2nd Quebec Foie Gras Investigation

Investigator's Diary

Aux Champs d’Elise, Marieville, Quebec

June 29-July 5, 2007

June 29

Met J at the farm and he showed me how the gavage works. We walk down the aisles to check for dead ducks, ducks that may be caught in the cages and to see if they have digested the previous feeding.  He told me that a few days ago because of the warm weather that it was hard to give full doses. I asked him what kind of mortality rate they aim for and he said about 4 or 5%. He said because of the heat last week it was at 10%.

Later on, his stepson, who works on the farm and whose name is O, told me it was 20% recently.  As we walked down the aisle of ducks the first thing I noticed was that many ducks had enormous abscesses on their beaks, some the size of  tennis balls.  I also noticed that here was lots of blood underneath the ducks in the sewage pit. I asked J where this came from. I asked if it was from their feet getting caught in the cages. He told me that can happen but mostly it was from sores in their anus. 

As we were walking down the aisle there was one duck whose beak was stuck in between the cage and the water trough. J pulled on the duck’s head to release him, whereupon the duck then shook his head from side to side and blood sprayed from his beak.  He then showed me how to prepare the feed and get the feeding machine ready. We put freshly ground corn, warm water, corn starch, vitamins, and another powder. We then went down the aisle feeding the ducks. J did about 20 of them and then handed me the gaveuse. I noticed one of the ducks had a huge, deformed beak. J told me it was from the de-beaking process.  

After I force fed the remaining ducks I went with J and O to transfer ducks from one shed to another. J backed the truck up to the door of the shed and we made a funnel type area with metal gates and a metal ramp from the truck lowered into the shed so that the ducks would be forced up into the truck.  We then went behind the flock of ducks and herded them towards the door.  O would yell loudly at the ducks and kick them to move them forward. I observed J also kicking ducks. Those that were straggling behind would be picked up by the neck or wing and thrown towards the front of the flock.  We would herd about 100 at a time towards the door, and the ducks would be forced up into the truck. J and O would throw some, grabbing them by the neck.

We transported these ducks just a few seconds away.  We needed to get the ducks onto the second floor so the truck was parked under a doorway on the second level. I was told to get the ducks up to the second floor by throwing them. O would pick them up by their wings, heads, necks and throw them through the doorway on the second level. I even saw him throw four at a time.  O and I emptied the truck in this manner while J was on the second floor getting the food and water ready.  The ducks would land in every which way on their heads, backs, legs and roll into the shed. Often we would miss  and the ducks would smash against the lip or side of the entrance before rolling inside. My hands had blood on them from picking them up by the wings. O even missed the entrance completely on 4 occasions and the ducks would hit the wall and fall about 20 feet to the ground.  He would then jump to the ground pick up the duck and throw him from there. 

To get the ducks from the partitioned areas of the truck we would walk on the cage above them and jump directly on top of their heads that would scare them into the area we would grab them from.  This was very loud and terrified the ducks.  When we were done we went to the top to help J and I noticed that several ducks were now limping and injured. One could not walk at all. O told me its funny when we load them, we just herd them toward the stairs and force them over and they all tumble down the stairs. The stairs he is talking about are really steep and long.

While driving back J asked if any of the ducks had hit the wall instead of going through the doorway and O said he missed 4 of them but he got them and J laughed.

Later on I force feed ducks, the ducks struggle violently to get away, they strain their neck as far away as possible as they see us coming down the line When you do grab them they shake and struggle my hands are already sore from being hit against the cage as I grab the ducks.

June 30

Today is Saturday and I’m on a feeding schedule. When I get there O and H are talking while H is feeding. I see there are several dead ducks that are on top of the cages. They put the dead ducks on top of the cages during feeding and then pick them up when they are done. I am still amazed at how many ducks have awful sores on their beaks.  The ducks try very hard to avoid getting force fed. When the feeder gets within about 5 meters the ducks become very agitated. As the feeder gets closer the ducks lower their necks into the cage and cower.  At one point while watching H feed, he gave a duck his dose of food and immediately the duck could not ingest the food and it started to pour out of his mouth, The duck’s neck went limp resting on the water trough while his body shook. H says that the duck is ‘pêté’ he then grabs the duck’s head and shakes it in the water while the duck struggles. I watch as quite a few ducks have trouble taking the dose. O tells me it takes him only 12 minutes to feed a row of ducks, which is really fast.

I point out a duck with a huge infected beak to O who tells me that he has seen much bigger, which amazed me because the abscess is as big as a hockey puck. He tells me that it is not uncommon to see some infected beaks with abscesses bigger than a tennis ball.  He also tells me that he often pops these abscesses with his hunting knife for fun.  He says that when you do this puss and blood squirts out. He says the abscesses are caused by improper beak searing which they do themselves at the farm.

I notice a duck that has vomited up a large quantity of blood soaked food. The red stained corn mix is everywhere – all over the cage, on the ground on neighboring ducks and in the water trough.  I show H and he tells me the duck was damaged inside as a result of feeding and that he will die in a little bit. He also tells me that often the ones with infected beaks end up dying also.

Later on H and O bring a dead duck to a little table in a corner of the feeding shed. This is where  they cut open dead ducks which they use as food for the big dog outside or for human consumption. If they feel like eating duck they will kill a sick or injured one and bring it home to eat. They show me the inside of the duck and I am amazed at the size of the liver. H shows me how the liver was actually touching the heart, and he tells me that the heart could just not take it anymore. That the liver pushed against the heart and probably caused a heart attack. He then cut open the duck that had been vomiting up blood earlier and they cut out the magret (breast meat) and gave it to their dog. They threw out the rest of the duck.

