Raised for their meat, feathers and down (the softer and fluffier feathers usually from the bird’s chest), ducks are subjected to many of the same cruel practices as other poultry on commercial farms.
They are raised in unnatural conditions, selectively bred, and undergo traumatic mutilations and treatment, including the horrific practice of force-feeding to produce foie gras (the enlarged and diseased liver of specially fattened geese or ducks).
The reality for ducks
Raised for their meat, feathers and down (soft, fluffy feathers, usually from the bird’s chest), ducks are subjected to many of the same cruel practices as other poultry on commercial farms. They are raised in unnatural conditions and selectively bred, and they undergo traumatic mutilations and treatment, including the horrific practice of force-feeding to produce foie gras. Foie gras is the diseased and swollen liver of ducks and geese, and it is ten times the size of a normal, healthy liver.
|Animal||Natural lifespan (on average)||Age at which they are typically killed|
|Foie gras duck||10 Years||3 months|
|Broiler (meat) ducks||10 years||2-3 months|
|Female ducklings ‘by-products’ of the foie gras industry||10 years||1 -2 days old|
Feathers and down
Duck feathers and down are taken from these birds to make products with insulation and padding, such as bedding, pillows, sleeping bags and jackets. They are highly profitable by-products from the poultry meat industry and are ‘harvested’ from birds in different ways.
Some feathers are simply collected during the slaughter process. After stunning, the ducks’ feathers are loosened in the scalding tank before the flight feathers are removed by hand and body feathers and down are detached either by hand or machine.
50 to 80% of the world’s down, however, comes from birds who are “live-plucked”. [i] Typically, live geese and ducks are lifted by their necks, their legs are tied, and their feathers are pulled out in large chunks in a process that the industry refers to as “ripping”. [ii] The birds struggle and panic, sometimes even breaking limbs in an attempt to escape. A 2009 Swedish television program, Kalla Fakta, produced a two part documentary on the topic of live-plucking in Hungary which revealed:
…birds on their backs screaming and struggling to free themselves…as their down is ripped from their bodies at rapid speed. Afterwards, several birds are left paralyzed on the ground with large flesh wounds. The birds with big gaping wounds are then sewn back together with needle and thread on site by the workers themselves and without any anesthetic. [iii]
Upon viewing the footage, Swedish vet Dr. Johan Beck Friis described the live-plucking process as “nothing less than qualified torture”. [iv] The birds are live-plucked for the first time at about ten weeks old, and are plucked again four to six times a year until they are sent to slaughter at about four years old. (Ducks and geese can live about 12 to 15 years.) [v], [vi] Other birds are part of the food industry: white geese, bred for their meat, are plucked up to three times before being slaughtered at about 26 weeks of age, and grey geese, raised for foie gras, are plucked one or twice before being slaughtered at 12 weeks. [vii]
The largest down-producing countries are Hungary, China, and Poland, and all three harvest feathers via live-plucking. [viii] 80% of the world’s down and feathers come from China. [ix]
Watch this CBS report on live-plucking:
Foie gras (French for ’fatty liver’), is produced by force feeding the birds. Up to three times a day, a tube is pushed down their throats and food is forced into their stomachs. This causes their livers to swell up to ten times their natural size. [x]
On the right, a normal duck liver; on the left, one used for foie gras.
All are male; the female ducks are discarded after hatching as they do not grow quickly enough. Like male calves born to the dairy industry and male chicks born to the egg industry, they are considered a by-product. These female ducklings are generally thrown away live. Workers have been documented as they dropped a cloth bag full of live baby ducks into a garbage can filled with scalding hot water. Any survivors had their heads smashed against the can. [xi]
In some farms, birds are kept in dirty, crowded community pens. At three months of age, these birds are taken from their community pens and forced into individual wire mesh cages barely larger than their bodies. Thus restrained, the birds are unable to escape the farm workers and mechanized feeding system.
One by one, the farm worker grabs each immobilized bird and forces a metal pipe down their throats. An enormous amount of a corn-and-oil mixture is pumped by a machine directly into their gullets in just a few seconds – up to one-third of the birds’ own body weight each day. They are fed in this way for 2 to 4 weeks before being slaughtered.
