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Why save ducks destined for foie gras?

Written by Aurélia C.

This is a question that may arise, so I will try to answer it as best as possible. The first answer would in fact be a question: Do you even know what a duck intended for foie gras looks like? I don't think I'm wrong in saying that the vast majority of people have no idea.

From that point on, everything is said and I have to work out my answer. It's because we have few, if any, opportunities to come across a duck destined to be force-fed that I thought it would be wise to give you some information about these very special beings.

What is a mulard?

A little explanation to begin with. The foie gras industry mainly force-feeds ducks (more than 90% of the French production) and not geese. This is why I'm going to focus on them. These ducks are called mulards. Funny name isn't it? In fact it is a cross between two species of palmipedes, the Barbary duck and the Peking duck.

Mulard duck - photo credit: Catherine

The result of this crossbreeding is a mulard duck. This is a species created exclusively by the industry to allow for a larger than average animal, more quickly, to ensure maximum profits. It reaches about 5 kg at the age of 3 months and can reach up to 80 cm in length. To give you an idea, a Mute Swan, the most common species in Switzerland, is between 1.2 m and 1.7 m long. The mulard ducks are therefore not far from half the size of a swan, which is not bad if you have the size of a mulard duck in mind as a reference. The mulard is also predominantly white, although black feathers differentiate it from its feathered cousins.

Foie gras versus healthy liver - photo credit:

So, now that we have painted the picture of this bird with webbed feet, why do we need to save them? I'm not going to dwell on the horror of the foie gras industry and the method of force-feeding, you can find all the relevant information on the pages of associations such as L214 for example. What I can tell you is that these beings are sensitive and deserve to be talked about, their conditions, the tortures they endure for the simple gustatory pleasure of some at the time of the end of the year festivities.

Each year, nearly one million ducks are used to satisfy the Swiss market. 500,000 male ducks are force-fed and 500,000 females are exterminated at birth because they are considered unprofitable according to the industry (their liver is too venous).

For a country like Switzerland, which has banned force-feeding on its territory for over 40 years, I think it is high time that a little more attention is paid to these animals that are made to suffer elsewhere to see them end up in pieces on the shelves of Migros and other Swiss retailers.

With this in mind, I thought it would be interesting to tell you about the rescues that we have had the pleasure of following and relaying on social networks. The first one was that of Jay & Joy at the end of 2018.

Jay & Joy

Jay and Joy are two male mulard ducks born in France in an industrial incubator of the foie gras industry. They were both destined to live only one day as they were considered non-compliant. Indeed, Jay was born a little darker than his mates and this could be a sign of a "difficult" duck to force-feed and Joy was born a little too thin and therefore with a lower risk of profitability. They were taken out just in time by people committed to the animal cause. On 16 November 2018, two little ducklings from this rescue were placed in a foster family at Catherine's home.

From day one, I have had the immense honour of following their evolution and the discovery of their new life thanks to their adopting mother. Each day was a sign of new adventures and the beginning of a beautiful life of free ducks. This was not a foregone rescue as it took place in winter and they had to be kept warm inside with heat lamps and cloths. They were so small and so cute, you could only melt.

Joy on the left and Jay on the right - photo credit : Catherine

I will always treasure the first descriptions of living with their new mother:

The vital energy and great vulnerability of these little ones are so moving. We get used to each other and I now understand the piou piou of contentment and excitement and the cries of panic when I move away and leave them in an unusual place... another very touching moment that I cannot film is when they huddle around my neck and calm down. No more “piou piou”, just a moment of grace.

Catherine helped them to become strong and acclimatise to life outdoors surrounded by other friends around the pond; cats, dogs, other palmipedes and even coyotes!

They never left each other and regularly tried to get close to another group of previously rescued mulard ducks.

Unfortunately, Jay passed away on 22 January 2019 when he was only 2 months, probably attacked by a wild animal. This news was very difficult to accept for all those who knew and followed Jay's adventures but it is the life of an animal in the wild with all the dangers that go with it. The important thing to remember is that these two mulard ducks were happy and free and that all the pictures and videos shared on our Facebook could only show that they have a conscience of their own and the fundamental right to life like all of us.

