Ducks are socially complex creatures,3 as seen by their flocking, foraging and herding instincts. Forming strong social attachments to their flock, ducks will communicate with each other by using voice and various actions.4
Within the Australian duck industry, most ducks are raised on factory farms where they are permanently confined in sheds for the duration of their short lives.6 Ducks raised for their meat live in intensive housing systems, with eight birds living within each square metre of floor space. Ducks raised for breeding purposes have marginally more space, with five birds per square metre.7
As factory farmed ducks cannot access natural light or outdoor space, they are prevented from exhibiting natural behaviours like roaming, preening (with water) and foraging.8 Poor ventilation within sheds may result in ducks developing ammonia-related health problems, such as respiratory disease and blindness.9 It is also possible for ducks to trap their webbed feet or wings in wire mesh flooring, sometimes resulting in death from thirst or starvation.10
As water fowl, ducks are aquatic and dependent on access to open water for their physical health and behavioural instincts.
Deprivation of water is arguably the biggest welfare concern in the factory farming of ducks. Ducks are naturally aquatic animals and require access to water in order to clean themselves, to regulate their body temperature and to take the pressure off their naturally weak leg and thigh joints.11
Intensive housing systems are not required by law to provide ducks with a water source.12 Accordingly, most Australian ducks must hold their entire body weight on their legs for the duration of their short lives, up to seven weeks.13 As a result, ducks can suffer from lameness, dislocated joints, broken bones and splay legs.14 Without a water source to use for cleaning and bathing, they can also suffer from heat stress and eye infections.15
Legal protections for ducks
Ducks have few legal protections in Australia. The Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals: Domestic Poultry 4th Edition (“Poultry Code”) that is used as a guideline for the duck industry covers all domestic poultry, including turkeys and chickens.16 In the Poultry Code, the special needs of ducks falls under a one page appendix which deals only with stocking densities, farm handling and bill trimming. It fails to recognise the aquatic needs of ducks or any of their specific welfare requirements.
In 2013, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (“ACCC”) brought actions against Australia's two largest duck meat producers for misleading and deceptive conduct relating to their advertisements and packaging. Pepe’s Ducks in New South Wales17 and Luv-A-Duck in Victoria18 were both found by the Federal Court of Australia to have misled consumers by implying their ducks had access to the outdoors through labelling, when in fact they were permanently confined in intensive systems. The Federal Court fined Pepe’s Ducks $375,000 and Luv-a-Duck $360,000 under the Australian Consumer Law.
- To find out more about the Australian duck industry, read Animal Liberation NSW’s report ‘Like a duck out of water: an expose of the Australian duck industry’, made possible by a 2013 Voiceless Grant.
Last updated October 2018
- 1. Scolexia Animal and Avian Health Consultancy, ‘Chapter 4: Structure and dynamics of the Duck Industry’ in Structure and dynamics of Australia’s Commercial Poultry and Ratite Industries (9 January 2010) prepared for Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry <http://www.agriculture.gov.au/SiteCollectionDocuments/animal-plant/animal-health/livestock-movement/structure-poultry-ratite-ind.pdf>.
- 2. The Humane Society of the United States, ‘An HSUS Report: The Welfare of Animals in the Duck Industry’ <http://www.humanesociety.org/assets/pdfs/farm/hsus-the-welfare-of-animals-in-the-duck-industry.pdf>.
- 3. RSPCA, ‘The Welfare of Farmed Ducks’ (July 2012) <http://www.rspca.org.uk/ImageLocator/LocateAsset?asset=document&assetId=1232730067367&mode=prd>.
- 4. Dr Kula Prasad Kalita, ‘Behavioural characteristics of domestic ducks’ <https://www.academia.edu/8716797/Behavioural_characteristics_of_domestic_duck>.
- 6. Poultry Cooperative Research Centre, ‘Duck’, Poultry Hub <http://www.poultryhub.org/species/commercial-poultry/duck/>.
- 7. Primary Industries Standing Committee, Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals: Domestic Poultry 4th Edition (“Poultry Code”), Appendix 4, para 4.1.
- 8. Animal Liberation, Like a duck out of water: an expose of the Australian duck industry (October 2013) 7 <http://www.aussieducks.com.au/documents/Duck_Report.pdf>.
- 9. Ibid 17.
- 10. Ibid 14.
- 11. The Humane Society of the United States, above n 4; Animal Liberation, Like a duck out of water: an expose of the Australian duck industry, ibid n 9.
- 12. Poultry Code, above n 6, Appendix 4, para 4.1.
- 13. Poultry Cooperative Research Centre, above n 5; Animal Liberation, Like a duck out of water: an expose of the Australian duck industry, ibid n 9.
- 14. The Humane Society of the United States, above n 4.
- 15. Ibid.
- 16. Poultry Code, above n 6, Appendix 4.
- 17. Australian Competition and Consumer Commission v Pepe’s Ducks Ltd  FCA 570. For a summary of the case prepared by Voiceless, see here: <https://www.voiceless.org.au/content/case-note-accc-v-pepe%E2%80%99s-ducks-ltd>.
- 18. Australian Competition and Consumer Commission v Luv-a-Duck Pty Ltd  FCA 1136. For a summary of the case prepared by Voiceless, see here: <https://www.voiceless.org.au/content/case-note-accc-v-luv-duck>.