Increasing evidence is emerging that birds are intelligent, complex creatures, and ducks are certainly no exception to this. Research has shown that ducklings possess the ability to grasp the concept of ‘same’ and ‘different’, as well as being capable of abstract thinking. These abilities have been attributed to many highly intelligent animals, including parrots, crows, humans and apes.

Ducks are sensitive and shy individuals, just as capable of experiencing pain, fear and suffering as the animals we share our homes with.

Breeding

Breeder flocks are cramped in barren sheds for their entire lives, exposed to artificial lighting and forced to breed almost all year long. Ducks reach sexual maturity at approximately 6 months of age, and are kept to lay for approximately 40 weeks of production. After this point their production slows and they are no longer considered ‘economically viable’, at which stage they are killed and replaced by a new flock.

Once females lay their eggs, their eggs are taken to a hatchery to be incubated until they hatch.

Duck on breeder farm in Australia.

Hatchery

Ducks inside an Australian factory farm

Once ducklings are hatched, they are sorted to remove any sick, deformed or ‘abnormal’ ducklings, who are killed on-site at the hatchery. It is standard industry practice for these ducklings to be suffocated with CO2 gas or macerated. A macerator is a large industrial machine that grinds ducklings up alive.

A macerator – an industrial machine used to grind ducklings up alive.

Housing

Intensively farmed ducks are kept in large, barren sheds with no stimulation, farmed in a very similar way to broiler chickens. It is normal for each shed to have 12,000-15,000 ducks crammed inside. 

Ducks in an Australian factory farm. Image: Stefano Belacchi

Ducks are aquatic birds; their bodies are designed to spend a significant amount of time floating on water. Tragically, on intensive farms there is no legal requirement to give ducks access to surface water, which causes many debilitating health complications. Further, without the ability to access surface water, ducks are denied the opportunity to express most of their natural behaviours, including swimming, bathing or dipping their heads.

Toxic environment

The sheds ducks are housed in are generally not cleaned during the time they are housed there. Without access to surface water they are unable to adequately exercise or clean themselves, often leading to cripping health conditions. Lacking the ability to clean build up of excrement off themselves, ducks suffer from a number of ammonia-associated ailments including footpad lesions, respiratory infections and chemical burns.

A duck in an Australian factory farm. Image: Stefano Belacchi

Common health issues

Ducks have naturally weak leg and thigh joints; when surface water is accessible to them, ducks will float for long periods, minimising pressure on their musculoskeletal system. 

In factory farms ducks have no access to surface water, forcing them to support the weight of their bodies for the entirety of their short lives. As a result, ducks commonly suffer from lameness, dislocated joints and broken bones.


A duck floating on water in the wild.

Ducks have been genetically manipulated through years of selective breeding to grow at an accelerated rate, placing significant pressure on their juvenile skeletal systems which have inadequate bone formation to hold their obese bodies. 

Water deprivation means that ducks do not have the means to keep their eyes, nostrils and feathers clean. Consequently, it is common for ducks to experience eye infections on farms that largely go untreated.

Bill mutilation

It is legal for commercially farmed ducks to have their bills trimmed (cut off), which is the painful removal of the tip of their bill. Being farmed animals, ducks are exempt from the animal protection laws afforded to companion animals, and as a result this procedure can be performed without the use of any pain relief. 

Bill trimming is undertaken to prevent peck injuries and cannibalism among flocks – a common behaviour associated with extreme stress and close confinement. Ducks are not commonly aggressive animals and rarely fight among themselves in the wild; this behavior is purely a result of commercial farming. 

Slaughter

Once they reach 7 weeks of age ducks are removed from sheds, often roughly, and stuffed into crates to be transported to slaughter. It is not uncommon for ducks’ legs and heads to become stuck between crates and metal bars on the slaughter truck.


A duck whose head had become stuck between metal bars on a transport truck. Image: Dillon Watkin

When they arrive at the slaughterhouse, ducks are shackled upside down by their delicate feet and pulled through an electrified body of water, intended to render them unconscious before their throats are cut and they are bled out. Investigations have revealed it is common for ducks to lift their heads and miss the stun bath; consequently, their throats are cut while they are completely conscious.


The shackle line ducks are restrained in.

Other legally accepted methods of killing ducks include decapitation or transection of the spinal cord by cervical dislocation.

