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Farmed meat ducks

We're concerned about the conditions in which farmed ducks are reared, transported and slaughtered. Read on to find out more about the farming systems, our main welfare concerns, and what we’re doing to improve conditions. You can also find information about why we believe farmed ducks should have full-body access to water.

Some farmed ducks facts

Ducks are waterfowl and spend a large amount of time in and around water. Farmed ducks still have many of the biological characteristics and behaviours of their wild ancestors, including spending a lot of time preening their feathers. This cleans the feathers and re-distributes oil onto them from a gland above their tail, keeping them waterproof and helping control the duck’s body temperature.

Farming ducks for meat

The most commonly used duck breed in commercial meat production in the UK is the domestic or common duck, and the Pekin in particular. 

Rearing systems

Commercial meat ducks can be reared indoors or outdoors. Farmed ducks are given specially formulated diets and drinking water. However, they typically aren’t given access to open water that they can bathe in.

Indoor systems – in the UK, most ducks are reared in indoor systems. This typically means large flocks raised together in a building that will usually have straw on the floor. There will generally be seven birds to each square metre of space. Often there is only artificial lighting. 

Free-range systems – a small proportion of UK ducks are reared in free-range systems. Their housing may be similar to that of indoor ducks but they have access to an outdoor area during the day, through small openings called 'popholes'. Free-range ducks usually have access to water outside that they can bathe in.

End of rearing

Once farmed ducks are heavy enough for slaughter – at around 3.1kg to 3.5kg, usually at around 42 to 56 days old – they're caught, placed in transport crates and transported to an abattoir for slaughter.

Key welfare issues for farmed ducks

We're concerned about the welfare of farmed ducks and are working to improve their welfare at all stages of production. These are the key welfare issues.

Access to open water sources

Ducks are waterfowl and we believe they should be provided with full-body access to hygienically managed, open water sources, in addition to clean drinking water. This lets them carry out their natural water-related behaviours, such as preening and head dipping. Unfortunately, current UK law doesn't require duck farmers to give their birds water for anything other than drinking.

We believe the law should be changed so producers are legally required to provide farmed ducks with suitable open water facilities that allow them full-body access. This keeps their eyes, nostrils, beaks and plumage in good condition. 

Foie gras

Foie gras is a food product produced from the livers of force-fed ducks or geese. It's illegal to produce foie gras in the UK. We're opposed to foie gras production because of the many serious welfare problems it causes for the birds involved. Find out more about the welfare issues caused by foie gras production and why we think you shouldn't buy it. 

Improving farmed duck welfare 

We're working to raise welfare standards for farmed ducks in the UK and beyond. Here are some of the things we're doing.

Developing welfare standards for farmed ducks

We encourage all producers to rear their ducks according to our detailed RSPCA welfare standards for ducks. We've developed these to ensure higher standards of welfare are met, from hatching to slaughter. Along with many other requirements, the standards specify that ducks must have full-body access to water to carry out their natural water-related activities, such as preening.

Research on farmed duck welfare

We commissioned the University of Cambridge to conduct a three-year research project looking at the best open-water facility design to enable ducks to carry out their important water-related behaviours.

We consulted with the duck industry, including producers, vets, researchers and other poultry experts, to discuss the results of the research and consider how best to strengthen our welfare standards for domestic/common ducks in this area. 

Our farmed duck welfare standards take into account research published by other academic institutions too. The research was supported by The Tubney Charitable Trust.

Find out more