In the first week of May, Red Door Animal Shelter notified us that they had rescued two Pekin ducks, a bonded couple, who were now in need of a permanent home. Red Door found the pair as tiny little ducklings, wandering the city streets shortly after Easter. They spent about three weeks at the shelter and were examined by the avian vets at Midwest Exotics.
Upon learning about these young ducks, we went to work contacting some of the caregivers in our network and quickly found a suitable home for the couple we named Ginger and Fred. By the way, in case you’re wondering, we only adopt to those who will provide our rescues with a safe and life-long home and treat them with all the love and respect of companions. On May 8th, we picked Ginger and Fred up at Red Door and brought them back to our small urban property. Once out of the carrier, the first thing they did was sprawl out on the sidewalk and catch some rays.
We brought out the kiddy pool and filled it up with water. After some coaxing, the ducks finally worked up the courage to dive in! And boy, did they have the time of their lives, splashing, squawking, diving and chasing each other around in circles. I’ve never seen two ducks enjoy the water as much as these two. Was it perhaps their first time in a pool of water?
When I was away, I kept Ginger and Fred safe in the aviary, where they often napped and rested peacefully together. And whenever I returned, they expressed great excitement and had a lot to say! Each day I could see their inhibitions and fears fading away as they allowed me to get closer to them and even allowed me to stroke their beautiful feathers. I already felt the beginnings of a bond between us. But in just a few days, it would be time to take them to their permanent home.
That Saturday morning when we arrived at the sanctuary, Ginger and Fred cautiously stepped out of the carrier and began to explore their beautiful new home, featuring a large pond in the center of a field dotted with mature shade trees. They looked curiously around at all of the other ducks and geese scattered across the property.
I snapped the photo below just before we left. They seemed to know we were leaving and came up to the gate and watched and waited, as if to ask, “Are we going with you?” There was a bit of confusion and anxiety in their eyes, but I knew they would learn to love their new home. As we said goodbye and walked away, I kept looking back at them and heard them calling after me. And I realized just how much they had bonded with me in just the few days I was their foster dad.
Where do ducks like Ginger and Fred come from?
Some 24.5 million ducks just like Ginger and Fred, who have been genetically and artificially bred for rapid growth, are born into this world destined for slaughter at only 7 to 8 weeks old, mere infants in their natural lifespan of 6 to 8 years. (1) A 2014 undercover investigation at a duck farm in California revealed unconscionable cruelty as the norm. Here are some additional common industry practices to consider:
Standard mutilations. U.S. duck production facilities often “trim” the bills of ducks to reduce the damage of feather-pecking and cannibalism. As with chickens’ and turkeys’ beaks, ducks’ bills are loaded with nerves and sensory receptors all the way to the tip; these help them discern small particles of food as well as detect harmful stimuli, in addition to other important sensory information. When any portion of their bill is sliced off, ducks experience both acute and chronic pain. (2) Bills are cut either with scissors, with a hot blade that cauterizes the bill stump, or by holding the end of the bill against a searing blade for several seconds. (3)
Catching and transport to slaughter. The process of being crated and transported to slaughter is non-stop terror for ducks. Workers called “catchers” are hired to move through the grow sheds, grabbing birds as quickly as possible and cramming them into transport crates. Like chickens and turkeys, ducks are handled very roughly by catchers and suffer bruises, lacerations and broken legs and wings. Ducks’ weak leg and thigh joints make them particularly susceptible to injury when being caught and crated for transport. (4) The ducks are then loaded in the crates onto large flat-bed trucks and hauled for up to 36 hours without food or water, through all weather conditions. Suffocation, dehydration, cardiac arrest from terror, fatal injuries sustained from handling, and exposure to scorching and freezing temperatures mean millions of birds in the U.S. die miserably during transport to slaughter each year.
Slaughter. Because poultry are excluded from the federal Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, ducks are typically not rendered insensible to pain before they are shackled and slaughtered. Electric stunning is often used to immobilize the birds so that they are easier to handle, but the voltage used is usually insufficient to produce unconsciousness. (5) Workers quickly pull the ducks from crates, invert them, and hang them upside down by their legs from shackles on a moving line. Inversion and shackling are extremely traumatic for birds, and pose a particular hazard to ducks because of their weak leg and thigh joints. On the live-hang line, ducks are dragged head-first through an electrified water bath, then proceed to an automated blade that slits their throats. If the birds are not stunned by the water bath, as is often the case, they frequently miss the blade because they are frantically flapping in pain and terror. Those birds whose throats are not slit enter the de-feathering scalding tank alive, where they drown while being boiled alive.
What can you do?
For starters, share this post to help build awareness about who these ducks really are and how they are cruelly exploited in commercial farming today. Next, consider donating to Free from Harm to help us carry out our mission of farmed animal rescue, education and advocacy.
(1) Humane Society of the United States, Farm Animal Statistics: Slaughter Totals.
(2) Duncan IJH. 2001. Animal welfare issues in the poultry industry: is there a lesson to be learned? Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science 4(3):207-21.
(3) Gustafson LA, Cheng HW, Garner JP, Pajor EA, and Mench JA. 2007. The effects of different bill-trimming methods on the well-being of Pekin ducks. Poultry Science 86(9):1831-9.
(4) Clauer P. Leg and foot disorders in domestic fowl (small flock factsheet, number 35). Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. http://ext.vt.edu/pubs/poultry/factsheets/35.html.
(5) Raj M and Tserveni-Gousi A. 2000. Stunning methods for poultry. World’s Poultry Science Journal 56(4):291-304.