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Ducks Out of Water

Last updated 13 October 2017

The single most shocking, and arguably most significant welfare concern for duck farming in Australia is water deprivation. There is no legal requirement in Australia for commercial duck farms to have water available for ducks to swim, bathe, or even dip their heads(6)(7). Water deprivation is a common feature of Australian duck farms irrespective of the nature of confinement - total or partial(6).

Ducks are aquatic birds, so they naturally have weak leg and thigh joints as they do not normally need to hold their body weight for extended periods of time(1). Where surface water is available, ducks will float for long periods, reducing pressure on their muscular and skeletal system. However, when water is denied, as in most Australian farms, ducks must hold their entire body weight on their legs for up to 7 weeks (and often much longer periods of time for ducks kept for breeding), resulting in lameness, dislocated joints, and broken bones(5).

Selective breeding compounds this issue; as ducks are bred to grow faster and heavier, their juvenile skeletal system has insufficient bone formation to hold their obese bodies(1). This adds extra pressure on the already weak leg and thigh joints(1). The risk of injury is further compounded by the fact that litter floors are often not changed during the ducks' 49 days of life(5). Duck faeces are made up of 90% moisture, which can make the floor slippery and result in accidents leading to breakages or splay legs (where legs splay out each side of the duck and the animal is unable to stand)(11)(12).

Without water, ducks are unable to keep their eyes, nostrils and feathers clean, so water deprivation also represents a serious health risk for ducks(10).

In the wild, ducks use their beaks for feeding, preening (with water) and other foraging activities(5). The lack of water in Australian farms, and the lack of roaming area in all total confinement farms mean that these natural behaviours cannot be performed. This deprivation can cause stress for the birds who, despite being bred to avoid broody behaviour, can still occasionally direct their pecking towards other ducks leading to injuries and sometimes cannibalism(5). Higher stocking densities lead to greater stress and even more injuries and aggression(5). These issues are not observed among ducks in the wild(5).

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