97% of foie gras is from ducks, with the remaining 3% taken from geese. Estimated figures suggest that this equates to 37 million ducks and 700,000 geese. [xii]
Its production is not legal here in Australia (nor in many other countries), but the sale of imported foie gras is still permitted. The RSPCA has been fighting the sale of foie gras in Australia for years, however. [xiii]
Sounds too terrible to be true? See for yourself in this undercover video produced by Animal Equality:
Necropsies performed on foie gras birds have shown them to suffer from grossly enlarged livers, lacerated tracheae and esophagi, pneumonia, throats and gullets severely impacted with undigested corn, massive internal bacterial and fungal growth—all consequences of the production method for which veterinary care is not profitable. [xiv] They sometimes die when the metal feeding tubes puncture their necks, when their stomachs literally burst from the enormous volume of food they are forced to ingest, or when force-feeding overfills them to the point of suffocation. [xv]
As a result, the mortality rate on foie gras farms is up to 10 to 25 times higher than that of conventional duck farms. [xvi]
Although geese are not caged in foie-gras production, the vast majority of ducks are confined in small wire cages. More than 85% of ducks in France are still caged at this time and a ban on this is not likely until 2015.
Like all farmed animals, the unnatural settings in which these ducks are reared lead to increased levels of stress. Ducks raised for meat are not caged but they have very little space: just one square metre per five birds. [xvii] The average duck farm in Australia has between 10,000 and 50,000 birds in one shed, though some have as many as 100,000. [xviii]
Disease and ailments
Duck suffering from eye infection:
Although welfare guidance requires ducks to have access to drinking water, there is no legal requirement stating they should have access to an open water source. As mostly aquatic birds, open water is an absolute necessity not only when it comes to expressing natural behaviours but to the very basics of their health. Ducks without access to water are completely unable to clean themselves properly; their nostrils and eyes become filthy and dirt-encrusted. They can even go blind. [xix], [xx]
Duckling with ‘splay leg’:
Leg disorders and lameness are another major issue. [xxi] As water birds, ducks naturally have weaker legs than birds who spend most of their time on land. [xxii] This, coupled with their rapid growth and weight gain, means that some farmed ducks end up unable to walk—or even stand. Researchers have reported high incidences of ‘splay leg’ or ‘spaddle leg’ in farmed ducks: a condition where the ducks’ legs splay outwards and leave the birds unable to stand. They frequently also become caught in the grates on which they live; others get trapped beneath them.
In 2012, ABC reported on Pepe’s Ducks, the country’s largest duck farm, in Sydney. Pepe’s markets its ducks as “grown nature’s way”, but investigations showed something entirely different: the birds were packed 6,000 at a time into crowded sheds; their only water in the form of nipple feeders. Many were filthy, others were unable to walk or even stand. See the report here.
Due to their stressful, unnatural living conditions, the ducks sometimes behave aggressively towards one another by pecking and pulling out each other’s feathers. Debeaking (recently renamed to the euphemistic “bill trimming”) is legal. [xxiii] This stressful procedure, which entails trimming off the end of the top part of the bill and can cause acute and chronic pain, as a duck’s bill is a sensitive area full of sensory receptors.
Video from Animal Liberation NSW: Duck out of Water
Unlike chicken and turkeys, who are gathered by their legs, ducks are caught by their necks or their wings to be loaded into crates for transportation. During this process, many birds are bruised and suffer from injured heads and wings. They are transported in open-air crates, resulting in high mortality as the birds are exposed to all sorts of weather. However, each bird is worth so little that it is cheaper overall for the industry to use open-air crates. Some die from heat stress or are crushed during transport.
The allowable transport time without food and water is 24 hours, and the industry does not recommend rest stops.
Once the ducks arrive at the slaughterhouse they are…
…hung upside down by their legs on metal shackles along a moving conveyor belt.
…they move along the production line to a stunning tank, an electrified water bath meant to stun and immobilize them. These are sometimes set lower than is necessary to truly render the birds unconscious out of concerns that high voltage might damage the carcass and therefore diminish its value.
…the conveyor belt then moves the birds to a mechanical neck cutter that cuts the major blood vessels in the neck. [xxiv]
…they are then carried to the scalding tank, which is meant to remove their feathers. At this point, they are supposed to be dead. However, struggling birds are often sometimes cut improperly. As a result they are moved, fully conscious, to the scalding tank, where they are boiled alive.
Number consumed in Australia
Approximately 8 million ducks are slaughtered in Australia every year. [xxv]
Intelligence and character
Ducks are aquatic animals adapted to water environments: they have webbed feet, flattened bills and waterproofed feathers. Ducks have an instinctive desire to swim and bathe and this is very important to their wellbeing, both mentally and physically.
If they feel threatened in any way a duck will make a ‘honking’ noise. These birds are outgoing and sociable animals, living in large flocks and migrating in family groups. They have fascinating annual cycles of migration that vary among species. Some species migrate between summer and winter habitats, preparing themselves for their long flights by building up their flight muscles and storing fat reserves.
