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Farmed duck welfare needs our attention

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  • RSPCA Australia
  • Monday, 25 March 2024

Ducks are remarkable birds, curious and highly communicative; for many people it’s a delight to watch groups of them waddle about and explore their surroundings in local parks and waterways. In a natural environment they enjoy bathing, foraging, and preening their feathers, and of course being waterfowl, they enjoy spending a great deal of time in and near water.  

But for the 8 million domestic ducks farmed in Australia each year for meat and eggs, life is very different. The vast majority of ducks in Australia are farmed in intensive indoor housing with no access to open water sources, so they are unable to perform any of those natural water-related behaviours.   

Ensuring good duck welfare requires a holistic approach to both their physical and mental needs. Here we delve into what ducks need for optimum wellbeing, and the key welfare issues in how domestic ducks are farmed today.  

Like a duck to water

Being in and near water is crucial to a duck’s wellbeing. Access to an open water source not only provides enrichment and an opportunity to socialise, but also encourages activity and helps ducks to keep their nostrils, eyes, and feathers clean, which is important for preventing eye infections and parasites. 

And yet, most farmed ducks have very limited access to water sources beyond drinking water, meaning there is nowhere for them to properly submerge their heads and bodies for preening, bathing, and other natural water-related behaviours. Ducks are highly motivated to perform these behaviours, and being unable to do so can leave them frustrated and develop health issues. Ducks experiencing psychological frustration are at risk of developing abnormal behaviours as coping mechanisms such as head shaking, repetitive feather preening, and even self-mutilation by feather pecking. 

The Model Code of Practice for Domestic Poultry does not require ducks to be provided access to water for preening and bathing. However, the recent development of the Standards and Guidelines for Poultry (2022), which will replace the Model Code, includes breeding ducks to have access to an immersive water source and all ducks to have access to shower water source. These new requirements, while not yet implemented, are a positive first step towards ensuring all farmed ducks have access to open water sources for their health and for behaviour expression.   

Ducks need more than a slatted floor

Farmed ducks are generally housed indoors in large sheds where the floor is covered in litter. They are kept in these sheds for their entire lifetime before they are slaughtered at 6-7 weeks. By comparison a duck in the wild can live up to twelve years. Providing ducks with appropriate litter is important for several reasons, it provides a soft place to rest, and provides enrichment so that ducks can engage in exploring and foraging behaviours.   

In addition to quality litter, ducks need adequate space to move, flap their wings and socialise. Natural light can also be beneficial, ducks housed with natural light have been shown to display less fear responses and lower levels of stress, as well as increasing activity levels which helps to keep them happy and healthy.  

Ducks deserve more

The RSPCA believes that all farmed ducks should be provided with freedom of movement, the ability to express natural behaviours and the ability to satisfy their social and physiological preferences and needs.  This means that all duck farming systems should provide ducks with sufficient space, clean and dry litter materials for comfort and foraging, good lighting and ventilation and a separate water source to perform all water-related behaviours such as preening, bathing, and swimming. 

Concerned consumers that may choose to buy duck meat, eggs, or down products are encouraged to ask the brand for more information on how their ducks are farmed and check that information against this blog and the RSPCA Responsible Sourcing Guides.   



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