Written for Daily Hive by Lisa Malloy, who manages Shadowhaven Farm Sanctuary, home to a herd of Jersey cattle, farm pigs, horses and many, many ducks.
I found her stumbling along the shoulder of a busy road, not far from a conservation area, filthy and exhausted, with wings dragging in the gravel. Like so many home-raised “foster” ducks dumped in the wild, she had no idea how to forage for food or protect herself. Alone, in the freezing cold, she searched for her humans, finding her way to the road, terrified, sore, and frostbitten.
With March Break fast approaching and summer vacation soon following, many families may be looking at the idea of fostering a sweet little duckling for a few weeks. However, what they don’t realize is that duckling foster schemes/scams are an unregulated win-win for duck meat farmers who are spared the hassle of raising fragile baby ducks.
Instead, they “foster” the ducklings in loving families for those early weeks. And then, these ducks are returned to the farm, where most will be killed for meat. The farm may not tell families this, coyly saying (as one farm does on their website): [upon return] “our ducks may be purchased by another farmer right away. Like all livestock, we are not allowed to tell clients what they can or can’t do with a new farm friend.” This same farm has a goodbye and cry room — for broken-hearted children leaving their duckling friends to be shipped to slaughter.
Other duckling foster scammers have no intention of taking them back. For example, Ruby — a tiny call duck who was raised cuddling and watching TV in the hands of her foster “sister” — was not welcome at the farm when it was time to go back. Louise, another home-raised duck, had nowhere to go when her time was up. That “farmer” had simply disappeared. Both arrived at Shadowhaven Farm Sanctuary, bewildered, without their human families, and missing their homes.
Families who realize the horrible fate facing these beloved ducklings often try to find a safe alternative. As a result, there has been unprecedented pressure on rescues, humane societies and sanctuaries in the GTA and beyond. Among the first ducks at Shadowhaven were two from a shelter in Montreal. This shelter took in 8 ducks in 2019 (pre-COVID), 23 ducks in 2020 and in 2021, they were asked to take 79 ducks. A quick poll of members of the Association of Farm Sanctuaries, Ontario, found that requests to take ducks have been overwhelming lately, and duck rescue is not cheap. When a sanctuary or rescue takes a duck, most need, at minimum, a visit with the vet and quarantine housing.
Some families just dump the ducks in a park or conservation area. But ducks raised in a home, or even in a duck house, have no idea how to fend for themselves. Rescuers Ina Maria and Jenny McQueen have saved several dumped ducks in GTA area parks — as well as bearing witness to the death of others. When re-caught, dumped ducks are often injured, dehydrated and/or malnourished — and these are the survivors. Most will never be rescued; instead, they starve to death or are killed by predators. As a result, death by slaughter or dumping are the two most common outcomes for “foster” ducks.
The duck from the side of the road is now safe at Shadowhaven Farm Sanctuary. But, she huddles in her house, too frightened to come out. Although her wings are healing, frostbite has eroded the webbing between her toes and threatens her feet. She is just the latest survivor of the duckling foster schemes/scams to arrive at Shadowhaven. A few weeks ago, Felize was delivered by Critter Cabs Animal Rescue Transports after Ina rescued her at a Conservation Area.
Please think twice before fostering ducklings — they bond completely with their human family — not with people in general. So, even when they come to a sanctuary, the ducks are distraught and confused by the loss of their family and their home. If you do want to care for ducklings (or chicks), there are ways to keep them as forever family members.
If you are looking for a special animal-related March Break or COVID/summer project, please consider fostering a dog or cat (not a duckling) from your local humane society or rescue. It won’t cost you anything, and you will make a world of difference for that animal as it waits for a forever home.