These animals were destined for a short life and left behind thousands of brothers and sisters who have suffered the horrors of the industry. When I look at the pictures of them today I always have a smile on my face and above all a moving thought for those who remained there.

Today Joy is doing very well and has even managed to be accepted by the other ducks in the pond. He continues to live happily far from the horror of force-feeding. You can regularly see photos and videos of him and his friends on our Facebook and Insta pages ;)

Joy adult - photo credit: Catherine

The six girls

The rescue of Jay & Joy having marked us a lot, our wish was to continue to rescue mulard ducks and make them visible to everyone. We started looking for new places with a body of water.

At the beginning of 2019, we were contacted by a person who offered to welcome some ducks on his land. After several exchanges, the decision was made to go on site to judge the site and then to organise ourselves to take out the ducks. Last spring, we collaborated so that this time six female ducklings escaped death.

I remember how excited everyone was by this news and especially the first images of the little ones in a box on their way to freedom.

Each rescue, even from a distance, is an intense moment that marks anyone forever.

The six ducklings when they were rescued - photo credit: Christophe

It was the first time we were going to follow females and we were worried about their fate given the few female mulard ducks in the wild. So it was at Mireille's house that the six females were brought, after not even a day of living in an industrial hatchery.

There too, without the warmth of their mother, we had to keep them warm and inside while they grew up a little. As it happened in the spring, it didn't take them long to discover their outside environment. Their adoptive mother had other animals too, and she had wanted to give these force-feeding birds a chance for a long time.

When I asked how things were going with the little ones, Mireille immediately replied:

I fell in love... the survivors are so cute... they always follow the same ritual: eat, drink clean water from the bottle, take a bath and sleep in a group.

It always touches me so much to read how host families have this unconditional love and this conviction that we have to do something for beings who have no chance of surviving without us.

Last November, one of the little ones left, probably between the teeth of a fox. Obviously we cannot intervene on the dangers of life in freedom and this end may have been less cruel than the one intended for her from the day she was born. Let's remember that female ducklings are disposed of as soon as they are born or can sometimes be used as roasting cans with a lifespan of about a week. In any case their life is not destined to be very long and this female duckling had the chance to live a few weeks free. And yes, it consoles me…

Today, the little ones enjoy the calm of a beautiful pond and are always together. It is beautiful to see and very touching especially when you know what goes on behind the doors of the foie gras companies.

Lily & Rose

Lily and Rose the first days - photo credit: Catherine

Lily and Rose are the latest arrivals in the large family of survivors. They were rescued, mid May 2020, by the same family as the one that adopted Joy. They will thus be able to live free and above all far from the foie gras industry which did not augur well for their future.

When they were rescued, Lily weighed 92 grams and Rose 66 grams, which allows us to distinguish them for the moment because they don't have a black spot like their mulard brothers. The light beige spot on their head is also a distinctive sign but may not last. It will be necessary to count on the knowledge of their adoptive mother who will be able to differentiate them without any doubt. A strong bond was immediately created:

I am under the spell... I hold them in my hand there and it's moving to feel their little heart...

We will of course continue to share news of these 2 female mulard ducks that you will surely see on some of our Facebook and Instagram publications.

Have a nice and long life, Lily & Rose!

Lily and Rose discovering the world - photo credit: Catherine

How can you help these animals?

The first thing is obviously not to eat foie gras, duck breast, thigh, confit or gizzards. Because yes, all these parts come from a force-fed duck, therefore from a mulard duck.

You don't already eat any? That's great.

So you think you could just as well welcome ducks saved from the industry in your garden?

While your intention is good, it's not that simple. First of all you need to know that ducks need a body of water. I prefer to say a pond rather than a waterhole because too often people think that a small pond will do the trick, which is not the case. You will also need a lot of grass around it because yes, ducks love to eat grass.

I said earlier that these palmipedes are quite big. So they will need a nice space. And as these animals rarely live alone, and misfortune comes quickly, it is even better to have more than two of them. Are you still motivated?

