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We call them Donald, Daffy and Daisy. They are the subjects of story books, adults’ metaphors and children’s dreams. They are completely wild yet pose no danger to us. They see the world in 360 degrees with a greater spectrum of colour than we will ever see, including ultraviolet light. They are protective, social, curious and alert. They are very smart! You can rarely surprise them because they are always alert, watching, always waiting and, often, literally sleep with one eye open. If a mother duck senses a threat nearby, she will feign injury to distract the predator from her offspring. If left alone they can live up to 20 years. They can walk on ice without getting cold and they can travel up to 500 km per day. They are comical and lift our spirits.

Whether they’re gliding across the smooth surface of a lake or soaring through the sky in perfect formation, most people don’t know much about ducks. They are adept in water, land, and air, and they fly hundreds of miles each year to warmer climates. Ducks swim in formations that reduce air and water resistance for the birds in the rear. They look out for their companions and are very protective of their mates and their young. They live in couples or groups and mourn when their partners die.

Inseparable rescued ducks Terrance and Austin enjoying a day at the dam.
Credit: Vegan Rising

Each kind of water bird demonstrates distinctive behaviours of play, morality, mating and breeding. They have gender specific behaviours, and are unique in ways in which they nest, feed, communicate and travel. Within each species of ‘duck’ there are distinctive social groups and families. And within those, every individual water bird has her or his idiosyncratic personality. Most of us feel spontaneously joyful when we come across them in their natural environment.

Outgoing, social animals, ducks are meticulously clean birds who display great pride in maintaining their nests. They preen their feathers with natural oils and flaunt their beautiful plumage. They use body language to communicate, but they ‘talk’ as well. Ducks even have regional accents like us! Country ducks have gentler, smoother voices while city ducks have a more honking sound so they can be heard over urban noise.

How remarkable that such fascinating and sweet individuals are some of the most exploited animals in the world. The acts required to kill ducks for food would be crimes if committed against our own species, but because the victims are members of another species, we call these crimes ‘standard farming practice’ and we even pay people to commit those crimes.

We are all animals within the biological classification Kingdom Animalia. They are ducks and come from the species family Anatidae. We are humans and come from the species family Hominidae. We humans are natural land animals, but ducks are natural water animals; They are found in wetlands, marshes, ponds, rivers, lakes and oceans in all countries of the world aside from Antarctica. Yet, in Australia, it is standard farming practice to deny them water. Imagine; their bodies are under constant stress without any relief. Imagine; as a natural land animal spending your entire life in water, never allowed to stand on solid ground.

The Duck Meat Industry

The industry relies on growing ducks as quickly as possible, as cheaply as possible and killing them as young as possible. Because of this unnatural rate of rapid growth, the legs of animals can’t keep up with their body size. Even when they develop at a normal rate, their bodies depend on the buoyancy of water to hold them upright. In the case of factory farmed ducks who are deprived of water, their rapid and unnatural increase in body weight in factory farming often causes their legs to break.

The two intensive producers in Australia primarily responsible for this horrid treatment of ducks are Pepe’s Ducks in NSW and Luv-a-Duck in Victoria. Between them they kill roughly 170,000 birds every week reaping around $AU100 million.

The stress of living in a factory farm is highly abnormal. Ducks are reared intensively inside large, closed sheds. Fifty ducklings are confined to 1 square metre of floor space. The environment makes it impossible for them to behave naturally. Out of fear and stress, they uncharacteristically peck at each other, injuring each other. It sometimes even leads to cannibalism. [Imagine how we would be if we were not allowed to bathe ourselves, feed ourselves, go for walks, or socialise in small groups as is our want, but rather we had to fight for food and water, shit and piss where we stood, whilst being housed in noisy, vomit and faeces ridden sheds with a whole lot of humans our age, all in various stages of pain, fear and misery. It’s likely we would take it out on each other as well.]

Australian duck rearing shed
Credit: Jo-Anne McArthur (We Animals)
Source: Aussie Ducks

The industry creates this initial problem, and then to counteract the pecking, which is the direct result of industry-caused stress, the industry sears the sensitive ends of their beaks off, creating another form of suffering, all the while calling it an act of ‘animal welfare’. 