Later in the afternoon J is feeding and I watch for a little bit. I see two ducks that he feeds cannot take the dose of food and it pours out of their mouths. He also skips a duck that is too injured to be fed.

July 1

When I arrive, I see that there is a duck hanging in the shed with a huge gash in his wing and a cut throat that is still dripping blood.  O explained to me that I just missed him killing the duck and the reason he killed him was because the duck’s wing was stuck in the cage and it was almost severed in half. He told me that when he sliced the neck the duck would not stop flailing and lifting his head so he punched the duck in the head a few times but could not hit him hard enough to knock him out, so he grabbed a hammer and bashed him on the head.

I noticed today one duck puking blood profusely just after being fed, a steady stream of thick red blood mixed with some food flowed from the ducks mouth.  This duck lived the day but was found dead, covered in blood, the next day. While feeding I noticed one duck had not digested any food and when I touched his breast area it was hard as rock. There were two shopping carts full of dead ducks at the end of the aisle.

July 2

The duck that was vomiting blood yesterday is now dead. I watch O feeding the ducks. He moves fast and many ducks are shaking their heads trying to vomit up the food that was forced down their throats.  We come to one duck and O shows me that the duck has swallowed his tongue. He says it was like this for a few days so he pried open the ducks beak and fished out the tongue. The tongue is swollen and has a big abscess underneath it. It hangs stiffly out the side of the ducks mouth.

Today we had to fill the empty gavage cages with ducks. The truck loaded with ducks arrived and O, M and myself were in charge of unloading the ducks and putting them in the cages.  The ducks weren’t in individual cages and have to be placed into a basket and then moved to the gavage cages. O gets frustrated very easily and I see him kicking ducks into the basket, hitting them with the basket, and yelling loudly.  The ducks are afraid and struggle to get away so O and M get frustrated and slam the birds into the cages. About 20-25 ducks manage to escape from the truck and O and I had to chase after them. O would run up to a group of them and throw himself onto the ducks and try to pin down as many as possible. He would then pick up the ducks by any part of their body - legs, wings, neck - and throw them into the truck. The sides of the truck were at least 15 feet high so he would throw them with considerable force.

The escaped ducks were hard to catch and O was becoming very agitated. I saw him kick ducks hard.  Also, to get ducks that were hiding under the truck he would grab big rocks and throw them at the ducks.  One duck that was hit with a rock was covered in blood and O laughs abut it.  At one point O jumped on about 6 ducks and started punching them like a madman until they stopped moving.

Later on while moving a basket of ducks O punches one in the head. He tells me that he smashed the beak of a duck that had a big abscess on it pretty much splitting the beak in two, and laughs about it.

In the afternoon O shows me a new hunting knife, a two handed machete and some throwing knives he has just bought.  He tells me that he wants to kill a duck to see how good his knife is. He walks down the aisles of ducks and finds a duck. He hangs the duck by the legs and tries to slice his neck. The first attempt hardly does anything and the duck swings from side to side. He tries again and makes a superficial cut that causes a stream of blood. The duck moves around a bit and O makes two more cuts while the duck is struggling. He cuts and saws at the head a few more times and the head is now just barely attached to the body.  I asked him how he learned to kill a duck like that and he told me J showed him. He tells me it’s only a duck. I showed him that undigested food was coming out of the duck’s open neck and he started hitting the duck with the knife and squeezing and cutting a bit more until a lot more was coming out of the duck. A while later he gets his machete and with two hands swings it like a baseball bat. On the third attempt he manages to decapitate the duck. The head goes flying and he laughs.

A little while later O uses duct tape to tape a ducks beak closed. He leaves him like this for a few minutes and then has trouble trying to remove the tape. He tells me he likes to mess around with the ducks.

July 3

Today we have to load ducks into cages to bring them to slaughter.  We put three per cage; we grab them by the wings and legs, and put them in the cage. There are about 6 dead ducks on top of the cages. A few of the ducks were hard to take out of their cages because their feet or wings would be stuck. I was told to pull really hard.

I notice that some ducks have broken wings. Walking down the aisles I see 3 ducks with broken wings. One is very bloody where the wing meets the body.

July 4

A worker killed a duck so that he could eat it. He takes part of the guts and moulds it onto his thumb so that it looks like he has a giant thumb and gives us the thumbs up as a joke. Everyone laughs about it. O tells me that one guy used to eat the dead ducks he would find in the raising sheds. Again, I see several shopping carts full of dead ducks.

H is feeding and he tells me that O smashed the head of a duck and now it is hurt. He tells me to bring it to him because he will kill it.  He grabs the duck from me, holds its head with two hands and twists the duck around and around holding onto the head. He then drops the duck on the ground. It is moving around so he picks him back up by the wing and just stands there with the duck in his hand while laughing. He holds the duck at his side for quite awhile and I hear the duck vocalize. He then picks up the duck by the feet and slams him down on the concrete. The noise was sickening. He then holds the duck again not saying anything; it is still moving. He then gives me the duck and tells me to put it in the garbage.

July 5

Today I went with O, H and another, to de-beak and de-toe ducks. This is done by corralling the ducklings, which are much older than I thought they would be, and then filling a laundry basket with them. I had to cut of the toes, which was hard since the ducks were so large. H, and sometimes O, would then cut off the ends of their beaks with a red hot blade. The beak would get black and smoke. I noticed that they were working fast and the guys cutting off the ducks nails would sometimes take off pretty much half the foot. There was blood everywhere and we were all covered in blood and feces. Everyone was complaining that the ducks were too old and too big. They said we were doing this one week late.  The ducks were handled very roughly. After having their beaks seared some ducks would die immediately. I counted 5 that died.


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