Environmental impacts

Deforestation

A huge amount of feed is needed in order to satisfy the needs of the poultry sector. In 2004, the poultry sector accounted for a huge 294 million tonnes of feed; this included 190 million tonnes of cereals, 103 million tonnes of soybeans and 1.6 million tonnes of fishmeal.

The global warming potential of the poultry sector is largely attributed to its feed production. This is because some of the ingredients used for poultry, particularly soy and palm oil, are grown on newly deforested land, particularly in South America and South Asia.

Trees play a vital role in capturing and storing greenhouse gas emissions, keeping them from accumulating in the atmosphere and warming the planet. When deforestation occurs, trees that are removed release the CO2 emissions that they have been storing into the atmosphere. Not only does deforestation emit huge amounts of carbon dioxide, it removes a vital resource that keeps emissions from gathering in the atmosphere.  

70-75% of worldwide soy is grown to satisfy the needs of feed production of the animal agriculture system; only a tiny 6% is turned into food humans eat directly. Poultry accounted for a massive 75% of the soy grown for animal agriculture in 2004. 

The clearing of natural vegetation in order to grow feed for livestock is devastating to native people and animals, and is responsible for huge losses in biodiversity.

Overexploitation of natural resources

Estimates suggest that up to 40% of fishmeal produced globally is fed to livestock, 13% of which is fed to animals in the poultry sector. Overfishing and the over-exploitation of the world’s fisheries poses a huge threat to oceanic biodiversity. Figures suggest that 77% of global fish stocks are either fully exploited or over-exploited, with some populations already collapsed altogether. Over-exploited in this context means populations are not replenishing at the rate they are being fished.

Overfishing not only represents a threat to the targeted species, but the wider marine ecosystem. As well as depleting food sources of other marine species, it has been estimated that as much as 40% of wild fish caught is accounted for by non-targeted species known as ‘by-catch’. Seals, sea turtles, sharks, whales and dolphins are among some of the affected species.

Further, new research has suggested that removing predators from the ocean (sharks, tuna, swordfish, marlon) can create increased production of biological carbon dioxide in the ocean.

Water pollution

Poultry production creates a considerable amount of water pollution. Up to 80% of the nitrogen consumed by poultry is excreted in their waste, and leaching and runoff of nitrogen can cause contamination in surface water, leading to eutrophication. This is when a body of water becomes over-enriched with nutrients, causing algae blooms and depletion of oxygen, killing marine life and causing areas to become uninhabitable. Eutrophication is the cause of more than 500 oceanic ‘dead-zones’ in the world’s oceans.

Human impacts

Mental and physical health of abattoir workers

Studies indicate that prolonged exposure to violence in abattoirs can leave workers vulnerable to severe psychological damage, some even developing Perpetrator-Induced Traumatic Stress, or PITS. This disorder describes the psychological impact associated with repeatedly inflicting harm, and sufferers commonly experience symptoms of dissociation, panic, paranoia and depression.

Abattoir workers have even been reported to often seek similar mental health treatment to war veterans.

In addition to abattoir workers being put at extreme psychological risk, slaughterhouses are notoriously dangerous working environments. Employees frequently suffer from work-related upper limb musculoskeletal disorders.

Further, abattoir workers are commonly immigrants and resettled refugees, who often have limited options for employment. This means large numbers of people from marginalised communities work in abattoirs where their physical and psychological health is placed at high risk.

The prevalence of factory farms and feedlots in marginalised communities

Factory farms and feedlots have an impact upon the surrounding community, with local residents often being exposed to hazardous chemicals and airborne particulate matter. Intensive farms are disproportionately placed within low-income and/or non-white communities, leaving them to face the brunt of the health implications of living in close proximity to these operations. These communities often have inequitable access to healthcare and support. Factory farms in these communities exacerbate economic and racial injustices, consequently amounting to environmental racism.

Alternatives

Plant Asia: Plant-based Roast Duck

Plant Asia’s plant-based duck is absolutely incredible. Perfect to accompany a salad, in wraps or in your favourite asian dish. Flavouring possibilities are endless – whether spicy, saucy or sweet and sour, this mock duck is sure to impress even the biggest of meat lovers.

Available at major supermarket Woolworths.

Sayur Peking Duck

Sayur peking duck is another amazing alternative to sink your teeth into. Shaped into steaks for ease of cooking and preparation, this versatile mock meat is sure to impress. It has never been easier to recreate your favourite duck recipes without harming any ducks. Woo-hoo!

Available in store and online at the Cruelty Free Shop.