Australian duck rearing shed
Credit : Bear Witness Australia Witness #1

Animal rescuers have gathered footage that shows ducks with physical deformities, injuries, and covered in faeces and vomit. Day-old ducklings are systematically ground up alive, and there is routine cruelty and neglect in farms, despite their claims to the contrary. We are told not to worry and to leave it in their hands. This is all ‘standard farming practice’.

Humane Slaughter is a Lie

Australian consumers often believe they are doing something ethical when they “only eat white meat”, this ensuring that birds are the most exploited animals in Australia. Animal industries claim that Australian ‘animal welfare’ laws are the best in the world. However, evidence shows that our current laws embed pain and suffering into their business models, justifying routine cruelty.

After ducks have lived their entire 6-7 week lives in confinement without water, workers throw ducks into transport crates, and squash them down to fit more in, often causing acute wing and leg injuries, but plastic crates are the most expedient way to send them to slaughter.

Ducks face distinct horrors when they are sent to be killed. Each duck is taken from the crate and is shackled upside down against her or his will often suffering dislocations and broken legs and wings. The next step in the line is an electrical bath designed to render the bird’s unconscious. Some birds understandably raise their heads to avoid it. After the electrical bath, all birds, both conscious and unconscious arrive at the de-heading machine. Here, each bird has her or his head pulled through a blade until they are decapitated. Their headless bodies are then put through a scalding bath after which their bodies are waxed and defeathered, the feet are sliced off, the guts removed, and body parts sold for consumption. Often the label will show a false picture of a happy duck on the package. This is to ensure that well-meaning and ethical humans will continue to participate in a horrid and cruel industry built on systems of suffering. The entire industry is built on a lie and is sustained by making consumers believe the lie.

Disease and Illness

Australian duck rearing shed
Credit: Bear Witness Australia Witness #1

Factory farms are filthy places, soducks in intensive farming systems are vulnerable to highly contagious diseases. This poses risks to both them and us. One in particular is Anatipestifer Disease (AD). This is a global and contagious neurological disease. Birds are often infected from small cuts on their delicate feet or by being bitten by insects in factory farms. Ducks may suffer from diarrhoea, severe abdominal discomfort and lethargy. They may experience respiratory distress and demonstrate mucousal discharges similar to when we have a bad cold. The infection often reaches their heart, and easily extends to the liver, spleen, and lungs. The birds have highly sensitive pain receptors and so probably feel this as an unrelenting deep ache in the effected organs. When AD progresses to the central nervous system birds experience extreme weakness and lack of coordination. They may adopt unusual body positions such as lying on their back paddling their legs, involuntary arching of their head and neck, and persistent neck twisting. They can suffer paralysis, convulsions, coma, and death.  AD usually kills 5-30% of birds, with numbers sometimes as high as 75%.

Eating Ducks

In factory farms, it is common to see birds’ feathers heavily stained with fetid faeces. Autopsies conducted on birds who die in factory farms reveal the presence of Bacteria and disease that are dangerous to humans, such as Escherichia coli, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, meningitis, bacterial septicaemia and Streptococcus. Vaccines and antibiotics are given to birds to try to reduce the incidence of disease. These become embedded in the flesh of ducks. We then, strangely, eat all of this, feeding it as well to our families and friends.

Australian duck rearing shed
Credit: Bear Witness Australia Witness #1

Ducks are used in a variety of dishes around the world, most of which involve roasting them to make their skin crispier. Balut which is a developing bird embryo boiled and eaten from the shell. Czernina is a sweet and sour Polish soup made of duck blood. Turducken is a headless turkey, stuffed with a headless duck, stuffed with a headless chicken. Americans eat it. Long Island roast duckling involves roasting an entire baby bird. Most of her fat melts off when she is being cooked. They serve her body with a cherry sauce.

Ducks naturally live up to 20 years. We kill them as ducklings after 6-7 weeks of abject misery. And then we eat them. What has happened to us? When we come across ducks in their natural environment, we so often watch them with a sense of wonder and delight, our hearts gladdened by the chance to see free water birds behaving naturally and happily. If we find a hurt or injured duckling most of us would do our very best to save her and ensure her comfort. Yet, we very same people, without thought, purchase the dismembered body parts of birds who have been scared, and suffered for 6-7 weeks before being horribly killed. All for a fleeting taste on the tongue.

Terrance and Austin enjoying their lifes essential – water.

Cover Image by Bear Witness Australia Witness #1

Author: Dr Tamasin Ramsay
Medical Anthropologist
Animal Liberation Activist

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