Vegetarians International Voice for Animals

Ducks Out of Water: Introduction

Through undercover filming and careful research Viva! has exposed what the producers and the retailers don’t want you to know – what really goes on down on the factory farm.  Viva! has filmed squalid conditions, diseased and injured ducks.  We have exposed how these aquatic, wild birds are denied access to water for swimming or preening. How they are killed at just seven weeks old and how they never even see their mothers.  Many people still don’t know that ducks are even factory farmed – let alone the fact that around 15 million are slaughtered in the UK each year.

A typical British duck factory farm

During our long running campaign to highlight the suffering of factory farmed ducks Viva! investigators have visited almost all the major producers in Britain (which supply British supermarkets). In one unit, where we filmed this year, 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?

Water is life for ducks – but not on today’s factory farms

Viva! leads the national campaign to expose 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 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 us, 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.

Water is so restricted, many ducks develop dirt encrusted eyes – some even go blind

As part of our investigations, 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.

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.

At just seven weeks old, 15 million ducks are slaughtered in the UK for the supermarket and restaurant trade. Pictured is Viva! undercover footage at a major UK duck slaughterhouse

Sales of duck are not just confined to the supermarkets. Sadly, the most popular dish in British Chinese restaurants is ‘Crispy Duck’. Whilst some duck for the restaurant trade is imported from abroad, most of it comes from the same factory farms that supply the main supermarkets in the UK.  

Viva!’s Ducks Out of Water campaign has already had outstanding success – a few years ago, we shamed every supermarket chain in the UK into ceasing the sale of ducks that were maimed by the cruel practice of debeaking. 

Please support our work and find out how you can help us get Britain's favourite bird out of the factory farm and back on the pond!

For more information on the factory farming of ducks in the UK, read Viva!’s in-depth on-line report Ducks Out of Water.