In their natural environment they are active and inquisitive animals. They spend the majority of their days searching for food and they sleep within family groups at night. They are very clean creatures, keeping themselves and their nests in pristine condition.
According to UK scientists, ducks also have regional accents! City ducks have a ‘shouting’ quack to compensate for living in a noisy environment, whereas country ducks have a much subtler toned ‘quack’. [xxvi]
[i] Villalobos, Alice, DVM, 4 April 2010. Down with Live Plucked Down, Veterinary Practice News. Available at: http://www.veterinarypracticenews.com/January-2010/Down-With-Live-Plucked-Down/ [Accessed 13 November 2014]
[ii] Solomon, Ari, 25 May 2011. Down with the Truth. Huffington Post. Available at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ari-solomon/down-with-the-truth_b_294833.html [Accessed 12 November 2014]
[iv] Down on the Goose and Duck Farm, Animal Welfare Institute, 2014. Available at: https://awionline.org/awi-quarterly/2009-fall/down-goose-and-duck-farm [Accessed 11 November 2014]
[vii] Boggan, Steve, 28 November 2012. Feathers ripped from birds’ backs and gaping wounds sewn up with no pain relief: The barbaric cost of your winter coat. Daily Mail. Available at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2240096/Feathers-ripped-birds-backs-gaping-wounds-sewn-pain-relief-The-barbaric-cost-winter-coat.html [Accessed 12 November 2014]
[viii] Animal Welfare Institute.
[ix] Stuijt, Adriana, 17 February 2009. Ikea drops live-plucked Chinese down bedding from shops. Digital Journal. Available at: http://www.digitaljournal.com/article/267439#ixzz1DmbAgqWO [Accessed 11 November 2014]
[x] McKenna, C., 2000. Forced feeding: An inquiry into the welfare of ducks and geese kept for the production of foie gras. Produced by WSPA and Advocates for Animals.
[xi] PETA investigation at Commonwealth Enterprises (now Hudson Valley Foie Gras), 1991
[xii] Willsher, K., 2011. ‘French outrage as German food fair bans foie gras’. The Guardian, 19 July. [Online]. Available from: www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/jul/19/france-outrage-germany-foie-gras-ban
[xiii] RSPCA, Why is eating foie gras an animal welfare issue? Available at: http://kb.rspca.org.au/Why-is-eating-foie-gras-an-animal-welfare-issue_383.html [Accessed 12 November 2014]
[xiv] Farm Sanctuary, 2009. What the Experts Say. Available at: http://www.nofoiegras.farmsanctuary.org/science.html [Accessed 13 November 2014]
[xv] Humane Society International, 2014. Foie Gras in Canada. Available at: http://www.hsi.org/world/canada/work/force_fed_animals/facts/foie_gras.html [Accessed 14 November 2014]
[xvi] Scientific Community on Animal Health and Animal Welfare (European Union), 16 December 2009. Welfare Aspects of the Production of Foie Gras in Ducks and Geese. Available at: http://ec.europa.eu/food/fs/sc/scah/out17_en.pdf [Accessed 13 November 2014]
[xvii] Campbell, Dana, 22 June 2012. Code of conduct ducks protection for farmed birds. The Age. Available at: http://www.theage.com.au/environment/animals/code-of-conduct-ducks-protections-for-farmed-birds-20120622-20sh6.html [Accessed 14 November 2014]
[xviii] NSW Government, Department of Primary Industries. Introduction to commercial duck farming. Available at: http://www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0009/442854/introduction-to-commercial-duck-farming.pdf [Accessed 14 November 2014]
[xix] RSPCA. What are the animal welfare issues with duck farming in Australia? Available at: http://kb.rspca.org.au/What-are-the-animal-welfare-issues-with-duck-farming-in-Australia_510.html [Accessed 13 November 2014]
[xx] Food Empowerment Project, 2014. Ducks. Available at: http://www.foodispower.org/ducks/ [Accessed 14 November 2014]
[xxi] Poultry Hub, 2014. Duck. Available at: http://www.poultryhub.org/species/commercial-poultry/duck/ [Accessed 12 November 2014]
[xxiii] Primary Industries Standing Committee, 2002. Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals, Domestic Poultry 4th Edition. Available at: http://www.publish.csiro.au/Books/download.cfm?ID=3451 [Accessed 10 November 2014]
[xxv] NSW Government, Department of Primary Industries.
[xxvi] BBC, 2004. ‘Ducks quack in regional accents’. BBC News Online, 4 June. [Online]. Available from: http://news.bbc.co.uk/cbbcnews/hi/animal/newsid_37760000/3776023.stm.