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Breeding ducks

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.

Sexual patterns

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.

Forced molting

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 birds (6)."

Some duck farmers also remove water for 24-hour periods (7).

Duck eggs

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 (8).


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 organs.

Parent stock

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
5. Ibid
6. Ibid
7. Scott and Dean, Nutrition and Management of Ducks, 27, 29.
8. Metzer Farms, Duck and Goose Hatchery. www.metzerfarms.com/egg_prod.htm.
9. Information supplied by Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust, letter dated 3 November 1999.
10. Metzer Farms, Duck and Goose Hatchery. www.metzerfarms.com/egg_prod.htm
11. Grimaud Farms of California, Company History. www.grimaud.com
12. Optimization of Duck Management, North Carolina State University, PROJ NO: NC06155, http://cristel.nal.usda.gov:8080/cgi-bin/starfinder/12421/cris.txt


Report Contents

Part One

Size of the U.S. industry
Types of ducks
Intensive confinement
Bill trimming (debeaking)
Viva! ends duck debeaking in Britain
Wire flooring
Slatted floors
Food and drink
Water denied
Behavioral patterns
References (part one)


Breeding ducks

Amount of living space
Sexual patterns
Forced molting
Duck eggs
Parent stock
References (part two)


The Government and ducks

The legal position
References (part three)



Electrical stunning
Stunner failings
Boiled alive
References (part four)


Disease patterns

Medicated feeds
Global diseases
Diseases of intensification
References (part five)


Duck suppliers

Maple Leaf Farms
Grimaud Farms
Metzer Farms
Culver Duck
Some of the Major supermarkets stocking duck meat
References (part six)


Global resources

References (part seven)