Ducks are very curious and inquisitive animals that often waddle about and peck as they investigate their surroundings. They are extremely alert and highly communicative, with a tendency to make loud quacking or honking noises when their territories have been entered. In a natural environment, they enjoy bathing, preening their feathers, and foraging. Under normal circumstances, they are expected to live for up to 12 years. Ducks farmed for their flesh, however, are slaughtered at only 6 to 7 weeks old.
The term ‘like a duck out of water’ is commonly used to refer to a person who is out of their natural and normal element. The use and popularity of this analogy indicates that humans are aware of their need for water. So, if we take it that ducks are meant to live in, on, and around water - why then are up to 8 million ducks farmed in Australia, under conditions of near total water deprivation?
Australian duck farms deny these inherently aquatic birds instinctive desire to swim and live around water. Aside from nipple drinkers provided for ducks to drink from, these ducks will never see nor feel water as nature had intended them to. There is no legal requirement in Australia for commercial duck farms to have water available for ducks to swim, bath, or even dip their heads.
Duck farms deny ducks access to open water, meaning they are unable to keep their eyes, nostrils and feathers clean. As a result of this deprivation, they may develop eye diseases and ultimately blindness. As naturally aquatic animals, ducks have developed weak leg and thigh joints. Normally a duck would spend the majority of their time floating on water, rather than needing to hold their body weight for extended periods of time. The practice of intensive duck farming fails to meet this most basic need, by denying them water. This leaves ducks holding their entire body weight on their legs for up to 7 weeks, often causing lameness, severe ongoing pain, and even death.
Selective breeding further exasperates these underlying issues. As ducks grow at a faster rate than they would naturally, their juvenile skeletal system has insufficient bone formation to hold their overweight bodies, adding extra pressure on the already weak leg and thigh joints. Additionally, litter floors are not changed during the ducks 42-49 days of life. Wet litter can also cause footpad lesions, whilst injured ducks, or ducks without the strength to stand, may suffer from painful breast blisters caused by the ammonia from the ongoing build-up of waste matter. Research shows that access to open water reduces the incidence of these problems.
Duck farms are similar to broiler chicken farms. Ducks are provided with only a square meter of floor space for up to 5 fully grown birds or 50 ducklings, and share the same living shed with thousands of other ducks. Sheds with wire or mesh floors often result in abrasions, bruises, and tears to their feet. Ducks may starve to death if their wings become painfully caught in the grating.
One research paper on duck welfare concluded that “ducks are unsuccessful in coping with intensive housing conditions and that suffering, pain and damage are resulting from this.” Even though ducks cannot cope in these conditions, the industry maintains that providing additional space and water facilities will become too costly and labour intensive.