Activist Resources
Urgent Actions
News Releases
Photos and films

Join our email alert list. Click here.




Ducks out of water

A Viva! Campaign Against Duck Factory Farming

Ducks Out of Water - MEDIA BRIEFING

Viva!’s research and investigation team peered behind the ’barn’ door and put together a report exposing a quiet industry that is killing millions of gentle birds. Viva! has found that a majority of the duck meat found in grocery stores is from birds who only see water in the form of water nipples.

Today’s duck breeding and rearing methods are as cruel and oppressive as those adopted by the post-war chicken and turkey industries. Ducks have joined the ranks of the factory-farmed animal machines. The expansion of the industry is being encouraged just when the appalling welfare conditions and threats to human health caused by intensive animal rearing is provoking international concern.

Size of the U.S. industry

In the U.S., ducks represent a minor sector of the poultry industry compared to broiler chickens and turkeys. According to the latest figures, almost 24 million ducks were slaughtered in 1999 - up from almost 22 million in 1997 (compared to 8 billion chickens and about 290 million turkeys). According to the Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) almost all ducks are raised indoors. The Duckling Council reports that 95% of duck consumed is Pekin (descended from Mallards) followed by 2-3% Muscovy and 1-2% Moulard (typically used for foie gras).

Legal position

Ducks, like other animals raised for food, are excluded from the federal Animal Welfare Act. There are no standards set forth by the U.S. government in terms of how these animals are housed, fed, or treated on farms.

Most states allow what are considered to be accepted, common, customary, or normal farming practices as exemptions from state criminal anticruelty statutes. So as long as it is considered a common practice, it is legal. This includes debeaking of chickens and force-feeding of ducks (for foie gras).

It is perfectly legal to send ducklings through the U.S. postal service as is practiced by some hatcheries.


Intensive sheds house thousands of ducks where lighting may be both dim and almost constant. In crowded conditions, ducks get knocked over by other birds. Some birds cannot walk. Most floor designs in total-confinement duck housing use either wire mesh or litter and wire mesh. The wire mesh is usually placed over a concrete pit with a sloping design so that washing down or collecting manure is easier. Keeping ducks on wire results in painful abrasions, bruises and tears in the area of the hock, shank or foot pad. Staphylococcal and streptococcal joint infections are the common result.

Lack of water

Intensively reared ducks have no access to water for swimming and often they are unable to even immerse their heads. Water is limited solely to drinking points. Many ducks are forced to drink from nipple drinkers - literally a pipe with holes that dribble water out. Ducks are aquatic birds - naturally spending 80 percent of their time on water. Denied this fundamental requirement, they can’t preen properly and they find it difficult to keep warm. Without water they often develop eye problems that can result in blindness.

Ducks naturally keep themselves spotlessly clean. In the filthy sheds, excrement and dirt builds up on them and they have no way to remove it.

Beak mutilation

Some duck farmers shorten the upper bill of a duck by burning or cutting it - without painkillers. It is done to control feather pulling - behavior caused by the unnatural environment in which they live. This mutilation can lead to constant pain and even makes normal eating difficult.


According to the FSIS, there are 99 establishments with approved USDA Grant of Inspection for duck slaughter. In 1999, 28 of these slaughtered almost 24 million ducks. Just like other birds in food production, ducks are not required by federal law to be stunned before slaughter. However, for commercial flocks, electrical stunning is used.

Some researchers think that rather than rendering birds unconscious, electrical stunning may simply cause paralysis while inflicting severe pain. Additionally, every year about one million ducks are not stunned properly. These birds are known to be conscious when their throats are cut. USDA data shows that thousands are still alive when they are submerged in scalding water to be de-feathered.

There appears to be no way to ensure humane slaughter of birds in the superefficient, mass production poultry industry.

Duck suppliers - A majority of grocery stores sell ducks, some of which include:

A&P; Shaw’s Supermarket
AlbertsonŐs Shoprite
Cub Foods Stop & Shop
Fred Meyer SuperValu
Giant Food Store
Trader Joe’s
Wal-Mart Superstores
Pathmark Whole Foods
Publix Winn Dixie

Some intensive duck meat producers:

Maple Leaf Farms

Maple Leaf Farms is the largest ’producer’ of White Pekin duckling in North America, processing over 14 million ducks per year with facilities in California, Wisconsin, Indiana and Ohio. According to Maple Leaf, they control every aspect of production. Maple Leaf justifies keeping ducks in indoor units, preventing them from being outside in a natural habitat, by saying it is better for the ducks. In fact, they unequivocally state that the ducks are not ’free-range.’ Maple Leaf Farms controls one feather/down processing operation and two feather/down marketing companies. Down is typically used for pillows, cushions, and other items.

Grimaud Farms

Grimaud Farms was started by the Grimaud family in France. The company controls a 120-acre hatchery and breeding facility, as well as five duck and two rabbit ranches. Grimaud raises and de-bills Muscovy ducks. They recently have taken over the sales and distribution of Sonoma Foie Gras. Grimaud Farms of California imports their breeding stock from France. Here the breeding ducks are individually caged and mated by artificial insemination three times every two weeks.

Undercover filming

Viva! filmed a number of duck farms in various states this year. We recorded instances of poor duck welfare including dead and sick birds, and some who could not stand. One duck had gotten his wings caught in the mesh flooring. He was on his back squawking - struggling to get up. A Viva! investigator had to use considerable force to remove his wings from the gaps in the floor. Most birds were filthy at Maple Leaf Farms in Southern California; their feathers were in a very poor state. Many birds had eye infections and were obviously ’crusty.’

Video and photos of Grimaud Farms shows de-billed Muscovy ducks. A significant portion of the ducks’ bills had been cut off. The birds were in filthy conditions and some had difficulty walking. One of the sheds was in total darkness; the heat and the smell of ammonia were both unbearable.