All too often, parent and grandparent generations of poultry
are left out of the welfare debate. Yet it is the parent stock of
breeders and the valuable, 'elite' grandparent stock which can suffer
the greatest deprivations because their misery is more prolonged
than that of the ducklings they will never see.
Hidden away, in their hi-tech world of genetic selection for
quicker and ever more profitable growth, these birds live for at
least a year; the elite stock for longer.
Amount of living space
For breeders, one extension recommended 5 to 6 feet of floor
space per bird for small flocks (1) and another for commercial flocks
suggested 1 - ½ square feet of floor space (2). This is less
'generous' once nesting boxes, drinkers and other structures that
impinge on space are taken into account.
Under natural conditions, ducks live in large flocks for several
months of the year, forming into pairs during the breeding season.
Both sexes act out elaborate courtship behavior.
In modern farming systems (where units may contain hundreds
or even thousands of birds), the males (drakes) and females (ducks)
are kept at a ratio of approximately one male with five to six females
(3). Light patterns in breeding sheds mimic spring and summertime,
with artificial lighting for 17 hours out of 24, disrupting the
birds' natural mating patterns. This is done to stimulate and maintain
egg production and fertility in breeder flocks (4). Consequently,
mating occurs throughout the year. This unnatural reproduction rate
leads to diseases of the female reproductive organs.
In order to get birds on factory farms to go through another
egg-laying cycle, farmers sometimes use forced molting. According
to one agricultural extension, the following guidelines are to "enable
the typical breeder flock to maintain quality egg production from
one to two years (5)."
"Completely remove all feed (sweep troughs clean) from the breeder
flock, but give ducks full access to [drinking] water. The goal
is to induce a molt and reduce body weights by 30%. About 50% or
slightly more of the flock will drop most of their primary feathers...Some
mortality may occur during the recycling period due to diseased
Some duck farmers also remove water for 24-hour periods (7).
Some breeds of ducks, particularly the Khaki Campbell (originating
from the Mallard), have been bred to produce large numbers of eggs.
The Khaki Campbell's egg production is 240 in their first 52 weeks.
A duck farm in California, Metzer Farms, has 'developed' the
Golden 300 Hybrid by "crossing and utilizing the attributes of different
duck breeds." These birds produce 290 eggs by 52 weeks. According
to Metzer Farms they sell 10,000 - 20,000 edible duck eggs a week
The fulfillment of maternal instincts is denied to today's commercial
breeding ducks. Observation of mother ducks with their young suggests
a strong bond. In the wild, the female Mallard usually looks after
her ducklings for about two months (9). In commercial meat-producing
units, the ducklings are usually killed before this age.
Commercial duck producers remove eggs on a daily basis, transferring
them to incubators for hatching. The breeding female continues to
produce eggs - which are removed as fast as they are laid. Through
genetic selection, a modern, breeding female is induced to lay up
to 290 eggs in 52 weeks (10). She never hatches, or tends for, a
single duckling. A female wild Mallard lays a clutch of eight to10
eggs twice, or sometimes three times, a year. Her total egg output
is a maximum of 30 a year, all of which she will attempt to hatch
and rear. The increase in egg laying from 30 to 290 has caused serious
welfare problems, including diseases of the female reproductive
At the time of the 1994 report on Grimaud Farms, the breeding
stocks were kept individually in all-wire cages. They provided eggs
for hatching meat birds and for re-stocking the company's supply
of so-called 'elite', or grandparent stock. All were being kept
for a year or more in barren conditions that cause frustration and
physiological damage to the birds.
As mentioned above, Grimaud ships eggs from France to their
U.S. company in California (11).
North Carolina State University carried out a number of experiments
from 1990 - 1995 to "examine several general management practices"
(e.g. photoperiod, male/female ratios, density, light intensity,
temperature, nutrition) and their effects on reproductive and economic
performance of duck breeder flocks. In 1992, over a thousand ducks
died in a dietary study (12).
References (part two)
1. University of Minnesota Extension Service,
FS-1189-GO, Reviewed 1994. www.extension.umn.edu/distribution/livestocksystems/DI1189.html.
2. Geiger, Glenn and Biellier, Harold,
Department of Animal Sciences, University of Missouri-Columbia,
Brooding and Rearing of Ducklings and Goslings, 1999. http://muextension.missouri.edu/xplor/agguides/poultry/g08920.htm.
3. University of California Cooperative
Extension, Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Publication
2980, January 2000.
4. North Carolina Cooperative Extension
Service, North Carolina State University, College of Agricultural
& Life Science, Poultry Science Facts, A Management Program
for Raising Breeder Duck Flocks, 11/91; 10/2/98. www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/poulsci/techinfo/4Fact10.htm
7. Scott and Dean, Nutrition and Management
of Ducks, 27, 29.
8. Metzer Farms, Duck and Goose Hatchery.
9. Information supplied by Wildfowl &
Wetlands Trust, letter dated 3 November 1999.
10. Metzer Farms, Duck and Goose Hatchery.
11. Grimaud Farms of California, Company
12. Optimization of Duck Management,
North Carolina State University, PROJ NO: NC06155, http://cristel.nal.usda.gov:8080/cgi-bin/starfinder/12421/cris.txt