Practical Issues > Factory Farm - Index > Chickens

Ducks Out of Water

Viva! has launched a major investigation into duck farming. We have visited almost all the major duck producers in Britain. Recently in one unit, we saw thousands of adorable, yellow fluffy ducklings - but without their mothers to protect them, to teach them how to swim, what to eat, how to preen. In these places no one cares. These birds are to be killed for the growing market in duck meat and, like every other 'new meat', it is hailed as the healthy choice. But is it?

Viva! has launched a national campaign to expose - for the first time - how ducks are reared for meat. And we need your support. Almost all duck meat comes from factory farmed birds. Our footage shows they are crammed into huge sheds on concrete or wire floors and given dry pelleted food. These are largely aquatic animals - they are meant to eat, swim, dive, clean and play in water - and yet they never see it, except in their drinkers. One of the main breeders of ducks in Britain has even added an enzyme to the feed of the ducks to reduce the amount of water they drink! Why? Because ducks like to splash the water around and over their bodies but this causes ammonia to build up in factory farm sheds.

No doubt like me, you've spent many happy days watching ducks on your local river or pond. You'll have seen that these inquisitive animals spend lots of time preening. It is vital to ducks' health that they can immerse themselves in water. At the very least, ducks should be able to dip their heads under. But in intensive farms, limited water supply makes this impossible, leading to poor feathers, difficulty in keeping warm, eye problems and even blindness.

As part of our investigation, we went back to the duck farms five weeks later. The ducklings were already fully grown, white feathered, beautiful but dejected birds. The sight of thousands of ducks waddling through excreta around a dark shed, with no way to escape and nothing to do was dreadful. Some could barely walk, others had fallen on their backs and hadn't been able to turn back over - they died a horrible, stressful death.

These poor birds have been bred from the wild mallard. The Council of Europe has ruled that farmed birds are essentially wild, and despite what factory farmers claim, they 'retain many biological characteristics of their wild ancestors'. In the wild, mallards are mainly aquatic and social, living in large flocks in autumn and winter but in pairs in spring and summer. The female lays about eight eggs, two to three times a year. The ducklings learn from their mother - even their downy feathers are oiled by her. She teaches them what to eat - seeds, plants, insects and worms. They forage on land but eat mainly in water by dabbling their beak along the surface straining out plankton.

Viva! Victory
Their beak has a rich supply of nerves and is very sensitive. And yet in factory farms - to stop birds pulling at each other's feathers, the end of their beak was cut off with a hot blade. This process causes extreme pain.
    Throughout 2000, Viva! vigorously campaigned to end debeaking - and won! We focused our campaign on the six supermarket chains that sold meat from debeaked birds - and one by one they agreed to stop debeaking ducks. Harrods withdrew all its factory farmed duck meat due to 'Viva!'s well researched campaign.'

The campaign today
Two of the largest producers of duck meat in the UK are Cherry Valley in North Lincs and Green Label in Suffolk. Cherry Valley boasts it is the 'world producer of ducks' as it rears 13 million table ducks each year. It states that 'only one person. looks after as many as 85,000 birds' - genetically altered to produce more meat and eggs.

Mother ducks have been bred to produce 100 per cent more ducklings than five years ago. Cherry Valley say that they have produced a 'superduck' which lays up to 275 eggs a year - ten times what she has evolved to lay. This unnaturally high output of eggs causes a disease - egg peritonitis - that is the main cause of death in laying ducks. The duck's ovaries become inflamed and the reproductive tracts rupture causing agony.

Wild birds fly, swim, dive and walk - however, the farmed birds are bred to be heavy. They may be unable to fly, have difficulty in walking and are prone to leg disorders. All this in a seven week life. The natural life-span of a duck is 15 years. And what of their death? They are usually hung upside down on a conveyor system, causing great pain to birds which may already have broken legs or injuries. Their heads are then supposed to be dipped into an electrical waterbath. However, both the Council of Europe and Bristol University have shown that the majority of ducks are not stunned properly - and are knifed fully conscious.

Duck farming must be stopped. You can help. No one has exposed the horrors of duck farming or slaughter before Viva!'s campaign - please enable us to continue to do just that. We believe we have the British public on our side, we just need the means to reach them.

Ducks Out of Water

Send this sample letter to the government to help Viva!'s campaign to end the factory farming of ducks

Viva! believes that the factory farming of ducks is morally reprehensible and illegal. Please send this letter (or compose your own) to:

Elliot Morley, Minister for Farm Animal Welfare, MAFF, Nobel House, 17 Smith
Square, London SW1P 3JR



Elliot Morley
Minister for Farm Animal Welfare
Nobel House
17 Smith Square

Dear Mr Morley

I'm appalled to discover that ducks are factory farmed for meat in Britain.

Farmed ducks retain many of the biological characteristics of their wild ancestors and yet they are kept in their thousands in sheds.

According to the Council of Europe legislation (European Convention for the Protection of Animals Kept for Farming Purposes), ratified by the UK government in June 1999, selective breeding for meat production has meant that ducks 'may be unable to fly, have difficulty in walking and are subject to leg disorders'. In crowded farm conditions, some birds are knocked over onto their backs and are unable to right themselves. One major producer, Cherry Valley, boast that on their farms, only one person will look after as many as 85,000 ducks - an impossible task. Sick or injured birds may be left to die - as witnessed by Viva! on a visit to a Green Label duck unit.

The Convention states that ducks are "largely aquatic" and that "all breeds retain many biological characteristics of their wild ancestors" - and that farmed ducks should be "allowed the fulfillment of essential biological requirements, in particular in respect of water..." Clearly, UK duck farms are breaking the law. For example, these aquatic birds will never have the opportunity to swim in water. This deprivation is morally reprehensible and I'm disgusted it is allowed.

At slaughter, ducks are hung upside down on a conveyor belt before having their heads dipped in an electrical waterbath. The Scientific Veterinary Committee of the EU are concerned that many ducks are not properly stunned and may therefore be knifed whilst fully conscious.

I would hope that the Labour government are against this cruelty and urge you to ensure that it ends. I look forward to your response.

Yours sincerely