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
|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.
The common process for taking their feathers is during the slaughter process. After stunning, the ducks’ feathers are loosened in the scalding tank before the flight feathers are removed by hand and then their body feathers and down are detached either by hand or machine.
Feathers may also be taken during the birds’ natural molting cycle, which is around every six to seven weeks. This is known as ‘live feather harvesting’ and these feathers may be either gathered or plucked from birds during this time. In order to collect feathers from live birds, they must be caught and restrained. Incorrect handling often leads to neck, leg and wing injuries.
Watch here as Alicia Silverstone explains what happens:
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. [i]
The California foie gras law came into effect during 2012 and prohibits the “force feeding of a bird for the purpose of enlarging the bird’s liver beyond normal size” as well as the sale of products that are a result of this process. Other cities like Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco have also passed resolutions condemning foie gras. Retailers such as Safeway, Costco, Target and Whole Foods Market refuse to sell it. [ii]
97 percent of foie gras is from ducks, with the remaining 3 percent taken from geese. Only the males are used for its production as they gain weight more quickly than the females. The females are a considered a ‘by-product’ by this industry, just like male chicks in the egg industry and male calves in dairy production. Female ducklings are usually killed within one or two days of their lives.
Sounds too terrible to be true? See for yourself in this undercover video produced by Mercy for Animals at New York’s Hudson Valley Foie Gras farm:
It’s a violent and traumatic experience for these birds and often causing injury or death. A scientific study, adopted in 1998 by the European commission, found that death rates among force-fed birds was up to 20 times higher than those reared normally.
Although geese are not caged in foie gras production, the vast majority of ducks are confined in small wire cages. More than 85 percent of ducks in France are still caged at this time and a ban on this is being regularly delayed.
Like all farmed animals, the unnatural settings in which these ducks are reared lead to increased levels of stress. Living conditions vary slightly depending on whether ducks are being raised for meat or foie gras, but in general these birds are raised in overcrowded sheds.
Although welfare guidance requires ducks to have access to water, there is no legal requirement stating they should have access to an open water source. As such, many ducks are unable to clean probably and express their natural bathing behavior.
Ducks also use water to control their body temperature and can suffer from heat stroke in crowded conditions. Lack of access to water can cause anxiety and stress-related behaviours such as head shaking and obsessive feather preening.
Disease and ailments
A common infection among ducks, as well as other poultry, is ‘apergillosis’. This is a fatal infection caused by fungus from stressful and unhygienic living conditions. These birds are also prone to eye and nose problems caused by a lack of water and poor ventilation in living environments.
Lameness also affects ducks. This problem is associated with their rapid growth and weight gain. 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.
Manipulations and mutilations
Due to stressful, unnatural living conditions, ducks, who are normally very social, can behave aggressively towards one another by pecking and pulling out each other’s feathers. Often in U.S. duck production facilities they will ‘trim’ the upper bills of ducks. This stressful procedure can cause acute pain as a duck’s bill is a sensitive area full of sensory receptors.
Unlike chickens and turkeys, ducks are typically caught by their necks when loaded into transporter lorries. During this process many birds are bruised and suffer from injured heads and wings, with reports of dislocated hips and hemorrhages.
Like chickens and turkeys, there is no specific maximum journey time for transporting ducks.
Ducks are usually killed using a neck cutter.
- The ducks are hung upside down by their legs on metal shackles along a moving conveyor belt.
This can cause more stress and injury to the birds as they are often left hanging like this for several minutes.
- They move along the production line to a stunning water bath. When the bird’s head makes contact with the water, an electrical circuit between the water bath and the shackle is completed, which stuns the bird.
This process is not always effective and in some instances, when the bath water is too low or insufficient voltage has been used, the ducks will not be paralyzed when their necks are cut.
- The conveyor belt then moves the birds to a mechanical neck cutter that cuts the major blood vessels in the neck.
This automatic cutter may only administer a single cut that will leave the duck to bleed out for several minutes before dying.
Number consumed in U.S.
An estimate of over 30 million ducks are raised for food in the U.S. annually (for their meat and foie gras production). [iii]
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’. [iv]
[i] 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.
[ii] Humane Society of the United States, 2012. ‘Judge Rules to Keep California Ban on Force Feeding Ducks in Effect’. [online] Available at: http://www.humanesociety.org/news/press_releases/2012/09/foie_gras_ban_upheld_091912.html?credit=web_id85539080 [Accessed 1 November 2014].
[iii] AGMRC (2013) Ducks and Geese. [Online] Accessed on 18th November 2016. Available from: http://www.agmrc.org/commodities-products/livestock/poultry/ducks-and-geese/
[iv] 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.