welfare, plant health and plant protection products, amending Regulations (EC) No 999/2001, (EC) No 396/2005, (EC) No 1069/2009, (EC) No 1107/2009, (EU) No 1151/2012, (EU) No 652/2014, (EU) 2016/429 and (EU) 2016/2031 of the European Parliament and of the Council, Council Regulations (EC) No 1/2005 and (EC) No 1099/2009 and Council Directives 98/58/EC, 1999/74/EC, 2007/43/EC, 2008/119/EC and 2008/120/EC, and repealing Regulations (EC) No 854/2004 and (EC) No 882/2004 of the European Parliament and of the Council, Council Directives 89/608/EEC, 89/662/EEC, 90/425/EEC, 91/496/EEC, 96/23/EC, 96/93/EC and 97/78/EC and Council Decision 92/438/EEC (Official Controls Regulation) (OJ L 95, 7.4.2017, pp. 1–142)

See consolidated version.

Commission Directive 2002/4/EC of 30 January 2002 on the registration of establishments keeping laying hens, covered by Council Directive 1999/74/EC (OJ L 30, 31.1.2002, pp. 44–46)

See consolidated version.

last update 05.09.2017