Practical advice for adopting mulard ducks

In order to offer them the best living conditions here is the ideal situation:

  • Have a fenced area to avoid predators,

  • Have a fairly large body of water (about 10m x 10m, large pond style...) with shallow water at the edge so that ducks can enter and leave the water easily,

  • Have a substantial grass area around the water,

  • Have a place to put the ducklings in a shelter at night when they are old enough to go out (e.g., a henhouse),

  • Consider a raft-style floating island so that they can get away from predators, away from the edges,

  • Consider a pontoon so that they can observe their environment from a safe place.

Beware, you will have to avoid places without grass, such as earth or gravel, as this will damage their feet.

From their birth

Ideally, they should be kept indoors from birth so that they do not feel lonely. So here is the list of things you will need to equip yourself with:

  • A large cage in a quiet place to shelter them when they are alone (close the cage at night). The cage should contain a specially made hot plate to keep the birds warm to put under blankets/towels (avoid heat lamps at night so they can be in the dark). Remove the plate when they no longer go in spontaneously (about after the first 15 days),

  • A nice pile of old newspapers for the bottom of the cage, which will need to be changed regularly,

  • A shallow bowl of water to put in the cage,

  • A bowl of mixed wheat seeds or buy a starter feed for ducklings such as "Alimentation Versele Lagag Country's Best Duck" (available at Truffaut for example),

  • Greenery such as fresh salad, clovers or blades of grass to be provided,

  • If you feel like it, and as they will also be looking for worms once they are outside, you can provide dehydrated worms for hens as a delicacy (available in pet shops).

Under supervision, the ducklings can be allowed to walk outside the cage during the day, but care must be taken to keep them away from the potential dangers of indoor life (other animals, stairs, hot plate...).

A small shallow wicker basket (the head should protrude when they are lying down) with towels at the bottom can be provided if they want to settle down during the day on a table after having roamed around inside.

Shallow basket for resting - photo credit: Catherine

You will also need to think of a cup of water in which they can walk, eat and start bathing. As time goes by, you will have to adapt the water point available, for example by using an increasingly large basin for them to bathe in, and leave seeds and greenery around them at all times.

It's no mystery but ducklings make a lot of mess. You must therefore be prepared to clean the premises regularly in order to provide them with maximum comfort by keeping a clean living space for you, and for them.

The first outings (after 3-4 weeks)

You should always accompany the ducklings on their first outings to keep an eye on them and therefore protect them. This will also be necessary because they will certainly be attached to you at the beginning and will come back to you in case of danger.

You can let them approach the water when they want to, they will stay on board at the beginning and then they will slowly get comfortable in water.

Once again, you will need to have seeds around the water when they are there.

We advise to bring the ducks home in the evening, in a henhouse or other closed and covered shelter to keep them safe. They can be released again the next morning. They should easily follow you, especially if you get them used to receiving treats once they are in the shelter. Never force them in.

A henhouse for the night - photo credit: Mireille

Over time the ducks may want to stay outside permanently, so you will need to visit them every day and bring them seeds. It is therefore strongly recommended that a floating island be installed to provide shelter for them as they may fall prey to wild animals.

Did you like this article?

If you still feel that you are able to save mulard ducks and offer them the best of lives, please contact us and we will try to look into a possible rescue with you. We look forward to publishing new rescues on our networks.

If you can't adopt them, spread the word around you about the horror of foie gras and help unconvinced people to take the step towards a pain-free consumption.

Last possibility, you can sponsor one or more of our rescued ducks to contribute to our actions and give us the means to continue our work. Your sponsorship will enable us to finance the care that our little protégés may need. Indeed, we still have little information due to the small number of free individuals to date. We must therefore plan to be able to help them if difficult times should arise. Here is the link to make a donation: make a donation.

We remain at your disposal for all questions relating to foie gras and are open to all proposals for support.

Don't forget that these animals, like so many others, need us. Every gesture counts, so go ahead and take action! The more we are, the sooner we will forget the atrocities we have subjected these magnificent beings to.

Join the association and/or make a donation to give us the means to continue the fight!

Stand Stop Gavage Suisse - photo credit: Aurélia

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